This speech was delivered on 29 May 2013 in the NSW Upper House. You can read the original speech online here.
CATHOLIC CHURCH AND CHILD SEXUAL AB– USE
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [4.37 a.m.]: Anthony and Chrissie Foster had a good idea of what to expect from Cardinal Pell when he fronted at the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse. This subject is close to their hearts after two of their beautiful daughters were abused by their local priest, leading one to repeatedly self-harm before taking her life and the other with terrible disabling injuries. The Fosters were clear about what they wanted to hear from the cardinal:
- What we really wanted to see come out of this is full responsibility taken and a commitment to fully support the victims without any caps on payments.
Anthony Foster met face-to-face with then Archbishop Pell. He described his experience as follows:
- We experienced a sociopathic lack of empathy from him and that was typical of what we experienced from the church and that has continued to this very day.
Chrissie described it in her book, Hell on the Way to Heaven, like this:
- Archbishop Pell, like a tradesman who comes to fix a leaky roof, arrived at that meeting with a handful of trusted verbal tools. He used phrases such as: “I hope that you can prove what you are saying in court …” and “… take your evidence to court”. He used them to attack, deflect and interrupt. Meanwhile, we tried to defend the innocence of our daughter. The Archbishop’s tools were very effective, for they eventually exhausted Anthony. The man of the Church was used to confrontation and we were not.
- Two of the items I had gathered as evidence of Emma’s suffering were photographs. One pictured her receiving a confirmation certificate only two years earlier by none other than what was then Bishop George Pell himself. The other photograph was taken just a few months before the meeting, when she had cut her wrists in the laneway behind our home. To maximise the impact this photograph would have on the Archbishop, Anthony had enlarged it to A4 size.
- When the meeting was almost finished, Anthony passed to Archbishop Pell the confirmation picture, to which he commented: “That’s nice.”
- Then Anthony gave him the image of Emma with bloodied wrists and arms. I held my breath, hopeful that we could reach this man on a deeper level and he could offer us some sympathy, or a display of surprise perhaps, something, anything …
- Archbishop Pell, however, peered at it for a moment and with an unchanged expression said casually: “Mmm … she’s changed, hasn’t she?” He handed the picture back to us. We couldn’t believe his response. He was the first person we’d shown the image to. It was too distressing for anyone we knew to see. But it did not disturb the archbishop. Not a grimace or a frown.
In the hearing before the Victorian inquiry Cardinal Pell described this meeting with the Fosters as unfortunate. During the hearing Cardinal Pell appeared almost ready to commit to increasing the church’s cap on payments, but then indicated the Australian Catholic Church would do only what was required according to, in his words, “the law of the land”, including being guided by the compensation payments awarded by the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. Tonight we know what that will be in New South Wales. Compensation as part of the healing and recovery process is important. One victim my office has been in contact with says it well:
- You need to hit the church where it hurts—the wallet. Only then will they change.
On the cardinal’s own testimony the church knew it had paedophile priests since at least 1988. In the 2½ decades that have passed since, the will within the church to make changes about how it deals with child sexual abuse has been notably absent. Cardinal Pell made a written submission to the inquiry which argues against potential legislative change that would assist victims of clergy abuse to sue for greater compensation. His argument was that this would amount to discrimination against Catholics. Apparently, challenging church structures that appear purpose-built to shield the church from financial liability, regardless of moral or legal culpability, is now discrimination.Cardinal Pell said in his opening testimony to the inquiry that he was “fully apologetic and absolutely sorry.” However, this apology was qualified in his testimony by caveats and limitations. Pell obfuscated and laid blame on everyone but the church. He included the Victorian Government, whom he identified as failing to force the church to do more, and the “intermittently hostile media”. He is arguably the most powerful representative of the Catholic Church in Australia, the only Australian cardinal represented in Rome and, as Archbishop of Sydney, head of the largest archdiocese in Australia. In this context it is remarkable how little responsibility he accepts.Victims want the church to look after victims, to provide a measure of real justice and to ensure that future abuse and cover-ups have consequences—in particular, that they are reported to police. After years of trying to work with the church and through church processes, most victims have given up on the church’s changing internally. They are hoping that the Victorian inquiry and the Federal royal commission will make recommendations that will force these changes onto the church and other institutions. Cardinal Pell bristled when asked if he was guilty of wilful blindness, yet how else would you describe the creation of the Melbourne response and other church responses to abuse which claimed to look after victims but involved no systematic investigation and a built-in failure to report the full details of abuse claims to police?
Cardinal Pell knew what was happening on his watch. Cardinal Pell weighed up the interests of the church on one side and the victims on the other. The church won. It is time the church was forced to change. You cannot cover up abuse, transfer abusive priests, shirk financial responsibility and then tell victims and survivors that you are sorry. You need to do more. It is time for the church to move from being fully apologetic to fully responsible. Cardinal Pell must deliver on this. If he cannot or will not do that, he must resign.