Cardinal Pell is not the victim here, Miranda!

August 4, 2016

Miranda Devine has written an opinion piece portraying Cardinal George Pell as the victim in an investigation about child abuse.

She describes his treatment in the media as a “smear campaign”, and says: “How different was the treatment by the ABC and the rest of the media of explosive allegations that Bill Shorten raped a 16-year-old girl at a Labor youth conference in Portarlington in 1986. Only after police had completed their investigation, and decided not to press charges, was the story covered. That is as it should be. But when it comes to George Pell, it's open season.”

The obvious problem with this analogy is that Shorten seems to have fully co-operated with the police investigation against him. Pell, however, is refusing a fair trial by living beyond extradition. By doing this, he is leaving anyone who has a complaint against him without adequate legal recourse.

For example, in May and December last year, Pell was requested to appear before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse but refused to do so, citing age and ill-health. In fact, he had travelled to Australia in March-April last year, and instead of staying to front the commission, he returned to Rome in order to attend the interview by video-link.

Now, the ABC's 7.30 has aired accusations by Lyndon Monument that Pell inappropriately touched him in a swimming pool in the late 1970s, and by Les Tyack that he saw Pell standing naked in front of boys in the early '80s. 7:30 also revealed that Victoria Police are investigating accusations that Pell abused choirboys in the '90s.

Pell refutes these allegations, and is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But he has already used the Vatican to avoid appearing in hearings. If the media wait until a fair investigation is complete as Devine suggests, they could be waiting forever. Survivors of abuse could be denied any chance of public justice.

Such a skewed interpretation of events is sadly unsurprising coming from Devine. A famously devout and conservative Catholic columnist for the Daily Telegraph, Devine has a long history of portraying abusive men as victims.

For example, take her 2015 piece “Demonising Men Won't Stop Domestic Violence”, where she suggested that linking domestic violence to gender inequality was “Feminist Kool-Aid”, and instead blamed “women abusing welfare” for the prevalence of domestic violence.

Let's get a few things straight.

Pell has already admitted some culpability in his responses to cases of clerical sexual abuse. According to author David Marr, he admitted to a parliamentary inquiry that “his church had covered up abuse for fear of scandal; that his predecessor Archbishop Little had destroyed records, moved paedophile priests from parish to parish and facilitated appalling crimes.”

In the February 2016 video-link with the Royal Commission, he made further shocking admissions: "The Church in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down. I'm not here to defend the indefensible.

“Too many of them certainly were dismissed and sometimes they were dismissed in absolutely scandalous circumstances, They were very, very, very plausible allegations made by responsible people that were not followed up sufficiently.

"At that stage, the instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the church, from shame."

Now, whether Pell's crimes are simply negligence or whether he was personally engaging in abuse, avoiding public scrutiny has devastating effects for those seeking to speak the truth about their childhood abuse.

Survivors of abuse have already had their power taken away from them once. They now brave public scrutiny, as well as personal fear and shame, for telling the truth. For them to be denied justice is retraumatising. It reinforces the message that they are powerless, and the church controls their lives.

So come back, Cardinal Pell, and face justice.

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