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Clergy sexual abuse

2018-DEC to 2019-MST: Catholic
Cardinal George Pell's conviction
for sexually abusing teen boys
in Australia. Studies of
Causes of Clergy Abuse.
Pope Francis requires reports.

Part 7 of eight parts:

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This topic continues here from the previous essay.

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About Cardinal Pell:

Cardinal George Pell became the financial chief in the Vatican during early 2014 when he was appointed by Pope Francis to be Secretariat for the Economy at the Vatican. He was the third most powerful member of the clergy within the Roman Catholic Church.

He made history when he became the highest ranking Catholic clergy member ever to be charged with sexual abuse. Pope Francis relieved him of his duties so that he could defend himself in court. He was charged with the alleged sexual abuse of two Australian teen-aged choir boys in during 1996 when the victims were 13 years-of-age, The events allegedly took place in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, apparently after the Cardinal caught the two boys sipping sacramental wine. At the time, Cardinal Pell was the Archbishop of Melbourne in Australia's Victoria State.

The Australian Court prohibited press coverage of what became known as "The Cathedral Trial" The Court felt that if the matter were covered in the Australiam press, there would have been:

"... a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice." 1

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2018-DEC-11: The conviction:

The trial began during 2017-JUN but ended in a hung jury. A retrial was immediately launched. This time, the jury deliberated for three days. On 2018-DEC-11, they reached an unanimous guilty verdict. He was convicted of one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16, and four counts of indecent acts with a child.

Cardinal Pell has firmly and continually denied any wrongdoing. He has appealed his conviction. His appeal will be heard on 2019-JUN-05 & 06.

The Daily Beast estimated that his total legal costs could reach millions of dollars. An anonymous information source familiar with the Cardinal's case said:

"It’s highly unlikely his defense is being paid for entirely by supporters or parishioners. His legal bills will be astronomical when it’s all over. If it is the Church [who pays], the costs will be very well hidden."

When the Vatican was asked whether Cardinal Pell would resume his Vatican duties in the future, they dodged the question by responded with a statement saying:

"The Holy See has taken note of the decision issued by judicial authorities in Australia regarding His Eminence Cardinal George Pell. Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations. The leave of absence is still in place."

Meanwhile, Pell is being sued by another plaintiff who alleged that Pell abused him in a bathhouse and swimming pool in the Australian city of Ballarat during the 1970's. 2

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2019-FEB-28: Court holds a sentencing hearing for Cardinal Pell:

At the hearing, Cardinal Pell's lawyer -- Robert Richter -- tried to minimize the seriousness of the sexual assault and rape of the two choir boys. He said that the events were no big deal because they consited of:

"No more than a plain-vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating. ... [Pell exerted] No force greater than was required to achieve penetration."

Richter attempted to minimize the power differential between Pell and the two boys, by saying:

"The only differential of power is that he is an adult -- for reasons inexplicable -- with an urge to do what he did. He is not abusing his position as archbishop but he is abusing his position … as a grown man."

Richter was heavily criticized by the media for this comment. He issued an apology, writing:

"In seeking to mitigate sentence I used a wholly inappropriate phrase for which I apologise profusely to all who interpreted it in a way it was never intended: it was in no way meant to belittle or minimise the suffering and hurt of victims of sex abuse, and in retrospect I can see why it caused great offence to many." 3

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2019-MAR-12: The sentence:

The sentencing was broadcast live on the morning of MAR-13. Judge Peter Kidd remarked that Pell's

"offending was breathtakingly arrogant. You breached that trust and abused your power,"

Cardinal Pell was given a six year sentence in prison. He will be eligible to apply for parole after three years and eight months, Because he is currently in bad health, the length of the sentence raises the distinct possibility that he may die imprisoned.

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2019-MAR-26: Efforts to detect cause(s) of clergy sex abuse:

Michelle Boorstein, writing for the Washington Post, said:

"The Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis is [said to be] caused by a too-fawning deference to clerics called 'clericalism.' Or a failure to guard against the sleazy culture outside the church. Or a moral relativism that denies one 'truth.' Or gay priests. Or a warped bureaucratic structure that’s kind of like the Mafia. ... With that lack of consensus, many parish priests are saying little about the crisis."

"Some Catholic universities are plunging into that space with new abuse-related academic credentialing programs, million-dollar research grants, and conferences -- all related to exploring the reasons for clergy abuse. Among the conferences was one this week at Catholic University, which is run by U.S. bishops, about the 'root causes' of the crisis. It featured something Catholics don’t see often: experts with totally different points of view on the topic sharing a stage at a prominent Catholic institution." 4

She listed some recent initiatives on this matter by Catholic universities in the U.S. :

  • Georgetown University in DC held four public dialogues.
  • The Catholic University of America in DC sponsored a one-day conference "Healing the Breach of Trust."
  • University of Notre Dame in IN is providing up to US $1 million for abuse research.
  • Santa Clara University in CA is studying opinions on abuse by U.S. Latino Catholics and Catholics from other countries.
  • Ave Maria University in FL is publishing a book on spiritual responses to the abuse.
  • Fordham University in NY held a conference of abuse researchers.

On MAR-26 at the Catholic University of America, Associate Dean Susan Timoney introduced her university's conference, saying:

"This is unlike in 2002, when it was clear what the crisis was. It was clear what needed to be done. ... [This crisis, which began in the summer,] brought more complex issues related to cultures inside the church. A crisis of clericalism, lack of transparency, misuse of power, rumor, innuendo. These are questions that raise issues that don’t have such clear-cut fixes."

Richard Gaillardetz, chairman of the Boston College Theology Department and former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, said:

"[Pope] Francis wants us to think of bishops as pastors, not as a quasi-monarchical figure. To the extent you think of yourself not in service to people but as a member of a special club, you are immune from criticism. All of that is a recipe for abuse because it makes membership in the club the most important thing. ... [Bishops] think, ‘I deserve to be cut some slack'."

Theologian Chad Pecknold at Catholic University said that the Church must concentrate on offering single absolute truths particularly on matters related to sex, gender, and family. When it tries to become more inclusive, it stumbles and becomes corrupt.

Webmaster's personal comment: [Caution: High levels of arrogance expressed]

Chad Pecknold appears to have highlighted three conflicts among recent scientific studies, research, public opinion, and government action: disagreement over the acceptance of:

  • homosexuality as a normal human sexual variant,
  • transgender persons -- persons whose current gender identity does not match their birth-identified gender, and
  • the attainment of marriage equality by allowing same-sex couples to marry.

All three matters involve movement from discrimination towards equality. All three have been strongly resisted by religious conservatives.

Past similar movements in the U.S. have involved the elimination of slavery, marriage by profoundly deaf couples, allowing women to vote, legalizing interracial marriage, decriminalization of same-sex sexual activity, legalizing same-sex marriage, allowing same-sex couples to adopt, and accepting the gender of transgender people. All of these conflicts have either ended up in a position of equality, or at least moved significantly in that direction. Once a group seeking equality organizes, it seems to inevitably achieve their goal, even though it can take many decades.

If the Catholic Church is to continue to resist these movements towards acceptance and equality, they risk a major exodus of members on a long-term basis. A better path would be to lead rather than to drag their heels. The Church could use the Biblical passage at Galatians 3:28-29 as a guide:

"There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (NIV)

The church could undertake a program of reform, to involve:

  • Whenever child abuse is detected, the diocese is to automatically report the incident to the police.*
  • Permit ordination of female deacons on a routine basis.
  • Accept the ordination of qualified females as priests.*
  • Allow priests to marry. *
  • Routinely marry same-sex couples.
  • Accept heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality as normal, natural, acceptable, and potentially moral sexual orientations.
  • Accept transgender persons as having a gender identity different from their birth-identified gender.
  • Accept the use of contraception as a personal option.
  • Develop a belief of when, during pregnancy, a human life becomes a human person, and allow abortions up to that pont.
* These reforms, if implemented, should significantly reduce the frequency of sexual child abuse within the Church.

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2019-MAR-29: Pope Francis requires Vatican sex abuse claims to be reported:

Pope Francis added new sex abuse legislation to the Vatican's criminal code. It requires all sex abuse allegations be reported without delay to the Vatican for possible prosecution. Delays in reporting can result in a fine of up to 5,000 euros (U.S. $5,615). If the slow report was made by a Vatican gendarme, he could receive a prison sentence of up to six months in duration.

However, it only covers accusations against persons in the Vatican City State, which is only 110 acre/44-hectare in area, as well as Vatican diplomats worldwide.

The legislation also covers the abuse of "vulnerable people" and defines them as anyone who who is sick or suffering from a physical or psychiatric deficiency, isn’t able to exercise personal freedom. and has a limited capacity to understand or resist the crime. They are now entitled to the same protection as are abused minors.

Ulrich Rhode, a canon law professor at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University said:

"With this document the Vatican wants to send a message that it takes these crimes seriously, wants to prosecute them, to avoid cover up, and also to create an atmosphere that prevents these crimes from happening in the first place."

Nicole Winfield, writing for the Associated Press News, said:

"The legislation requires that victims be welcomed, listened to and provided with medical, psychological and legal assistance, and sets the statute of limitations at 20 years past the victim’s 18th birthday.

They must be kept apprised of the investigation, a significant point given that victims are usually kept in the dark about canonical sex abuse investigations.

Victims and their families are to be protected from any retaliation. ..."

"Mimicking some provisions in place in the U.S. church, the guidelines require background checks for Vatican staff and volunteers working with minors and calls for safe environment training for all Vatican personnel." 5

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Lachlan Cartwright, "Vatican No. 3 George Pell Convicted of Sexually Abusing Choir Boys," Daily Beast, 2018-DEC-11. at:https://www.thedailybeast.com/
  2. Barbie Latza Nadeau & Lachlan Cartwright, "Cardinal Pell Sentenced to 6 Years for Molesting Choirboys," Daily Beast, 2019-MAR-12, at: https://www.thedailybeast.com/
  3. Michael Stone, "Lawyer For Cardinal Pell Minimizes Child Rape As ‘Plain Vanilla Sexual Penetration’," Patheos, 2019-FEB-28, at: https://www.patheos.com/
  4. Michelle Boorstein, "What caused the clergy sex abuse crisis? Catholic universities are pushing for debate on the answer," The Washington Post, 2019-MAR-27, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  5. Nicole Winfield, "Pope requires sex abuse claims be reported in Vatican City," Associated Press News, 2019-MAR-29, at: https://apnews.com/

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How you might have arrived here:

 Home page > Religious Info. > Basic info > Clergy sex abuse > here

or Home page > Religious Violence > Clergy sex abuse > here

or Home page > Christianity > Roman Catholicism > Clergy sex abuse > here

Copyright © 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2019-MAR-26
Latest update: 2019-APR-03

Author: B.A. Robinson
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