by Mary W Maxwell
In Part 10, I expressed disappointment that the RC was going over old ground. But it was a good warm-up. Congratulations to Gail Furness, SC, for her strategy at the second hearing in Rome. She clarified that Pell must have known about Fr Ridsdale – based on minutes of a meeting.
And today she got Cardinal Pell to admit that he knew about the infamous Fr Searson — who among other deeds stabbed a bird to death in front of schoolchildren – and made tape recordings of Confessions!
Three Bishops – Little, Mulkearns, and Pell
Thomas Francis Little became archbishop of Melbourne in 1973. He is now deceased, so did not have to testify to the Royal Commission. He failed to remove Searson from the priesthood despite outrageous acts. We want to know why he kept silent. I’ve already stated in this series of articles, that I think I know.
Ronald Mulkearns, born 1930, was consecrated as the bishop of Ballarat in 1958. Surprisingly, despite his being in palliative care for cancer, the RC did interview him this week. It was very instructive to hear Mulkearns say “I don’t recall” every time sex crime was mentioned, yet he could talk about the past without the slightest memory obstruction in regard to other topics.
Bishop Mulkearns was the protector of “Reverend” Gerald Ridsdale who abused many boys, notably his own nephew David. Ridsdale, age 81, is in prison, having been convicted of raping girls and boys from ages 4 to 16. He will be eligible for parole in 2019.
George Pell, born 1941, graduated from the Urban Seminary in Rome, became auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987, archbishop in 1996, and cardinal in 2003. He earned a doctorate in Church history from Oxford. Currently he is the Treasurer of the Vatican, an amazing job.
In my opinion the survivors of the pedophile priests are saving Australia. This is because it is they who caused this Royal Commission to be established in 2012. They were unwilling to be pushed off or paid off.
How can this save Australia or – if I’m not being grandiose here – the world? Simply because the RC’s focus of inquiry is: How is it that persons who we think are protecting us and leading us are really acting against our interest. Surely that can be applied to government, media, academia, the courts, etc.
If we can dig down far enough into the truth we may be able to solve many problems.
The Consulters Meeting and the Minutes Thereof
I am not sure of the extent to which the RC, which is only a public inquiry, not a court, can demand that private papers be handed over. Anyway, they have received many documents on a voluntary basis, and today Justice Peter McClellan said that five thousand victims have contacted the Commission.
One document is the minutes of a meeting of consulters – a committee of seven priests who handle diocesan issues. It mentioned – in the usual barebones manner of meeting minutes – that Fr Ridsdale’s post had become vacant “because of the necessity of moving him.” A further item in the minutes said that a possible new position for Ridsdale was in an organization in Sydney (not a parish).
Gail Furness pressed her quarry – oh sorry, I mean the testifier – to agree that the available position in Sydney could not logically be the reason why Ridsdale was leaving Ballarat. That is both because of the phrase “necessity of moving him” and the fact that the decision had obviously not been made as to whether Ridsdale would be given that Sydney job.
In some embarrassing to’ing and fro’ing, Cardinal Pell tried to say that the minutes did not indicate that the consulters at the meeting were aware of the pedophilia of Ridsdale, and he certainly was not! After all many other things can cause a priest to have to be moved (alcoholism, for example).
“Yeah right,” we can almost hear the survivors say. They are sitting in the same room with Pell, at the Hotel Quirinale in Rome. They snigger when it is absolutely unavoidable, as when the Cardinal said something about the Church running on high ideals. Mostly they are quiet.
Furness had in hand the proof that at least 3 of the 7 consulters were aware of Ridsdale’s “offending against children.” She used this to tease Pell into saying that although at least one of the consulters (Bishop Finnegan, I think) was his friend, they had never chatted about it. Fancy that.
Finally, when Pell had to give in to her logic, his new claim was that some persons at the meeting knew but deceived him! He surely looked ridiculous saying this. So ridiculous in fact that the survivors in the room did not even bother to gasp.
Recall that the whole point of this RC is not the abuse of children but the institutional responses thereto. How is it that the abuse could go on so long even when – as stated in yesterday’s testimony – parents, a nun, and a family doctor reported it?
Anyone listening to the testimony by Cardinal Pell would walk away with no doubt that he is to blame. Sure, he says he did not know (when he was auxiliary bishop), but Furness has proved him wrong. For the rest of this article I am not interested in Cardinal Pell, but in the question of who bears the responsibility, in a general way, for the harm done to littlies.
You may recall from my series of articles entitled “Selfishness and Human Dependence,” that I tried to show how a community, or a tribe or nation, has to do some things collectively. Yet, I argued, we are not good at banding together against a predator, unless he be a foreigner – or a whole foreign army.
When it comes to acting within our group we have a way of pushing a problem up. We want the person in charge to sort it.
I suppose it is because human babies are born helpless and therefore we all have a mighty instinct for obedience. And, as with animal species, following the leader is automatic. Plus we all have a keen sense of status.
It’s Hard To Blame Religious Figures
In the the world religions that feature popes, chief rabbis, imams, etc, the prestige of the leader is even greater than that of a civil leader. People’s reverence for the divine prompts reverence toward persons of the cloth. This alone would have made it hard for parishioners to criticize priests.
Even more so, would they have taken it for granted that anyone who is high enough (close enough to God) to be a bishop, would always do right. I mean it just goes without saying, doesn’t it?
Some Australian parents demanded a visit with the head of the Christian Brothers, or the Vicar General, or the Bishop. They got coldness, which may have taken the wind out of their sails. But sometimes they got the clever reply “Leave it with me. It’s being seen to.”
Of course if the complainer were someone lesser than a parent – namely, the victim, the typical response (as this Royal Commission has found) was to blame the boy or girl. This was true of many organization, not just religion-based ones. The RC has, for example, looked at the Boy Scouts. (It publishes its finding per case study; go to the Royal Commission’s website.)
Who Really Had the Responsibility re Ridsdale?
No matter what our instincts are for pushing problems up, we have to have responsible people, don’t we? Consider how two persons with no personal ties to the Boston bomber (I mean the Boston non-bomber) Jahar Tsarnaev, have come to his aid vigorously. I am referring to Cheryl Dean and Josée Lépine who have buried themselves in court documents trying to prove his innocence.
Looking back on “lessons learnt” from the pedophile scandal, I think it is clearer than ever that any person who found out about the abuse of children (not to mention the stabbing of a bird, and Fr Searson’s trick of tape-recording confessions!) should feel right about squawking.
Yes, it is everybody’s job to point to, and demand redress of, society’s problems.
However, there can be no doubt that it was the duty of George Pell, as auxiliary bishop of Ballarat, and other members of the Church hierarchy, to step in whether or not they were the appointed boss for that area.
Today I was disappointed when Justice McClellan hinted at a conclusion that it was the lack of a good structure in the institution that had resulted in the tragedy. He indicated that the diocese should have had a middle-management thing, to look after its 200 “branch offices.”
Cardinal Pell, in his one moment of untarnished intellectual integrity, explained that the Church preceded the modern corporation and that its flat (I think he said “flat”) type of hierarchy was a legacy of the Roman Empire.
Middle management, in my opinion, wouldn’t have spared the survirors from this tragedy. The Church would have placed into its “middle management” the same See No Evil, Hear No Evil types that it put into the episcopacy.
This is standard today. Look at our government in Canberra. Whether it is top management or middle management, they are basically not there. Gone fishing. Out to lunch. In a trance. Whatever.
I think the tragedy would have taken place — because it was intended to take place. The top brass didn’t just protect the wrong doers. They planted them there in the first place.
I will be waiting to see how long it takes the Royal Commission to wake up to this fact.
–Mary W Maxwell is a 1980 immigrant to Australia. She got most of her K-12 education in parish schools in the Fifties and Sixties and is an admirer of nuns and priests. Her latest book is Fraud Upon the Court: Reclaiming the Law, Joyfully