Sexual abuse scandal worms its way into "the belly of the beast"
The Catholic Church is a religious brand in crisis.
Godliness and goodliness have been stripped away by the incessant scandal of sexual abuse of children by its priests.
As the film Spotlight (Best Film Oscar 2015) highlights, perhaps the most unforgivable aspect of this sordid history, is the church's lack of empathy and desire to deny and hide the depravations of its men of the cloth.
Spotlight shines light on the abuse in Boston, USA but it could be a city in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the list goes on. The Oscar winner is just the latest in a sad, but healthy genre of acclaimed documentary-dramas such as Deliver Us From Evil (2006) The Boys of St. Vincent (1992) Hand of God (2006), Sex Crimes of the Vatican (2006), Silence in the House of God (2012), Twist of Faith (2004) and Oranges and Sunshine (2010).
The church is no longer a sacred cow. It may have the coolest selfie pope in papal history, but sooner or later he will have to enter the dark mire which is inching closer and closer to St Peter’s Square.
Not a week goes by without another harrowing revelation. This week it was Pennsylvania.
Also this week, the Vatican number three, the unconvincing Cardinal George Pell, was questioned by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Investigating Child Sexual Abuse.
This cross-examination took place, not in Sydney or Melbourne, but in the Vatican City, or as one abuse survivor described it,"in the belly of the beast".
A crowd-funding campaign raised more than $170,000 in just three days, to fly 20 abuse survivors from a regional parish in Victoria, Australia where Cardinal Pell spent much of his formative years before his rise through the church. They were once victims and untouchables, shunned by the media and the church. Today they are heralded as survivors and the Australian media calls them courageous heroes. They are called survivors because many didn't. They took their own lives.
A Catholic abuse survivor in Rome wears a T-shirt showing him at the age he was abused
A large part of the money raised came from a song called Come Home (Cardinal Pell) which, for a few days last week, was the most popular download in Australia. Its barefoot singer-songwriter Tim Minchin calls the cardinal “scum”, “a coward” and “a pompous buffoon”.
The song’s success mirrors the public anger at the refusal of the country’s top Catholic, and now head of Vatican finances, to return to Australia in-person to face the national commission.
Cardinal Pell cited health reasons. He also claimed for many years that he was unaware of any claims of sexual abuse of children by priests despite sharing a house with a notorious paedophile priest who abused more than 50 children as he was shifted from parish to parish and finally inter-state over a 20 year period.
Cardinal Pell told the inquiry he didn’t pay attention to rumours of priests abusing children.
“It was a sad story and of not much interest to me,” said the incurious Cardinal who also served on the committee that repeatedly moved the paedophile priest into new parishes and fresh victims. When the priest was finally charged and jailed Cardinal Pell accompanied him to court.
Today, Cardinal Pell is in charge of finances for the Holy See and the Vatican and reports directly to Pope Francis. His audits and calls for financial accountability have earnt him respect, and also a few enemies.
But as the former head of different church groups in Australia he told the commission that he was clearly not given adequate information by those around him.
“I was not obliged to do more than that,” was his meagre defence.
You can watch and listen to the song Come Home (Cardinal Pell) by Tim Minchin here:
Cartoon by First Dog on the Moon- The Guardian