Picture courtesy of the ABC
Last week Australian Catholics watched their Cardinal give evidence (from Rome) in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse. This is not the first time Pell has given evidence to the Royal Commission but it was perhaps the most interesting because the Commmision’s questions covered Pell’s time at Ballarat, during the infamous reign of Father Ridsdale and other pedophile priests.
Pell was apparently not well enough to travel to Australia for the Royal Commssion. Instead he was interrogated by video from the Vatican.
The whole week was totally unsatisfactory. Pell stopped short of any genuine apology to the victims, some of whom flew to Rome to witness his testimony first hand. Pell’s performance was also disappointing. His tough and arrogant exterior, which no doubt assisted his rise through Church ranks, did not assist him under the spotlight of the Commssion. For the most part, Pell came across as uncaring and sometimes insensitive.
This was not only disappointing for the victims but also for the faithful back home who were (desperately) looking for a sign acknowledging the wrongs of the past, a plea for forgiveness and mercy and a beginning to the healing process.
The following Sunday, our parish priest reflecting on the week’s events expressed regret and frustration at the “betrayal” committed by the Church hierarchy in days gone by. He was so distraught by what he saw being telecast from Rome that he broke down in front of his congregation, abruptly concluding his homily as he collected himself and wiped away his tears.
For me, I never thought I would see the day when representatives of the Church, even at a parish level, would acknowledge the sins of the past, let alone a priest humble himself in front of his flock. Such must be the depth of feeling among young and honest priests seeking to spread God’s word and grace in these dark times.
But there is a silver lining, one that Pell may live to regret. His reluctance to leave the Vatican has meant that the Royal Commission has come to the Vatican. As The Age religion writer, Barney Zwartz wrote recently;
“So now the Australian problems have landed in an unwelcome steaming pile on the
Vatican doorstep, and pressure is mounting on the Pope himself”
Cardinals have to offer their resignation to the Pope when they turn 75. Pell turns 75 in June this year. Most assumed he would stay on to continue his reforms. We now watch with interest.