Catholics around the world could not have imagined that a cardinal and archbishop — George Pell
— would ever be convicted in a civil court for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choir boys. A close confidant of the pope, Pell was also treasurer of the Vatican Bank. His conviction was handed down in Australia last December. The court only released details about it last month due to there being another historical case of alleged child sexual abuse
against him and the covering-up of similar crimes by priests in his diocese. This case was recently dropped meaning the December verdict against the cardinal could be revealed. The cardinal has had bail withdrawn and he is already in custody and will receive a jail sentence. He is considered innocent until the appeal is over. He has consistently pleaded innocent and vehemently denied abusing the two boys.
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A jury, however, found the cardinal guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Pope Francis has ordered that Pell be removed from all public ministries and never to have any contact with children. When one of the highest-ranking prelates of the Church is convicted and jailed for child sexual abuse, it is a historical event that should not be forgotten or consigned to the archives of memory. The wounds of abuse are still felt by many thousands of victims of child sexual abuse all over the world. It is a powerful message to the church hierarchy to turn over all suspected child-abusing priests to the civil authorities and help the victims. The pain remains with the victims all their lives unless it is poured out in therapy and expunged from the deepest recesses of the personality of the individual. "Like many survivors, I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life," one of Pell's victims said in a statement through his solicitor Vivian Waller. "The process has been stressful and it is not over yet. I need space and time to cope with the ongoing criminal process." Child sex abuse victims have seldom had a forum where they could freely tell or make a complaint. Pope Francis said that they "hear the cry of the victims for justice," but what direct action is taken to get justice for the children? The children suffer greatly and if anyone doubts that and wants to hear the cry of the victims, please click on the link
and view the one-minute video showing child victims of sexual abuse releasing their emotions. This is in the Preda Foundation therapy room as they cry out their anger, hatred and pain at their abusers and punch the cushions as if hitting their abuser. The crimes against children have been denied, ignored and suppressed for centuries, never mentioned or discussed in public until the 1970s. The child was blamed for inducing such abuse and cowered into silence by threats and fear. But most could never keep it buried inside, it always emerged, damaging their lives affecting their studies, careers, their marriage or relationships. One of the two victims in the case against Cardinal Pell died of a drug overdose in 2014. Apparently, he was so hurt his need for painkillers overwhelmed him and brought about his early death. The abuse could well have been the cause of that tragic event. The conviction of Pell might finally bring the Vatican to issue a zero-tolerance policy that survivors and victims have been demanding. These survivors and victims were angry when the recent meeting on child abuse at the Vatican did not address it. The historic meeting in Rome
called by Pope Francis to address the crises in the Church opened with the pope saying, "We hear the cry of the little ones asking for justice." But have the age-old prelates listened to this cry? The bishops, all old men who mostly remained silent during the proceedings, may have perhaps recalled a time when they may have transferred a child sex abuser priest to another parish or abroad and covered up the crime and allow it to continue. They will fear being held to account for such a crime now that a court of law has convicted one of their own. It was the outspoken women, religious sisters and victims who were most passionate in their statements during the meeting. It is hoped that the conviction of Pell will send the message that no one is beyond justice and all must be held accountable and brought to answer credible evidence. We hope that the Philippine bishops will now refer child victims of clergy sexual abuse to therapy centers so they can be helped and healed. These are the leaders of the institutional Church. Our faith is not in such a structure although many unthinkingly believe it is. Many believe in the Church and its teachings. But the child abuse crisis has diminished the authority and credibility of the institution. Most Catholics will have to examine what they believe in. Hopefully, they will realize it is not the institution but the person of Jesus of Nazareth in whom they ought to place their belief and hope. Their belief ought to be in his life-giving values and teaching of social justice, care of the poor, truth, integrity, conscience, freedom, human rights and dignity and equality for all. They will recall his words in Matthew 18:1-8 that the most important of all are children and the abuser must do penance. Pell hopefully will repent for his sins and do penance behind bars. Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.