The bishops of Australia have issued a statement defending Cardinal George Pell from criticisms made against him on the Australian news program, 60 Minutes.
In an interview with 60 Minutes aired last Sunday, Peter Saunders called the cardinal’s position “untenable” following the Australian Royal Commission’s hearings on the Church’s actions on abuse crimes committed by a former priest.
Saunders is one of the 17 members of the commission established by Pope Francis to ensure the protection of children and minors from sexual abuse. He is one of two abuse victims on the panel.
In the 60 Minutes piece, Saunders asserted the cardinal acted “with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic.”
Then in an interview Monday, he suggested that the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors might face a lack of economic resources, a supposed problem which he attributed to Cardinal Pell since he is the Pope’s pointman for the ongoing process of reform to the Vatican’s finances.
Cardinal Pell has strongly denied accusations that he had knowledge of abuse in the Diocese of Ballarat, where he served as a priest.
Cardinal Pell’s spokesman also expressed disbelief at the criticisms Saunders laid against him during the interview, given the fact that Saunders has never met Pell.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi also said that the cardinal’s position on the matter has been made clear in his public statements “which must be considered reliable and worthy of respect and attention.”
‘A Fair Go’
Following the broadcast, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne responded to the criticisms against Cardinal Pell, saying that he knew him “to be a good man, an honest man, a man of the Church who loves Australia.”
Archbishop Hart also noted that Cardinal Pell, during his service as Archbishop of Melbourne, was one of the first to act against abuse within the Church.
“With his appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he took the lead in conceiving and then establishing the Melbourne Response which I understand to be one of the first redress processes established by the church,” he wrote. “Having appointed me as his Vicar General, I worked very closely with him and admired the strong leadership he displayed in having the Melbourne Response commence within three months of his appointment.”
“It was clear to me then as it is clear to me now that Cardinal Pell has always been determined to address the evil of clergy sexual abuse in the Church, to deal with the perpetrators and to provide healing for victims/survivors.”
Archbishop Hart also noted that the accusations made against the Cardinal were raised in 2002.
Concluding his statement, the Archbishop of Melbourne called on Australians to not jump to conclusions. “I hope all Australians who believe in a fair go will give Cardinal Pell the opportunity to answer the criticisms that have been raised in both the Royal Commission and the media before drawing any final conclusions.”
The Bishops and Auxiliary Bishops of Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Canberra-Goulburn, and Broken Bay also issued a statement, endorsing Archbishop Hart’s letter.
“We know Cardinal Pell well from working with him over many years in different capacities. He is a man of integrity who is committed to the truth and to helping others, particularly those who have been hurt or who are struggling,” the statement read.
“His style can be robust and direct; he does not wear his heart on his sleeve. But underneath he has a big heart for people.”
The bishops expressed their support for the cardinal and appreciation for his “unfailing support for the important work of the Royal Commission and his constant readiness to assist the Royal Commission whenever he is asked to do so.”
Job to do
The commission itself also released a statement in response to the situation.
“The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, as mandated by the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has no jurisdiction to comment on individual cases or inquiries.
“Regarding Australia’s Royal Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Child Sex Abuse, all appropriate questions are being dealt with by the Truth, Justice and Healing Council in Australia, which is coordinating the local churches’ response to the Royal Commission’s findings.
“The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors remains dedicated to its mission as outlined in the recently approved provisional Statutes, which is to help the Church worldwide protect minors and make certain that the interests of abuse survivors and victims’ are paramount.
“To this ends the Commission considers it essential that those in positions of authority in the Church respond promptly, transparently and with the clear intent of enabling justice to be achieved”.