*** DEBUG END ***

Pressure builds on the Cardinal

26 February 2016

George Pell is to be quizzed over a paedophile priest, reports Paul Vallely


ON SUNDAY, the film Spotlight is up for five Oscars. It tells the story of how The Boston Globe first exposed the Roman Catholic Church’s policy of moving clergy from one parish to another to hush up the scandal of paedophile priests.

Earlier this month, there was a private showing of the film for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Only six of the 17 commissioners showed up for it. Pope Francis did not attend.

One of those who did was Peter Saunders, the abuse survivor who was the commission’s most publicly outspoken member until he was recently asked to leave the commission. Mr Saunders has since said that, at the end of the Vatican screening, one commission member concluded: “We need to look after our priests.”

It was a revealing response. Most viewers conclude that it is the children who need looking after. Another member told Mr Saunders: “The Pope is more interested in priests who are falsely accused.” If that is true, it explains why Francis is moving so slowly over child abuse.

The day after the Oscars, Cardinal George Pell, the third most important man in the Vatican, will give evidence to Australia’s Royal Commission on sex abuse. Cardinal Pell has previously said, ineptly, that the Church is no more legally responsible for predator priests than a trucking company would be if a driver molested a woman.

Abuse survivors in Australia call him indifferent, cold, and callous. For many in the Vatican, the last straw was when Mr Saunders added that the Australian Cardinal had shown “an almost sociopathic” disregard for victims.

Cardinal Pell, aged 74, who vehemently denies all allegations, says his heart is too weak to allow him to fly. So he will give evidence by videolink. His failure to travel has aroused huge indignation in Australia, and a public appeal has funded victims to travel to Rome to be in the room when he testifies.

TV networks are broadcasting an abusive song by the satirist Tim Minchin, accusing the Cardinal of being hypocritical and cowardly “scum”. And a Murdoch tabloid has reported that police have been conducting a year-long investigation into claims that CardinalPell committed “multiple offences”, going back to the 1970s, when he shared a house with Australia’s most infamous paedophile priest — a man now in jail for assaults on 54 children. Cardinal Pell says that police have not contacted him about the allegations.

Righteous or self-righteous indignation is hardening positions on both sides. Victims’ supporters are abandoning due process. The presumption of innocence seems to have been replaced by the atmosphere of a witch-hunt. But the Church is withdrawing into its old silence. A Vatican source was recently briefing that clergy are reluctant to report suspicions of abuse because governments and the police in some countries are so hostile. Meanwhile, in the United States and in India, priests suspended after allegations are being restored to ministry on the say-so of closed tribunals, at both diocesan and Vatican levels.

The tragedy is that tackling predator priests and cover-up bishops — and, above all, protecting vulnerable children — seems to be becoming more rather than less difficult.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)