Roz Ward on clergy hypocrisy and the valorisation of child molesters

In the wake of cardinal George Pell’s guilty verdict for child abuse, the hypocrisy of his conservative supporters and the church leadership has been unrelentingly disgusting. 

Before the jury made its decision, Pell, like the investment banks that caused the global financial crisis, was considered by many to be “too big to fail”. But fail he did, in the most appalling way. For all those who have managed to survive after being assaulted and abused at the hands of the Catholic Church, the conviction of Pell is one small step in the struggle for justice. 

When I co-founded the Safe Schools Coalition, our aim was to challenge homophobic and transphobic abuse so that LGBTI students, teachers and families could feel genuinely included in schools. Even though it was a modest program, receiving minuscule funding compared to the government’s school chaplaincy program, I knew there would be institutions and prominent individuals who would attack us. The Catholic Church was high on that list. 

The first time I was warned about expressing a “political opinion” at work was when I gave a comment to the media about the church. That was in 2015, after the archbishop of Melbourne, Dennis Hart, distributed to every Catholic school student in Victoria an 18-page pamphlet titled “Don’t mess with marriage”. An accompanying letter referred to same sex marriage as a “serious injustice”. All the while, Pell and the church hierarchy were fighting to silence survivors of abuse.

At the same time, the archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, publicly criticised Safe Schools for “enforcing an extreme form of the LGBTI agenda on schools”. That “extreme agenda” was trying to make LGBTI students feel safe at school and be free from bullying and abuse. If only the same efforts were made to protect all the children traumatised and abused while in the care of the Catholic Church and its institutions. 

When Safe Schools came under sustained attack from the Murdoch press, the Australian Christian Lobby and the political right, I was subjected to a torrent of personal abuse. My work email and social media inboxes were full of messages calling me a paedophile and a sick pervert. Many said god would punish me for my sins. 

Miranda Devine and Andrew Bolt accused me of “sexualising children” and engaging in systematic “Marxist indoctrination”. Lyle Shelton, head of the Christian Lobby, said Safe Schools was akin to the Holocaust and Nazi mind control. Tony Abbott, then the prime minister, described Safe Schools as a “social engineering program” and called for our funding to be cut. 

These same people are now falling over themselves to defend a convicted paedophile and child molester. They are truly vile enablers of child abuse.

After Pell’s conviction, Andrew Bolt wrote: “The man I know seems not just incapable of such abuse, but so intelligent and cautious that he would never risk his brilliant career and good name on such a mad assault in such a public place”. Miranda Devine said: “I don’t believe that Pell, who I know slightly and admire greatly, could be guilty of sexually assaulting two schoolboys”. Tony Abbott described the verdict as “a devastating result … for the friends of cardinal Pell”. Lyle Shelton backed and retweeted every one of them.

The evidence we now have about the scale and nature of the Catholic clergy’s crimes could not be any clearer. From the top down, the church has covered up a massive paedophile ring that has abused countless children for decades. 

How are these people allowed to run schools with billions of dollars of public funding? Why have their assets not been frozen and their land taken? Where are the child protection officers in every parish? How is confession still above the law? 

Safe Schools was a small program attempting to change school culture and attitudes for the better. We were labelled child abusers for our efforts. The Catholic Church is a proven perpetrator of abuse. And the commentators and politicians so “concerned” about children now rally behind its great leader. 

Reportedly there is a marble and terrazzo mausoleum prepared for Pell in the crypt of St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. I hope very soon he rots in that crypt and that the edifice of the church comes crashing down around his stinking corpse.