Pell and damnation
George Pell’s defenders have no cause to complain of his treatment

Pity poor, persecuted Cardinal George Pell.

Australia’s premier primate, a prince of the church and a grandee of the Vatican, the personal representative of the supreme pontiff, has become the helpless and hapless victim of a lynch mob – an army of hatred and rage among his enemies.

The Cardinal’s most devoted altar boy, Gerard Henderson, reckons we have not seen the like of it for almost a century, when another Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, was another victim of what Henderson calls “rampant anti-Catholic sectarianism”. The problem with this searching analysis is that most of the resentment against Pell’s high-handed approach to child abuse is not in fact anti-Catholic; it is driven by the victims, overwhelmingly devout Catholics themselves.

But let’s not be picky: according to Henderson, a lynch mob is a lynch mob, and our staunchly non-sectarian commentator blames most of it on the fact that a local comedian, Tim Minchin, has penned a mildly scurrilous, but hugely popular, polemic that suggests Pell could have behaved rather better.

This hysteria merits a counterargument, says Henderson; why, back in 1996 Pell, recently appointed an archbishop, established the Melbourne Response to mounting publicity surrounding child abuse within the church. And indeed he did; but the point is that Pell’s solution had very little to do with the victims.

They, or some of them, were paid niggardly and grudging amounts of compensation in return for their silence: the whole idea was to protect the church against further scandal. The allegations against the perpetrators of the abuse were excused and ignored; at the very most the perpetrators were quietly removed to another parish where, frequently, they continued to offend.

There was never a suggestion that the police should be brought in to examine what should have been serious criminal charges; and if desperate victims called the police themselves, there was usually a Catholic element within the force to make sure the charges were dropped.

Now we are told that the police are belatedly looking at allegations around Pell himself that he vigorously denies; and the fact that the investigation has been leaked is seen as another conspiracy by Pell’s supporters. And yet another Archbishop of Melbourne, Dennis Hart, wants an inquiry to expose this sinister plot against the church and Pell’s pending video appearance before the Royal Commission.

Henderson points out indignantly that the police have not even interviewed Pell about the allegations – true, but it has not been for want of trying. It turns out that the reason is that they have not been able to talk to Pell; they are waiting for approval to fly to Rome, where, of course, the ailing Cardinal is immovably ensconced.

All part of Henderson’s century-old lynch mob, of course – Pell has been irrevocably besmirched by Minchin, who described him as scum and a coward. How vulgar. Surely the critics could be more elegant. How about something like this:

I do not love thee, Cardinal Pell, 
For child molesters burn in hell,  
And those who shelter them as well:
You’ll frizzle nicely, Cardinal Pell.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum was a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Much of his work can be found here: The View from Billinudgel.

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