Donald McLeish of SNAP Australia Statement on the death of Cardinal Pell

For immediate release January 13, 2023


The surprise death of George Pell came as good news to many survivors of clerical abuse in Australia. SNAP or its network members do not celebrate the death of anyone, even of a man despised and mistrusted by thousands of survivors and supporters in Australia and beyond.


Donald McLeish of SNAP Australia, says “George Pell had become a target and focus for survivors, and seen as the embodiment of the church’s attitude to those sexually abused by clerics, religious brothers and sisters, and lay employees of the Catholic Church in Australia.” The ‘modus operandi’ used worldwide, was to immediately dispel the situation, minimise the damage, and move the perpetrator on to other places where abuse continued almost unabated until recent times.


George Pell was recognised by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, as a witness whose testimony at the very least, left much to be desired. Pell, rather than being instrumental in change as a church senior leader supporting survivors and victims of sexual abuse, adopted even refined, the long-standing Church practice of secrecy, and protecting the institution, seemingly at all costs. Caring for the abused was only to a degree that did not ‘upset the applecart’ or bring discredit to the Church. The hierarchy attitude held more sway than responding to the mental, physical, and spiritual well-being and hurt caused by the sexual abuse.


In the words of one such survivor, “Pell was a sanctimonious, lying sociopath who exhibited no remorse, compassion, empathy, decency, or integrity when questioned about the abuse which happened under his leadership”. Another said, “Bloody relieved, Pell is dead”. This was uttered by a man continuing to deal with the abuse suffered many years ago. Then a gentler comment, “Let’s not condone wrongdoing by honouring those who enabled or concealed wrongdoing”, obviously referring to Pell’s time in Ballarat, and as an Assistant Bishop in Melbourne. An interesting note here is, the Victorian Government (Pell’s home state) will not hold a formal memorial to Pell, the rationale provided is the possible triggering and hurt it may cause.


It was at this stage George Pell showed his ‘colours’ by not dealing with the paedophile priest Father Searson at the Doveton Parish, directly under his authority. This abuse involved among others, a particular young student at the Parish school Julie Stewart, and her whistle-blowing school principal Graeme Sleeman, whose pleas to the Church were not heard for a further twelve years. Graeme Sleeman’s experience with George Pell and the Church was a crushing blow to him and his family. He never worked in Catholic education again and to date remains frustratingly legally entangled with the Catholic Church. Pell was aware of this, did nothing, and Searson continued abusing for another seven years before his removal. This action followed a parishioners delegation meeting with Pell tragically, five years after the abuse of Julie Stewart.


The Royal Commissioners were scathing of Pell for this inaction, and SNAP members will not forget this mammoth oversight and further enabling of abuse to innocent children.


At that time Pell’s battle with the Foster family formed a significant part of the clerical abuse history in Australia. Emma and Katie Foster, were both abused by Fr. Kevin O’Donnell, a prolific child abuser over the course of 50 years. Some of his crimes including rape were committed during Pell’s tenure as Assistant Bishop. Emma Foster tragically took her life, as numerous victims have done, while Katie lives with the ongoing effects of a car accident resulting from the misuse of alcohol and trauma caused by O’Donnell.


The Royal Commission described the Ballarat abuse situation as a “Catastrophic institutional failure.” It was much more than that, and those victims who have died, many by their own hand, convincingly demonstrate that fact. The survivors who live day to day struggling with flashbacks, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, addictions, and the list goes on, can verify and confirm the tragedy of the carnage of human dignity and life. All caused by a systemic failure to place human life over the credibility of the institutional Church.

This is the legacy George Pell leaves, and there will be no tears shed by SNAP survivors on his passing. He was one man, there are others, and the fight for justice, compensation, and recognition continues. To echo a comment made in an article by the author of ‘Cardinal’ a book on Pell, by journalist Louise Milligan, we share the summing up of George Pell as she quotes a line from a character in Charles Dickins’s David Copperfield. “Ride on! Rough-shod, if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride over all obstacles and win the race.”


Is the race over? SNAP members disagree.




Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

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SNAP contact in Australia: Donald McLeish, 0411 565 691.


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