The Message Sent by Pope Francis Meeting with Cardinal Pell
Yesterday, Pope Francis took time out of his day to meet and pray with Australia’s Cardinal George Pell. We believe this ostensibly simple meeting between two men sends the disturbing message that the highest officials in the Catholic Church still have a lot to learn about the realities of child sexual abuse and survivors.
It was only a few months ago that Cardinal Pell was imprisoned for sexual abuse. He was, we know, ultimately acquitted. However, we think it is important to note that he was first convicted by a jury of his peers who heard testimony from a man who accused the Cardinal of abuse, in addition to a dozen other witnesses. Adding weight to the abuse testimony were those who came forward during the trial to describe grooming behavior by Cardinal Pell. On the other hand, the Cardinal’s acquittal was a decision reached by a small panel of judges who were not present during the trial. We find it hard to believe that justice was served when the testimonies of all those witnesses were discarded.
By publicly meeting with Cardinal Pell this week and by dedicating a mass to those who have been “unjustly condemned” following his acquittal, Pope Francis makes it clear that he stands by his man. The Pontiff may wax poetic about the need to declare an “all-out battle” on sexual abuse, but when it comes to his personal choice – “Do I believe the many people who say they were hurt by this man, or do I believe this man?” – the Pope, sadly, made the expected choice.
In reality, the “unjustly condemned” are the victims and advocates who have been pushing for the Catholic Church to do more to protect children and support survivors for decades. Long before sexual abuse became a trending topic on Twitter, victims of clergy abuse were being shamed in the pews, disbelieved by their communities, and ignored when they made reports. Only in recent years, when the Church’s ceaseless efforts to keep the public in the dark about the scope of clergy abuse have been exposed across the globe, did people start to believe survivors were telling the truth.
We hope that parishioners and the public worldwide are paying attention to how Catholic officials continue to speak one way about the sexual abuse scandal and act in another. True change will come when those in the pews recognize this disconnect and demand accountability.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org; our Australia website is SNAPAustralia.org)