Cardinal To Defend Himself Against Sexual Abuse Charges In Australia A close aide to Pope Francis has been charged with sexually abusing children. Steve Inskeep talks to Thomas Doyle, a former Catholic priest and now a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter.

Cardinal To Defend Himself Against Sexual Abuse Charges In Australia

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We have a long-range perspective now on the Catholic church and child sex abuse.


It comes from Thomas Doyle. He's a Catholic priest who's long been a critic of his church and its attitude toward abuse. We spoke with him after a top church official was accused of, quote, "historical sex crimes."

INKSEEP: Cardinal George Pell was recently made one of the Vatican's top prelates. He's accused of committing crimes while serving years ago in Australia. Thomas Doyle testified as an expert witness in the investigation of a wider scandal in Australia.

How big is the scandal in Australia?

THOMAS DOYLE: The scandal in Australia is just as big as it is and has been in the United States. There are proportionately just as many victims. The bishops have acted in many ways as the bishops over here have thus far. They've covered it up. They've lied about it. They've treated victims horribly, consistently. And one of the worst was Cardinal Pell, as far as treating victims in a mean, disdainful manner.

INKSEEP: What exactly do you mean by that?

DOYLE: I'll give you a couple examples. One, there was a victim over there - a man named John Ellis - who had been sexually abused as a young man. When he finally approached the courts, he was a young man. He was in his 20s, I believe. Pell was the archbishop of Sydney. And Pell instructed his lawyers to fight the civil charges as vigorously possible. He wanted him used as an example so that other people would not have the audacity to sue the Catholic church. This all came out in the hearings in the Royal Commission when Cardinal Pell was forced to tell the truth that this was their strategy.

INKSEEP: You're relating to us testimony from this Australian government commission...

DOYLE: Yes, I am.

INKSEEP: ...Took testimony under oath.

DOYLE: He was forced to testify under oath that this is what they did.

INKSEEP: And the way they were going to make an example was by fighting tooth and nail, even though they had an idea that...

DOYLE: They were going to pound him into the ground through the courts.

INKSEEP: Well, given that, how did he get a job at the Vatican?

DOYLE: That's a good question. He was the archbishop of Sydney, which is the largest city in Australia - not very popular with either the priests or the people. Some say that he was - he was bumped upstairs to get him out of there. But then he was given this extremely powerful position and made one of the nine inner sanctum that the pope uses as his primary collaborators. That has befuddled a lot of people. And they've asked, rightly, if the pope knew this guy's background, why did he do this?

INKSEEP: So we're told he was promoted in 2014?


INKSEEP: And your understanding of the timeline is by then, it was possible to know how controversial, at the least, he had been in Australia?

DOYLE: Oh, it certainly was known. I mean, it was definitely known in Australia. But it was known over here. The community of victims and survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic church is huge. It's connected, in a sense, all over the world because they reach out and work with each other. And the movement, so to speak, for justice is driven and fueled by the victims themselves, not by the church. You know, they've remained defensive.

INKSEEP: So Pope Francis, who welcomed Cardinal Pell into his inner circle, knowing some things about him, has also said that there will be a policy of zero tolerance towards sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

DOYLE: Exactly.

INKSEEP: How's it going?

DOYLE: Not good because he's said a lot of wonderful things. He's put some stuff in place, but then nothing has happened. He's said that it's a crime for bishops to cover up sex abuse and that those accused will - if they're verified, will be put out of ministry. Well, if this is verified in the case of Cardinal Pell, what's going to happen?

INKSEEP: I want to ask about one other aspect of this. One reaction that I had - and I think I'm not the only one - to the news of the charges against Cardinal Pell was to realize, wow, there's been, like, 15 years of intensive news coverage on this and even more years of scandals and investigations and trials and dismissals.

And still, authorities are finding more people to accuse of sexual abuse from 30 or 40 years ago. What does it mean that there seem to still be more suspects out there who have yet to be convicted?

DOYLE: Looking more deeply into this, one has to look at the systemic reasons. Let's just look at the Catholic church. The sexual abuse of minors has been going on - the first church documents that refer to it date from the first - very first century. The first laws enacted by the church against sexual abuse of minors date from the year 309. It has only been deeply buried under a very thick blanket of secrecy over the past couple of centuries. But there were years when it was known by the people.

INKSEEP: And just sort of accepted or...

DOYLE: It wasn't accepted. There were eras when the Catholic bishops worked hand in glove with local governments, where a priest, if he was accused, would be defrocked and then turned over to the secular government, where they would be tried. And in some instances, the penalty was death. And it was - it was inflicted. It's like a submarine that went under in the 19th century. And it stayed under until 1984, '85, when the media got ahold of it. And people realized, this has been going on. But it's been deeply covered.

The phenomenon of victims continuing to come forward is explainable by the fact that, objectively, people who are sexually abused as minors - let's say 10, 12, 13 years old, do not - and this is based on a lot of very authentic studies - do not disclose for about 30 to 32 years. And at that, only about 35 percent who are ever sexually abused will ever come forward and disclose. So that's why you have men and women now finally coming forward, feeling at least comfortable enough to do it and because the church is in such a place where they know they'll be believed. This also says that this issue was far more widespread. It wasn't, as they used to say, a couple bad apples in a huge barrel. It was a huge barrel with a lot of bad apples in it.

It cannot be covered anymore. It can't be gotten away with that easily anymore, precisely because this time around, the survivors and the victims are running the show. They're the ones determining that this will stay in the public sight. It will go into the courts. And the courts will be objective. The media will know about it. It will not be buried.

INKSEEP: Tom Doyle, thanks for coming by.

DOYLE: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.


INKSEEP: Thomas Doyle is a Catholic priest, now a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. Cardinal Pell is stepping aside from his Vatican role. And over the weekend, another top Vatican figure left his job. Pope Francis replaced the cardinal, who led the office of church doctrine, a conservative who was seen as critical of the pope's leadership.

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