A Cardinal has provoked outrage after claiming that the Catholic Church should be no more responsible for the abuse of children than a trucking company is of a driver who picks up and molests a woman while on the job.
Cardinal George Pell was speaking to Australia’s royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse on Thursday, via a video link from the Vatican, when he said that there are instances when the Church should not be blamed.
The inquiry is looking at a scheme set up by the Church in 1996, which had independently looked at child abuse allegations, offered free counselling and compensation payments to victims.
“Let me give a non-controversial example. If there is a series, for example, of trucks carrying merchandise around the country, if in fact these are improperly serviced or the drivers are pushed to work for too long, obviously there is a culpability somewhere in the authority chain.
“If in fact the driver of such a truck picks up some lady and then molests her, I don't think it's appropriate – because it is contrary to the policy – for the ownership, the leadership of that company to be held responsible.
“Similarly, with the Church and the head of any other organisation. If there has been - every precaution has been taken, no warning has been given, it's I think not appropriate for legal culpability to be foisted upon the authority figure.”
He added that legal blame could, however, be attributed if the particular person had been remiss due to bad procedures or preparation by their superior.
Cardinal Pell’s “non-controversial example” left the Chair of the Australian Trucking Association, Noelene Watson, reeling, who took offence to his comments.
“There are more than 170,000 professional truck drivers in Australia” she told the Guardian.
“They have families and children. Cardinal Pell’s analogy is a deep insult to every one of them”, she added, while also saying that his remarks were an effort to deflect attention from the Church.
It was also rubbished by the father of two girls who had been raped by a paedophile priest who said that it was “just absurd, ludicrous, and it was nowhere near a proper analogy to the Catholic Church”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
During the hearing, the commission’s Chair, Peter McClellan, referred to Cardinal Pell’s comments and asked whether the relationship between “the truck driver and the casual passenger” is “quite different” to that of a priest who “gains access to a child…with the parents’ consent”. Cardinal Pell replied: “Yes, I would certainly concede that.”
A transcript of the 21 August hearing can be found here.
Cardinal Pell had been called by the commission to answer questions on the Melbourne Response scheme he introduced in 1996 while Archbishop of Melbourne.
The commission says it “investigates how institutions like schools, churches, sports clubs and government organisations have responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse”.