Ongoing and at times one-sided media coverage has prevented Australians from getting an accurate picture of how the Catholic Church in Australia is dealing with child sex abuse claims, Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell told media earlier this week.
Cardinal Pell said he welcomed Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement of a Royal Commission into child sex abuse “to help the victims, to clear the air, [and] to separate fact from fiction”.
“We acknowledge with shame the extent of the problem and I want to assure you that we have been serious in attempting to eradicate it and deal with it,” Cardinal Pell told a media conference on November 13.
“I would like to repeat what I and the church leadership have said for the last 16 years, which is that we are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church, we object to it being exaggerated.”
The day before, Cardinal Pell was a signatory to a statement issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference supporting the announcement of a Royal Commission, but also calling for a fair and accurate portrayal of the Church’s recent handling of allegations.
“Much of the public discussion is about how the Church dealt with cases 20 or more years ago. Critics talk as though earlier failures are still prevalent,” the statement said.
“Major procedural changes in dealing with these matters have been implemented by the Church since then. It is unjust and inappropriate to suggest crimes are being – or have been – committed, without producing evidence; without asking those accused for their responses before making generalised slurs. It is unacceptable, because it is untrue, to claim that the Catholic Church does not have proper procedures, and to claim that Catholic authorities refuse to cooperate with the police.”
On November 8, Lateline aired allegations made by former police inspector Peter Fox in a letter he wrote, published by the Newcastle Herald, that the Church “covers up, silences victims, hinders police investigations”, among other claims.
The Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle William Wright who had said he was personally in favour of a Royal Commission several days before it was announced, rebuffed the non-specific nature of Mr Fox’s claims.
“The diocese has publicly acknowledged its particularly troubled history regarding the sexual abuse of children. This history has caused and continues to cause pain to the victims of abuse, their families and the broader faith community,” Bishop Wright said in a November 9 statement.
“I can appreciate the anger and frustration that must build up in a dedicated Police officer like Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox. That anger and frustration, however, does not entitle him to remain unchallenged when he makes statements about the present day situation that are simply not correct.”