60 Minutes brands Catholic Church ‘out of touch’
Current affairs program 60 Minutes has launched a scathing attack on the Catholic Church, saying senior officials are “out of touch” and have alienated victims of sexual abuse by issuing statements in support of Cardinal George Pell.
As the program opened on Sunday night, journalist Tara Brown began an editorial that suggested there was a deepening rift between Church leaders and victims of paedophile priests.
“The Catholic Church in Australia stands in crisis,” Brown declared within the first ten seconds of the program.
“The men who lead it have put themselves on a collision course with the victims of child sexual abuse by expressing their unfailing support for George Pell.”
Last week, the program interviewed Peter Saunders, a member of the commission that advises the Pope on the protection of children, who made a number of allegations about Cardinal Pell relating to whether he had knowledge of the actions of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.
Various senior members of the Church publicly pledged their support for Cardinal Pell after the allegations aired, including the Archbishops of Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, Hobart and Canberra-Goulburn. The Vatican press office also released a statement that distanced the Church from claims made during the program.
Additionally, a statement by the Cardinal’s spokesperson branded the claims “false and misleading” and “outrageous”.
“From his earliest actions as an archbishop, Cardinal Pell has taken a strong stand against child sexual abuse… there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material… The Cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers,” the statement said.
On Sunday, Brown hit back.
“There was nothing factually incorrect with our story,” she said.
“There was nothing prejudicial about our story. Indeed all of the allegations we broadcast have been raised inside the Royal Commission. Even the chief executive of the Church’s own Truth, Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan, says George Pell needs to be cross-examined.”
The program again aired a snippet of an interview with George Pell from 2002, where he told Richard Carleton he had not seen a photograph that featured the self-harm of one of the daughters of Anthony and Chrissie Foster. The daughter, who had been sexually abused by a priest, later took her own life.
Eleven years later, Cardinal Pell told the Victorian Inquiry into institutional child sexual abuse that he had seen the photograph – suddenly and without warning.
“We’d like to know if Cardinal Pell was telling the truth to Richard Carleton in 2002, or was he telling the truth when he changed his story at the Victorian Inquiry in 2013,” Brown said.
“But regardless of the answer to that question, the Bishops have now pledged their support for George Pell. These leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia have hitched their wagon to George Pell and put themselves on a collision course with victims of child sexual abuse.”
These comments of support for Cardinal Pell, which said he was a man who respected the truth and had empathy for victims of sexual abuse, were referenced in a legal letter sent to Mr Saunders that then asked him to withdraw his allegations.
“It makes the whole week seem like a co-ordinated campaign to defend Cardinal Pell,” Brown said.
“Once again the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is out of touch and closing ranks. Despite all their rhetoric, they’ve forgotten what matters most here: the victims. The victims want to be heard, they want to be listened to, and most importantly, they want to be believed.
“But the Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinal Pell have given every indication that’s unlikely to happen.”
Cardinal Pell has been asked to appear as a witness at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse when it returns to Ballarat later this year.
He has maintained he would be willing to appear at a hearing and answer questions posed to him.