George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrate Court. Picture: Tony Gough
George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrate Court. Picture: Tony Gough

How Pell’s attitude spurred on his critics

IF THERE was ever a George Pell drop-the-mic moment in the lead up to his eventual charging for child sex abuse, it came on a stormy night in a packed hotel room in central Rome.

Here at the historic Hotel Quirinale's Verdi Room, aptly named after a famed 19th century composer of high operatic drama, Pell drew audible gasps and head shakes of disbelief from the capacity 168 registered person audience.

 

George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrate Court. Picture: Tony Gough
George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrate Court. Picture: Tony Gough

 

"It was a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me," Pell told his audience on his initial response on hearing about child sex abuse in his church.

The $372 million royal commission into institutional child abuse had sat in Australia for weeks from 2013 but was shifted to Rome for a week in 2016 to take testimony from Pell, one of the biggest figures in the Vatican to ever be questioned over the scandal engulfing the church here.

For four days the then 74-year-old Pell was controlled and forthright during his at times tense inquisition, at one point even being accused of obstructing evidence gathering through his exasperating shoulder-shrugging dismissiveness of harrowing tales put to him of abuse by clergy in his diocese.

 

In his first day of testimony, 27 times he said he could not recall faces, places or critical moments, responses a frustrated Gail Furness SC assisting the commission would later brand "implausible". Even in the Gospels the Apostle Peter apparently only had to deny his knowledge of Jesus three times to see him condemned.

But Pell's jawdropping one line - witnessed by Australian victims of child abuse sitting in that room and others elsewhere watching the live streamed broadcast of his evidence - summed up his unbelievable contempt for what had been happening in his Church, under his watch and now as we have discovered, by his own hands.

It said so much about the man who at one point in evidence declared himself "a victim" of circumstance and the deceptiveness of those who sought to hide their dirty secrets from him.

Other telling evidence of his attitude was that "original sin" did exist and "enormous mistakes" had been made by the church but they were different times and the institution simple represented community attitudes and standards of the time, turning a blind eye to abuse by some in the clergy was simply OK for some of no interest to Pell.

He had his supporters there in the Verdi Room; one notable Melbourne-based commentator, close friends from his church in Sydney and Italian clergy who were emailed and asked to attend proceedings to support him and the broader church.

But on the whole, the Pell performance did nothing to endear or exonerate him from the carnal knowledge of a generation of abuse within the church and only spurred on victims to continue to pursue redress which they have in part now achieved.



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