The chair of Concerned Catholics in the Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese, Emeritus Professor John Warhurst, has renewed his call for greater transparency and accountability in the Church after the Victorian Court of Appeal dismissed Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against child sex abuse convictions.
And, he says, priests must have the courage to address the issue freely and fairly from their pulpits this week.
The initial guilty verdict was upheld by two of the three Appeal Court judges, who found that the conviction was reasonable given the evidence. Two further grounds of appeal based on technical elements of the case were both unanimously dismissed, and Cardinal Pell will continue serving his six-year sentence.
Many observers believe that an appeal to the High Court is likely, but that will depend on whether Cardinal Pell’s legal team finds sufficient grounds for a further appeal to be allowed.
Professor Warhurst, who was formerly head of the Australian Republican Movement and is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the ANU, said that “for survivors, this judgement recognises situations where it’s often their word against that of the perpetrator.
“This decision creates greater confidence for survivors who feel they are rarely or never heard. As revealed by the Royal Commission, people who did come forward were often told to go away, that they were making it up and could not be trusted.
“The ramifications of this appeal go beyond the particulars of this case.
“It responds more broadly to issues around the difficulty of obtaining convictions with someone who has a senior position in the Church.”
Concerned Catholics is an advocacy group whose mission is to ensure that Catholic laypeople in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese “have an effective role and voice in the administration and direction of their church”.
They believe that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse provides the grounds for profound system reform of the Church’s administration and culture.
They say that the Royal Commission hearings demonstrated “a lack of transparency and accountability, the absence of competent lay participation and leadership, and a culture of secrecy and non-disclosure … characteristic of Church administration and governance”.
Professor Warhurst noted the response to the Appeals Court finding from Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who chairs the Australian Bishops’ Conference and is the former archbishop of Canberra Goulburn. His statement said the focus must be on survivors of sexual abuse, first and foremost, adding that all bishops must respect the rule of law and this judgement from the court.
“People will have their own views about there particulars of the case, but I think the Concerned Catholics community would put the survivors first and encourage the Church towards transparency, accountability of governance, structures and decision making,” Professor Warhurst said.
He believes that the Pell appeal should be widely discussed within local parishes and Catholic organisations.
“There can be no shying away from it, whether it’s a national view to be expressed by the Church leadership, or within the Canberra Goulburn archdiocese, or expressed at the parish level.
“We still hear reports of people in authority casting doubt on the process with the Pell case, and describing it as a lynch mob, or anti-Catholic persecution. Those sentiments should not be repeated from a position of authority when Cardinal Pell has had due process before the courts,” Professor Warhurst said.
“Too often Catholics put up with hearing these things from leaders within the church and don’t exercise their voices to contest those views. Ordinary Catholics must make sure that those in authority know how they feel, and that they won’t put up with inappropriate discussions.
“We need to hear the voices of survivors, of women, of ordinary people.”