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Scandal in the Roman Catholic Church: The Charade Goes On!
The Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, is the Most Reverend George Pell. He is a tall, impressive-looking man, whose career in his church has followed the traditional path of those who become significant Catholic leaders. He, like most upwardly mobile priests, received at least part of his training in the Pontifical College of Rome, where he came to the attention of Vatican leaders. Promotion came rapidly until he found himself the Archbishop of Melbourne in the Australian province of Victoria. Here he developed a leadership style that included a group of priestly advisers that stood somewhat outside the traditional lines of the church’s authority system. Their existence was not unknown to the wider public and they began to be referred to as the “Archbishop’s kitchen cabinet.” The membership of the group was certainly known to those who cared to know. This group even had a nickname. In some critical circles they were referred to as “the girls.”
During this time, the Australian Catholic Church was reeling with stories of the priestly abuse of minors. There was a public cry for a “thorough investigation.” Some even wanted that investigation to be conducted by some authority outside the church, fearing that a church-led investigation would be little more than a cover up. That has been a common experience in other countries. It is quite difficult for any institution to investigate its own sins and shortcomings with any degree of objectivity. For that same reason in the world of politics, when corruption or misbehavior is suspected, there is always a cry from the party not in power for an “independent” prosecutor or investigator.
The Roman Church, which has always shrouded many of its activities and operations in mystery and secrecy, resisted that call and announced that this investigation of the misbehavior of Catholic priests would be undertaken and directed by a much respected bishop, who was also a rising star in the Australian Catholic Church. His name was the Most Reverend Geoffrey Robinson. He and his investigating commission were appointed amid all the usual promises of thoroughness and the express commitment to “to get to the bottom” of this embarrassing episode. It was said by Bishop Robinson, upon his appointment to this crucial work, that he would not hesitate to recommend the purging and the punishment of those who were found to be guilty. Because of Bishop Robinson’s sterling reputation for integrity, the appointment of this committee under his leadership was accepted in good faith and its existence served to quiet the wolves who were howling around the structures of Australia’s Catholic Church. Revelation after revelation continued to find public outlet and each one served to rock this church to its core, eroding both its reputation for honesty and its presumed integrity.
[Much of the essay has been deleted because of copyright restrictions]
In time, the Cardinal’s hat was placed on the head of George Pell. Recently, the scandal of priestly abuse and hierarchical cover up in the Australian Church broke out again publicly with seemingly incontrovertible evidence. In the ensuing trial Cardinal Pell formally admitted that a cover up had gone on in the Australian Catholic Church, though he claimed not to have been a part of it. He attempted to excuse it with the tired and uninspiring statement that the cover up was initiated “out of concern for the reputation of the church.”
Nothing has changed. The cover up of the cover up is now exposed. Bishop Robinson in retirement continues to write and to lecture. He will not be silenced. Francis, the new Pope, recently announced that he was forming Council of Cardinals to advise him on problems facing his church. One of those appointed advisers is George Pell of Sydney. Do they think we don’t remember? Do they think we don’t know? The charade remains intact.
John Shelby Spong
Read the essay online here.