Cardinal Pell destroyed unity of abuse response: Bishop

A retired bishop has said Cardinal George Pell destroyed the unity of the Australian Church’s response to child sex abuse.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson said this during testimony to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney on Monday.

Bishop Robinson worked with other bishops on an Australia-wide clergy response to abuse, Towards Healing, from 1994.

But when this was close to being announced at the end of 1996, Cardinal Pell dropped a “bombshell”.

Cardinal Pell, then the Archbishop of Melbourne, announced the archdiocese would release its own protocol, known as the Melbourne Response.

“He destroyed our unity,” Bishop Robinson said.

The commission heard then-Archbishop Pell was compelled to come up with a response after then-Victorian premier Jeff Kennett forced the issue.

“[Cardinal Pell] said to me Jeff Kennett had said to him, ‘You fix it or I’ll fix it for you’,” Bishop Robinson recalled in evidence.

Bishop Robinson, who is terminally ill, also said then-Archbishop Pell also acted this way because he wanted to be seen as a leader on abuse.

“What he came up with has a lot to recommend it, but I had very big problems with it too,” Bishop Robinson, 78, said.

“The major one was that the very first point of contact for a victim was a QC in a city office . . . .”

The former auxiliary bishop of Sydney also said Pope John Paul II handled the abuse crisis poorly.

Bishop Robinson told the commission to imagine how different things would have been if John Paul II had said outright in 1997 he had received reports of widespread sexual abuse of minors by priests and religious which had shocked him to the core.

He said that would have sent out a message to the whole Church, but instead there was “silence” from the Pope.

“A real leadership like that from the Pope would have been marvellous, and from subsequent popes, now we still don’t have that kind of leadership, not even from Francis,” he said.

Bishop Robinson also said he did not believe celibacy had anything to do with child abuse among clergy.

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