A graceful day for His Grace
Apology as support grows
By Kathleen Carmody
The Archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne have issued a joint “sincere and unreserved” apology to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
In a written statement, Archbishop George Pell and Archbishop Denis Hart said their aim was to move “towards healing” – the title of the national protocols introduced by Australia’s bishops in 1996 to deal with the issue of sexual abuse.
“On behalf of the Catholic Church in Melbourne and Sydney, and personally, we apologise, sincerely and unreservedly, to all victims of abuse, and to the Australian community, for the wrongs sand hurt suffered,” they said.
Catholics in Sydney had already rallied in support of Archbishop Pell, who was accused by 60 Minutes of having offered a bribe to a victim of clergy sexual abuse and to have paid ‘hush money’ to the family of a similarly abused girl.
Dr Pell has emphatically denied the allegations.
There has been a groundswell of support for him within the Catholic community.
Demonstrations were held outside Channel Nine studios by young Catholics, and a petition of support was presented to the archbishop after Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral last Sunday.
His private secretary, Dr Michael Casey, said that his office had received hundreds of messages of support in the past two weeks.
“In terms of notes, emails and phone calls it would number in the hundreds,” Dr Casey said.
The messages had expressed anger at 60 Minutes and the way the archbishop had been set up. Dr Casey said people were praying for Archbishop Pell and were grateful for what he was doing.
“They were wishing him well (and) telling him not be discouraged,” he said.
The archbishop said he was grateful for the support.
“I am very touched and deeply grateful for the support and encouragement I’ve received from people, both from messages sent in to the office and from moving around the diocese,” he said.
His colleagues have also expressed their clear support for him.
Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta, said Archbishop Pell was a man of great integrity.
“His clear-mindedness, integrity and honesty came through so very clearly in that 60 Minutes program that one doesn’t need to listen to the interviewer who was trying to lead him into making misleading statements,” he said.
“I’ve known and worked with Archbishop Pell for a period of 10 years and the man is so honest and open (about the issue) that any suggestion of him being capable of such wrongdoing is absolute nonsense.”
Bishop Manning added that he knew of no bishop who had tried to do more for victims of clergy sex abuse than Archbishop Pell.
“I think in the final wash-up that will come out.”
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, auxiliary bishop in the Sydney archdiocese, said he found it difficult to believe the accusations.
“It’s not the way he operated. He’s a confronter not an avoider,” Bishop Robinson said.
The Archbishop of Brisbane, Archbishop John Bathersby, told ABC radio that he had always found Archbishop Pell to be greatly sympathetic and compassionate towards victims.
“I think he is that type of person. In one sense he’s enormously open and direct and sometimes, perhaps, to people he appears abrupt,” he said, “but I do think he has a genuine compassion for people who have been victimised within the Church.”
On a website set up by a group of young Catholics, people were encouraged to show their support by signing the petition of support.
Bishop Manning said that 60 Minutes was a “rubbish program” that “sets out to undermine good and decent people. To me they have just lost their credibility – if they had any in the first place”.