Expressing “shame and apology” for the suffering of victims of sexual abuse within the Church, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP urged Catholics “not to draw any final conclusions” about the conviction of Cardinal George Pell until the appeal process has been completed.
Speaking at the 10.30 Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday morning, Archbishop Fisher acknowledged the deep impact the verdict had made on the Catholic community and said he was praying for “public calm and civility”.
News of the Cardinal’s conviction by a Victorian court had left many “bewildered, angry, demoralised” he said.
“If you find yourself struggling, I urge you to speak to someone about it. And let me assure you, I feel your shock and pain, and the Catholic community with you.”
However he reaffirmed that it is the victims of clergy sexual abuse who are the Church’s “first concern” and recommitted himself to stamping out such crimes within the Church.
“To all those who have suffered abuse at the hands of clergy or other Church personnel, to their families and the entire community, I repeat my many expressions of shame and apology. I renew my commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all young and vulnerable people in the Church.”
In the meantime, “The legal process regarding the Cardinal is not yet complete, and so I will not comment on it,” he said.
“I urge people not to draw any final conclusions until the appeal judges have had their chance to review this matter. Amidst the heated emotions of the present, I also pray for public calm and civility.”
St Mary’s Cathedral was full for the Solemn Mass which was concelebrated by Bishops Terry Brady, Anthony Randazzo and Richard Umbers.
In a “Lenten spirit of penance” and “a plea for God’s mercy” the Archbishop knelt before the altar along with his fellow bishops during the Penitential Rite. The entire congregation did likewise.
Archbishop Fisher cautioned against making rash judgements in a case which has won national and international attention.
“As the Cardinal’s matter is ongoing in the courts, I cannot comment on the substance; others have done so, and some have raised serious questions for the appellate court to examine.
“If we are too quick to judge, we can end up joining the demonisers or the apologists, those baying for blood or those in denial,” he said.
Recognising that the case has tested the faith of many, he urged Catholics to open themselves to spiritual answers.
“Many feel disheartened, and are uncertain how to go on believing, worshipping, living the Christian Gospel … But as some crimes cry out to heaven for vengeance or vindication, so it is to heaven that we must look for truth and for repair.
“As he awaits the conclusion of his legal process, the Cardinal is offering this time for all innocents who suffer; we faithful can do likewise with the shame and sorrow we are feeling.
“I pray that the Church will emerge from present trials purified, humbler, more compassionate. After pruning comes growth; after the Cross, Resurrection; this is our Paschal wisdom and hope,” he said.
In his closing remarks as Mass concluded, the Archbishop reiterated yet again the importance of prayer.
“In these hard times we must continue to support each other and to pray, pray, pray,” he said, asking the faithful to pray “For all the victims of child sexual abuse, for truth and justice in the case of Cardinal Pell, and for purification and healing for our church at this time”.