Families of victims of pedophile priests have described Cardinal George Pell’s comments likening the Catholic Church to a trucking company as “ludicrous”.
The Catholic Church is no more legally responsible for priests who abuse children than a trucking company which employs a driver who molests women, Cardinal George Pell maintains.
Victims’ families say it’s a ludicrous comparison and even the chair of the child abuse royal commission thinks the situation is quite different when it comes to a priest getting access to a child.
Cardinal Pell accepts the church has a moral obligation to victims, but when it comes to its legal responsibility, the actions of its priests are not necessarily its fault.
“If the truck driver picks up some lady and then molests her, I don’t think it’s appropriate, because it is contrary to the policy, for the ownership, the leadership of that company to be held responsible,” Cardinal Pell told the commission via video link from Rome on Thursday.
But Cardinal Pell said if the church had been warned about a priest or had bad policies or procedures in place, “then certainly the church official would be responsible”.
Anthony Foster, the father of two girls raped by a pedophile priest, said the comparison was clearly wrong.
“The truck driver analogy was just absurd, ludicrous, and it was nowhere near a proper analogy to the Catholic Church,” Mr Foster told reporters.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said priests got access to children with the parents’ consent, unlike truck drivers.
“The relationship between the priest and a child is quite different to that between the truck driver and the casual passenger, isn’t it?” he asked Cardinal Pell.
“Yes, I would certainly concede that,” Cardinal Pell responded.
Cardinal Pell said the Melbourne archdiocese strove to meet its moral obligations to abuse victims by setting up the Melbourne Response in 1996, the first comprehensive scheme in Australia to deal with clergy abuse allegations which included determining compensation payments.
“We did not admit that there was a legal obligation but that, in practice, in the compensation panel we fully accepted our moral responsibility towards those who had suffered,” he said.
Cardinal Pell, now the Vatican’s finance chief, said he was sorry the scheme had not resolved the pain of every victim, including the Fosters.
“I regret deeply that I have been unable to bring them even a small amount of healing,” he said.
Justice McClellan asked Cardinal Pell whether, when the compensation scheme was set up, he was fully aware of the potential for lifelong damage for children abused by their priest.
“Obviously my understanding has deepened with the years but I did understand then something significantly about the level of suffering, and for that reason the access to counselling was uncapped from our point of view,” Cardinal Pell said.
“I have heard the stories of terrible suffering in some cases.
“The Fosters’ girls is one such case (and) of course if you deal with this thing regularly and over a long period, you come to understand better and better the suffering that is caused.”
Mr Foster has previously said Cardinal Pell showed a “sociopathic lack of empathy” when they met to discuss the case in the 1990s.
Mr Foster said if the church had acted earlier it could have prevented the suicide of his daughter Emma.
“If they had not stonewalled for so long, and not treated us so callously, there’s every chance she’d still be here,” he said.
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