The Kid and The Choirboy – the harrowing story of George Pell’s victims

In this extract from Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, one boy’s family tell Louise Milligan the cataclysmic effect abuse had on him

Cardinal George Pell’s victims and their families have a legal right to anonymity.

by Louise Milligan

This is the story of two teenage boys sent on scholarships from what were then Melbourne’s inner suburbs to a Catholic boys’ school – St Kevin’s College. St Kevin’s is in Toorak, Melbourne’s most exclusive precinct.

The school is wedged between the Kooyong Tennis Club and the Yarra River, and closed behind grand iron gates with gilded lettering. The boys wear boater hats and navy blazers, candy-striped with emerald and gold. While the area the boys came from has now gentrified, in the 1990s it might as well have been a different planet.

I’m not at liberty to name the boys – complainants of sexual assault and their families have a legal right to anonymity and it has been requested here. I’ve called them The Kid and The Choirboy.

The boys got their ticket to St Kevin’s because they could sing. The choirmaster from St Patrick’s Cathedral had sent scouts to the Catholic primary schools around Melbourne’s suburbs to find boys on the cusp of puberty who had the voices of angels. In return for their vocal skills, the boys received choral scholarships to St Kevin’s.

When The Kid remembers it, he has tears in his eyes.

“It was a dream of my mum and I, that I could go to this incredible private school that we could never afford, she was so proud,” he says.

The Choirboy’s mum, whom I’ll call Mary, had no idea her boy had this talent.

“But it was good, you know?” Mary says, smiling at the memory. “A nice scholarship for a good education.”

It was to be a big commitment for the families but the boys were very enthusiastic. The working parents carpooled to help with the commute. The Choirboy threw himself into his new role as he did everything in life.

“Oh my god, everything had to be done yesterday,” Mary laughs. “[He] would disappear from sun-up to sundown … He was just gung ho, you know?”

Weekends were filled with song. The choristers were expected to sing from the first day of term one to Christmas Day. The Choirboy loved it.

In 1997, the last year that The Choirboy and The Kid spent in the choir, the bluestone gothic pile known as The Cathedral Church and Minor Basilica of St Patrick, or simply, St Patrick’s Cathedral, was celebrating a centenary since its consecration.

St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. Pell would drop in to watch the choir at singing practice.

Huge celebrations were planned and, in its honour, the boys were to perform Handel’s Messiah. The sounds of “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hal-le-lu-jah!” echoed around the sacristies and the nave. His Grace, Archbishop George Pell, was to say the mass.

Other boys, now men, who were in the choir at the time remember Archbishop Pell being a regular presence in their lives.

During May 2016, I called as many of the 50 choristers from the time as I could muster. I think I got to about 35. Of those left, the remainder were either adult or much older members, a couple of overseas visitors, a handful who could just not be found and one or two who chose not to answer my calls or messages. Several are now high-profile singers and musicians.

The boys would practise four days a week, and two of those sessions would be at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Pell would drop in to watch the singing from time to time. Some of the guys also remember him joining the annual camp they attended at Easter to prepare for the holy season’s masses. He would say mass for the boys at the camp.

The Choirboy’s older sister remembers a very amiable boy.

“He always liked company as well, he always had to have someone with him all the time and he was, he was a great kid. [He] was, as a child, just a normal child.”

But at some point between his 13th and 14th birthdays, The Choirboy’s enthusiasm waned considerably.

“Little murmurs, you know? Like, he was tired, you know, of the commitment to getting up early in the morning to practise,” Mary says.

The boys would start their rehearsals an hour before school two days a week and also on Sundays before mass. They’d also have evening sessions at the cathedral once a week. The lead-up to Holy Week at Easter was terribly busy.

Mary’s son began to grumble about getting up to go. Mary just put it down to his teenage years. Then, one day, he snapped.

“Yeah, just out of the blue, ‘I don’t want to be in the choir any more,’” she remembers. “And we said, ‘Well, you do realise we can’t afford the school fees?’ And he said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘Well, think about it,’ I said, ‘We can’t do anything till the end of the year and you can’t really swap and change.’”

Mary was not pleased. She says for her family, the St Kevin’s school fees were “astronomical”, and it seemed a shame to miss out on the rest of the school experience just because her son was weary of choir. But the boy was immovable. The boy’s father, John (again not his real name), also remembers a meeting with the choirmaster where the parents were told that their son was disruptive in choir practice – coughing during the singing. The choirmaster was also upset that the boy was bending the corners of the music sheets. He also wanted the boy to leave.

Pell as archbishop of Melbourne in 2001. He sexually assaulted the two boys in 1996 and 1997.

The Choirboy’s father, who separated from his wife many years ago, said before his son was about 14, he had always been very well-behaved “and all of a sudden to change from being well-behaved to that was a bit of a mystery”.

The boy became disengaged and disruptive at school. His parents and school were so concerned that in September 1997 they brought him to see a psychiatrist at the Royal Children’s hospital in Melbourne. The assessment, which John has kept, found the boy was of average intelligence and had been a good student. But his grades had been slipping and, while a friendly enough boy, his answers now tended to the monosyllabic, his responses were “under-elaborated” and his working memory was affected.

At the end of the year, The Choirboy was to be a chorister no more – he was moved out of St Kevin’s to a more affordable local Catholic secondary.

“I just put it down to him being a teenager and deciding he’d had enough – that it was, you know, too tiring,” Mary says.

That very same year, his friend, The Kid, had also made the same firm decision to get out of the choir as soon as he possibly could. His behaviour at school also became a problem. His voice had broken and, no longer a soprano, his choir days were numbered. He too had gone to another Catholic school, and the families rarely saw each other. The boys drifted apart.

Mary’s daughter noticed a marked difference in her little brother from that point.

“Looking back, yeah, his whole personality, well, he changed. He did. He wasn’t the same person as what he was beforehand,” she says.

“His life spiralled,” Mary says. “It really did spiral.” Her daughter nods and presses her lips together.

In 1997 St Patrick’s celebrated a centenary since its consecration.

Mary and her daughter are sitting on a sofa in Mary’s living room in her unit in a suburb of Melbourne. They are hospitable and decent women, unpretentious and plainly dressed. They have been searching for answers for what happened to their son and brother for years.

Mary lives alone – her daughter is bringing up a young family. Mary works in a shop and tries to make sense of life. But her sparse little unit is a house of grief. While she is stoic and does not make a fuss about the raw deal that the past few years have dealt her, her mouth betrays her. It’s permanently slightly drawn down at the corners. She’s a woman who has had a full-time job keeping a son together and now he’s gone. After it happened, she was left scratching her head, making meals for one and wondering how it all went so wrong. Until The Kid came along.

The year after he left the choir, The Choirboy got into drugs. In a big way. While at age 13 he had sung Handel’s Messiah, clad in a choirboy’s crimson and white robes, eyes cast up to heaven, by his 14th year he was already dabbling in heroin.

“It’s devastating to watch your child spiral like that,” Mary says, shaking her head at the memory of anger, frustration, heartbreak that she dealt with in equal parts.

John had worked as an honorary probation officer for many years and he saw the same behaviour in his son as in the juvenile justice kids he worked with, who were often victims of abuse. “I met a lot of young offenders of that age – and they are different. They behave differently, their mannerisms are different. That’s the way [my son] was going and yet there was no reason for why he should be that way.”

His sister watched her brother completely withdraw.

‘Something inside of her, some mother’s intuition perhaps, had made her suspect that he had been a victim of abuse.’

“I think from my point of view, he changed to a point where you know, he was in his own world,” she says.

The teenager changed friendship groups. He stopped talking.

“He just became very distant, very enclosed,” she says. “It was embarrassing for me because, looking back, I didn’t know why or what this stemmed from and how this was … ” She trails off. “It was embarrassing for me as a sister that I had a brother that was like this.”

For Mary, it was harrowing to watch her son constantly chasing heroin. Every now and then, he’d go to rehab and she’d have to drive him somewhere to help him score because you wouldn’t get in to a program if too much time had lapsed since your last hit. It was mind-boggling for a decent woman who thought she’d brought up two great kids, given them the best education she could.

From time to time, her son would report that he had bumped into The Kid somewhere when he was out socialising with his mates. He told his mum that The Kid was “struggling a bit”.

She asked her son was it drugs, too? But no, it wasn’t drugs, he answered. He was just “struggling”. Her son was a young man of few words and, at the time, The Kid’s struggles had no meaning for her, and so she didn’t inquire any further.

Her son’s heroin chase went on for about 15 years. The Choirboy never had a career, was never able to hold down much of a job. He was a devoted uncle to his small niece and nephew and Mary says he was, despite it all, a loving and good son. He lived with his mum and she was sometimes questioned about why she didn’t kick him out. But Mary knew she was all her son had.

“I care about my son, I love my son, that’s my son,” she says, speaking in the present tense of a mother who still struggles to come to terms with the fact that her youngest child is now a past-tense concept. “If I don’t care about him, no one else is going to care about him – simple as that.”

‘Mary was completely in the dark about what had happened. And in her confusion, a new trauma came flooding back.’

The Choirboy died in 2014. He was 30.

Mary told almost everyone she knew that he died in a car crash. But it wasn’t a car accident. It was a heroin overdose. She says she just didn’t want the shame and the pity. All that’s left of him now is a poorly tended Facebook page with a poorly taken profile picture. He’s not smiling.

Mary’s daughter kept her mum’s secret too. “I have never told anybody, only one of my closest friends ever knew,” she says. “I told everybody it was because of a car accident because I don’t want to have to explain to people that, you know, my brother lived half his life as a drug addict, and a heavy one at that.”

The funeral was on a Thursday in 2014. The sort of day when, all those years before, Mary would be packing her son off to St Pat’s to sing his little heart out in the cathedral.

Now she was preparing him to be buried.

Although she had informed The Kid, she was still slightly surprised to see the young man respectfully take his place in a pew. In the following months, Mary would occasionally see The Kid when he came into the shop where she worked. They’d have a small chat. He was a well-brought-up boy, she thought. He’d always give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Months later, Mary was serving customers at work when she received a telephone call from a detective from Victoria police. Immediately she assumed they were trying to pin something on her son.

“I said, ‘You do realise [my son] passed away?’” And they said they did and they passed on their condolences. And the detective mentioned something about sexual assault.

“Well, I nearly fell over,” she says. “And I said, ‘You can hang a lot of things on my son, but that’s not one thing you can hang on my son’.”

Of course, the detective wasn’t referring to her son as a perpetrator. He wanted to know if her son had told her about anything that he’d borne witness to or experienced during his time at St Patrick’s or St Kevin’s.

Mary was shocked. “And I’ve gone, ‘Oh, I don’t know anything about that one, you know, I have no knowledge,’” she remembers.

Detectives from Taskforce SANO, established to investigate child sexual abuse in religious organisations, then came to take a statement from Mary. She was completely in the dark about what had happened. And in her confusion, a new trauma came flooding back.

“I was floored,” Mary says. “I’ve buried a son, I’ve lost a son due to a drug overdose –which is not a nice way to lose a child. And then I get this into my life.”

Scenes from the last 15 years of her son’s life began to flicker through her mind in fast motion. She was racked with questions and struggled to sleep.

After the police went to see Mary, they also visited her ex-husband.

“Nothing shocks me; I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” John explains. “But that did shock me. But then, when I mulled it over, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘That’s making sense.’”

The visit, which police only expected to take an hour, took five. John gave the police the medical reports and other documentation about his son and signed a statement.

One evening, some time after the detectives took Mary’s statement, The Kid happened to come by when Mary was on the late shift. The shop was empty. She decided to have the conversation with him that she suspected would upset her, but she needed to know.

“I just asked him if I could ask him what happened. If, you know, if it wasn’t going to upset him. Because I didn’t want to upset this person, um, because [my son’s] passed away. I didn’t want to bring back bad memories for him.”

But The Kid understood immediately. “He said, ‘No, no, ask me.’ I asked him if my son was a victim and he said, ‘Yes.’”

Her son was a victim, he was saying, of George Pell.

Mary was overcome with a hot rush of anger. Not at The Kid, but at her son, for not telling her. Because Mary had asked her son. Not just once. Something inside of her, some mother’s intuition perhaps, born in the shock after her boy went so quickly and spectacularly off the rails, had made her suspect that he had been a victim of abuse.

“I asked [him], I can’t remember the words I used, whether he was touched up, or played with, and [he] told me ‘no’.”

The boy shrugged. She says shrugging was something her son would sometimes do when he didn’t want to talk about things. She still had a niggling feeling something was up.

“I never said anything to anybody,” she says. “And then, again, after a while, I asked him and again he told me ‘no’. And then I get this. And I was just so angry with [him],” she says, closing her eyes at the memory of it, “for not telling me. So angry. Sometimes I’m still very angry.”

The Kid gently told her what he says happened with the archbishop. “He told me that himself and [my son] used to play in the back of the church in the closed-off rooms,” she says.

In the cathedral? I ask her.

“In the cathedral, yep. And um, they got sprung by Archbishop Pell and he locked the door and he made them perform oral sex.”

The Kid still remembered the incident so clearly. Being picked up afterwards by his parents. Staring out the car window on the way home. Mary swallows and looks at me in disgust. Her daughter, who has tears in her eyes, keeps her gaze on her mother.

“What went through your mind, as a mother, when you heard that?” I ask quietly.

“Oh, angry,” she says, sighing and stiffening her back. “Angry, as I said, at [my son], for not telling me, but also angry at the Catholic church. I sent my child there – I sent both of my children there – for an education, to be safe. You send your kids to school to be safe. Not to have this done.”

“It’s devastating,” her daughter says, “because it helps to explain a lot of incidents in his life. And yeah, it’s devastating, it is, it’s devastating … ”

Cardinal George Pell arrives at court for his sentencing hearing on Wednesday morning.

The daughter says she believes that her brother never spoke up about it because he was a very private person.

“And he didn’t like to share a lot of information and I think, as a young boy, you are embarrassed. You don’t want to tell people that another man, let alone a priest, has touched you in any way. You might not think that people believe you. People might judge you, people might say things about you. There could be so many reasons as to why he didn’t want to tell us.”

Mary shares this suspicion, but it breaks her heart. “I would like to think that if [he] would have told me, I would have believed my son. I would have believed my son.”

The Kid told Mary that her son’s funeral was the breaking point for him. It plunged him into despair and regret. His own mother was very concerned about his wellbeing. He had not been coping since his friend’s death.

He decided that he had to come forward, he had to say something. As The Kid told me at the Returned and Services League club the night I met him, his jaw set, his eyes aflame, insisting that this was “about me and it’s about him”. The Kid, with the support of his mum and a victim’s advocate, went to Taskforce SANO.

“He just couldn’t live with it any more – he had to say something,” Mary says.

She says she liked that he did it for her son. But now she and her daughter are left with so many questions, so much fury. She believes The Kid.

The Kid has not led a chequered life. He’s university-educated, he hasn’t had trouble with the law. He has a lovely young girlfriend, lots of friends, he’s a pillar of his community in a sort of understated, slightly ironic way and, in that part of his life, he is, he told me, very happy. He’s managed, just, to keep it together. He’s been able to compartmentalise. He’s the sort of complainant you’d want as a Victoria police detective alleging historic crime.

The strain of all of this, the enormity of it, means The Kid hangs on by a thread at times – and the thread that held him together enough to make a statement was that Taskforce SANO would arrest George Pell.

The Kid was never interested in going on television – he knows that as a sexual assault complainant, the law allows that he never needs to have his identity revealed. He complained because he just wanted justice.

Mary’s daughter believes The Kid had zero to gain from coming forward if he was not telling the truth.

“You would not put your family through that, you would not put a dead person’s name through that, you would not put yourself through that,” she says. “Because the emotional toll that would take on you for the rest of your life, knowing that people now know your circumstances, what’s happened to you in your personal life – you wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t true.

“I believe 100% in my heart what this young fella has come out and said, the allegations that he has made, I 100% support and believe that they are true, because the effects of coming out, they are devastating.”

Mary thinks it all falls into place – why her son so suddenly lost all interest in the singing he had loved. Why a cherubic choirboy turned into a taciturn drug user at the age of just 14. Why he never managed to kick the habit.

“These people,” she says, referring to abusive clergy, “destroy lives.”

Her daughter nods in agreement. “These people are supposedly someone you look up to. It’s not right, not right at all,” the daughter says.

Mary’s daughter says she is overwhelmed by the courage The Kid showed in complaining about such a powerful member of the church and society.

“It’s not going to bring my brother back,” she says, emotionally, “but it will help the many people that are out there suffering. Because it’s so brave – it’s a really brave thing to do.”

“And I like to think in my heart,” Mary says, “this is what [my son] would say too: ‘This was a friend of mine.’”

“Absolutely,” her daughter adds, “he would absolutely want to help.”

The Choirboy’s sister becomes tearful as she speaks of the impact that her brother’s life and his loss has had on her three young children.

“My youngest will never meet his uncle. The two older ones remember their uncle and every night they tell me that they look out that window and they see his star.”

Her mother swallows, her eyes filling, as the daughter continues.

“They should be able to hold him, and to hug him.”

“I shouldn’t have lost my son like that,” Mary says, “and nobody else should either. And it’s wrong.” Her lip quivers. “This is something I live with now. This is something that kills me a little bit every day. And it kills me.”


On the day this book was published, the Victorian office of public prosecutions sent the Pell brief back to Victoria police and said Taskforce SANO was free to charge Cardinal George Pell if it wished. Six weeks later, on 29 June 2017, Pell was charged with historical child sexual offences. On December 11 he was convicted on all five counts.

This is an edited extract from Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell by Louise Milligan (Melbourne University Publishing, available as an ebook and in bookshops now)

George Pell’s lawyer says child abuse was ‘plain vanilla’ sex as cardinal heads to jail

Cardinal Pell is remanded in custody following his conviction for child sexual assault, which judge calls ‘callous, brazen offending’

George Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter says child abuse was ‘plain vanilla’ sex.


Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sexual abuse, has been taken in custody following a sentencing hearing in which his lawyer described one of Pell’s offences as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”.

After the hearing, with Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, having withdrawn his application for bail, the chief judge said: “Take him away, please.” Pell was taken to a maximum security facility where he will be kept in protective custody and remain alone for up to 23 hours a day.

He will be sentenced on 13 March after his conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys.

The Vatican on Wednesday also said its doctrinal department will open its own investigation into Pell. “After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters. A former US cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, was this month dismissed from the priesthood following a CDF investigation.

The former Australian prime minister John Howard was among those who provided character references for Pell as the cardinal’s legal team tried to argue for a lower-end sentence in Melbourne’s county court on Wednesday morning.

Richter tried to argue there were “no aggravating circumstances” to one of the offences. It was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating,” he told the court.

The chief judge, Peter Kidd, responded: “It must be clear to you by now I’m struggling with that submission. Looking at your points here – so what?”

He said he saw Pell’s behaviour as “callous, brazen offending” and “shocking conduct”.

“He did have in his mind some sense of impunity. How else did he think he would get away with this? There was an element of force here … this is not anywhere near the lower end of offending.”

Richter also tried to suggest that an incident in which Pell grabbed one of the boys by the genitals in an attack that lasted seconds was “fleeting” and not worthy of a jail sentence. Kidd disagreed.

“That wasn’t just a trifling sexual assault,” he said.

“Nothing is to be gained here by comparing different forms of sexual abuse of children. Of course I need to make a judgement of the overall gravity of this. But there is a limit to these kinds of comparisons.”

Abuse survivors and advocates present in the court gasped as Richter made his arguments for a lower-end sentence. He said at one point that if Pell’s victims were “truly distressed” after being abused, they would have returned to their homes exhibiting that distress.

Richter said he was in a difficult position because he could only propose a sentence based on the jury’s finding of guilt, not on the basis that Pell maintained his innocence. He said Pell did not have a pattern of offending and had not planned the attack, and so would have been “seized by some irresistible impulse”.

Kidd responded: “You put to the jury only a madman would commit these offences. The jury rejected that. There are no medical records suggesting he is mad. The only inference I can make is that he thought he could get away with it. People don’t go ahead and do what he did without thinking about it. People make choices.”

Prosecutors described Pell as having “a degree of callous indifference” as he “humiliated, degraded” and sexually abused the boys. This offending, prosecutors said, should attract a significant sentence.

Prosecutor Mark Gibson said the offending of Pell was serious, especially given his position of authority at the time.

“These acts … were in our submission humiliating and degrading towards each boy and gave rise to distress in each boy as referred to in the evidence [the complainant] gave. [The victim] recalled voicing objection.”

He said Pell’s offending implied “a degree of callous indifference in relation to those objections”.

“His state of mind suggests he had some degree of confidence as to the unlikelihood that these two boys would complain,” he said.

In response, Richter submitted a book of sentencing arguments to Kidd, which included medical records and character references from high-profile figures including Howard and the president of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven. Richter said he could have provided the court with “hundreds” of character references for Pell, but had narrowed the list down. All those who gave references knew of Pell’s conviction, he said.

The character references spoke of Pell’s kindness and generosity “above and beyond that of a priest”, of “a man who has a great sense of humour” who relates “to everyone “from prime ministers to street cleaners”, Richter said.

The hearing was attended by dozens of abuse survivors and advocates, as well as supporters of Pell. The survivors wore badges emblazoned with quotes about child abuse from Pell over the years; “it was not of much interest to me” and “it’s all gossip until it’s proven in a court”.

Pell was found guilty in December of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.

Each conviction carries a maximum jail term of 10 years.

At the trial the complainant, now 35, said he and the other choirboy had separated from the choir procession as it exited the church building. He and the other boy sneaked back into the church corridors and entered the priest’s sacristy, a place they knew they should not be. There they found some sacramental wine and began to drink. The complainant alleged that Pell had walked in on them.

Pell then manoeuvred his robes to expose his penis. He stepped forward, grabbed the other boy by the back of his head, and forced the boy’s head on to his penis, the complainant told the court. Pell then did the same thing to the complainant, orally raping him. Once he had finished, he ordered the complainant to remove his pants, before fondling the complainant’s penis and masturbating himself.

A few weeks later Pell attacked the complainant again as he passed him in the church corridor, pushing him against the wall and squeezing his genitals hard through his choir robes, before walking off.

A victim impact statement from the complainant was submitted by prosecutors at the sentencing hearing. A second impact statement was submitted from the father of the second boy Pell abused. That victim died in 2014 of a drug overdose, when he was 30.

There was some argument from Richter as to whether the entirety of the father’s victim impact statement should be submitted, given his statement made in February was “so lacking in proximate impact” to the offending.

Kidd said he would not be swayed by the argument.

“I think a parent where a child is a victim of a crime … the impact of the fact of that crime and the distress that would cause to a parent is self-evident and almost inevitable,” Kidd said. “My view is the parent can stand in as victim in those circumstances.”

On Wednesday afternoon Pell’s solicitor Paul Galbally issued a statement saying the bail application had been withdrawn because Pell “believes it is appropriate for him to await sentencing”.

“An appeal has already been lodged to be pursued following sentencing,” the statement said. “Despite the unprecedented media coverage, Cardinal Pell has always and continues to maintain his innocence.”

Complete Article HERE!

God’s Work Against Child Abuse Will Be Done By States, Not The Vatican

Pope Francis celebrated a final Mass to conclude his extraordinary summit of Catholic leaders summoned to Rome for a tutorial on preventing clergy sexual abuse and protecting children from predator priests.


The moral order has flipped upside down when civil authorities must force religious leaders to honor the Eighth Commandment against lying. Yet we are in such a Bizarro World, as I learned after my native New Jersey was among a half dozen states to investigate Catholic dioceses, following Pennsylvania’s searing catalog of decades of abuse of 1,000 children by hundreds of priests.

In the wake of Jersey’s probe, Catholic dioceses in the state recently released the names of priests credibly accused of abuse. Monsignor Thomas J. Frain, pastor of my childhood parish, was among them. (He, like many on the list, is deceased.) Though the nature of his abuse and age of his victim(s) weren’t specified — priests have preyed on adults, including nuns, as well as kids — I thank God that neither my brother nor I were ever altar boys or left alone with him.

I mention this by way of suggesting, as a practicing Catholic, that attention to the just-ended Vatican summit on child abuse is misplaced. If it’s church reform you want, turn your gaze from Rome to U.S. states, where law enforcement, having lost patience with Catholic leaders (as have we in the laity), have started probing abuse.

Post-Pennsylvania, New Jersey was joined by New York, Nebraska, Illinois, Nevada and Missouri in hitting bishops with subpoenas or demands for records. Many abusive priests will escape justice, having run out either life’s clock, like Frain, or the statute of limitations. Still, I’d place my faith in prosecutors over prelates.

Four days of Vatican talk about Pope Francis’s “reflection points” — including psychological testing of seminarians (that’s not being done already?), mandatory conduct codes (don’t molest kids isn’t clear enough?), an independent group to receive abuse reports (we already have that. It’s called the police.) — ended with no specific proposals, which wouldn’t exorcise the abuse demon anyway. Internal reform must be more radical; in particular, the case for ordaining women, never on the table in Rome, was bolstered by recent revelations of widespread sexual assault in the Southern Baptist Convention, which also has an all-male clergy.

Victims as young as 3-years-old “were molested or raped inside pastors’ studies and Sunday school classrooms,” according to the horrific Houston Chronicle story that broke the news. The problem, a Harvard professor of Christian morals told the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof, is that “prohibiting women from the highest ranks of formal leadership fosters a fundamentally toxic masculinity.”

My argument for women priests is much simpler. Research shows that pedophiles are overwhelmingly male. Ordain fewer people disposed to pedophilia and you’re likely to get, surprise, less pedophilia. (You’d also eliminate the inequity of barring women from clerical leadership.)

Some suggest that discarding the Catholic celibacy requirement for priests is the solution. While I support that change for other reasons, the case for it as the antidote to pedophilia doesn’t pass the giggle test. Men who force themselves on children are not just horny guys seeking consensual, adult relationships. Take away mandatory celibacy and they would still crave a form of sex as depraved as it is illegal

Garry Wills, the Catholic historian whose writings I admire and learn from, agrees celibacy isn’t the cure, though his suggestion to abolish the priesthood is even more a moonshot than allowing priestly marriage. Alternative proposals, including some from abuse survivors, suffer the same two defects as the “reflection points:”

One, there are cultures in the world where Catholic leaders either just don’t get it, downplaying abuse as non-criminal or the result of homosexuality, or else are preoccupied with other issues like war and poverty. Rules in Jersey won’t play in India or Italy.

Two, enforcing rules relies on self-policing by a church that has shown it can’t be trusted to self-police. Not when the summit revealed the destruction of church records containing abuse accusations.

I suspect I’d get agreement from the many good men in the clergy. The bishop of Albany, N.Y. asked the local DA to review diocesan records, writing to Catholics in his flock that “in an effort to restore a sacred trust that has been broken again and again, I believe a fully independent investigation, one coordinated by the district attorney, is the only way forward.”

That “only way forward,” ceding investigations to secular law enforcement, will make it easier for those of us who want to stay in the church. Non-Catholics will ask why we bother, to which journalist Margery Eagan had the best answer: Catholics of good will are unwilling to let pedophiles drive us out of our church, which, at its best, nourishes us spiritually, feeds the hungry and heals the sick

We’re also unwilling to let our Catholic brothers and sisters who cringe at female ordination have the sole say in defining Catholicism. Traditionalist deference to the hierarchy and its interpretation of apostolic tradition helped foster the clericalism that landed us in this crisis to begin with. To get out of it, we must look to Caesar’s forces, not God’s

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Pell found guilty of sexual offences in Australia

Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of sexual offences in Australia, making him the highest-ranking Catholic figure to receive such a conviction.

Pell abused two choir boys in the rooms of a Melbourne cathedral in 1996, a jury found. He had pleaded not guilty.

The verdict was handed down in December, but it could not be reported until now due to legal reasons.

Pell is due to be sentenced on Wednesday. His lawyers say they will appeal against the conviction.

As Vatican treasurer, the 77-year-old cardinal is one of the Church’s most powerful officials.

His trial was heard twice last year because a first jury failed to reach a verdict.

A second jury unanimously convicted him of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16.

The Catholic Church worldwide has in recent years faced a damaging series of allegations relating to sex abuse by priests, and claims that these cases were covered up.

Pell’s case has drawn huge interest at a time when the Pope is attempting to address the scandals, including by holding a four-day summit in the past week.

What did the court hear?

Pell was in his first year as archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 when he found the boys in the rooms of a cathedral following a mass, the jury was told.

After telling them they were in trouble for drinking communion wine, Pell forced each boy into indecent acts, the court heard.

The court heard testimony from one of the victims. The other victim is no longer alive.

A jury rejected an argument by Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, that the allegations were fantasies contrived by the victims.

What did Pell say?

He denied all allegations against him, saying in 2017: “I am innocent of these charges – they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

He has been on an extended leave of absence from the Vatican amid the court proceedings in Melbourne.

Complete Article HERE!

Why the Priesthood Needs Women

Far more than celibacy or sexual repression, barring one gender from the Roman Catholic Church’s highest ranks provides the implicit rationale for clerical abuse.

Protesters outside St. Peter’s Basilica on the day of the opening of a global child protection summit for reflections on the sex abuse crisis within the Catholic Church, at the Vatican, on Thursday.

By Alice McDermott

No Christian should need to be reminded of the moral error of discrimination. We hold at the center of our faith the belief that every human life is of equal value. And yet the Roman Catholic Church, my church, excludes more than half its members from full participation by barring women, for reasons of gender alone, from the priesthood.

The moral consequences of this failing become abundantly clear each time another instance of clergy abuse, and cover-up, is revealed. It is the inevitable logic of discrimination: If one life, one person, is of more value than another, then “the other,” the lesser, is dispensable. For the male leaders of the Catholic Church, the lives of women and children become secondary to the concerns of the more worthy, the more powerful, the more essential person — the male person, themselves.

The Catholic Church needs to correct this moral error.

I was visiting a Catholic university in Boston in 2002 as the clergy abuse scandal involving Cardinal Bernard Law was breaking. I was there to discuss a novel I had written, but the questions from the audience at my talk — and at the book signing after, and on the sidewalk as I walked to my car — were mostly, if passionately, rhetorical: What do we do now? Where do we go from here? Do you think the church understands our pain? Do you think the church understands what we’ve lost? How much corruption should we tolerate?

At the time, I could offer only small commiseration — as well as my regret that these Catholics had been so betrayed by their spiritual leaders that they were left to seek solace from the likes of me, a reluctant and often contrarian Catholic, a novelist, a woman. “Awful, yes,” I said. “Outrageous, yes.” “Hope,” I said now and again. “Hope for change, perhaps.”

In the intervening years, the institutional church has learned to expand its vocabulary to include such words as “transparency” and “victim” and even “prosecute.” In the intervening years, wrists have been slapped, apologies made, some twisted souls have been sent to jail. But even as bishops and other Catholic leaders gather in Rome this weekend to address the abuse crisis, no Catholic I know feels assured that real change will come, that the worst is behind us, that some prince of the church, even a sainted pope, won’t eventually be revealed as a predator, an enabler.

For those of us trying to hang on to our affiliation with the Catholic Church, Pope Francis’s recent defrocking of Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, though commendable, is no recompense for the blindness, the arrogance, the cruelty of a system that allowed that pathetic man to become the shepherd of one of the most visible dioceses in the world. We fear that boys’ club secrecy and prancing misogyny, the profound moral error of discrimination, will prevail.

For myself, and for many of the Catholics I know (especially women), the question of how much corruption we can tolerate is now weighed against the tremendous loss we would feel, if we left this church. It’s an institution that has shaped us, comforted us, guided and informed us, that is the center of our spiritual lives as well as our community lives and family lives, the source of our own moral strength, of our faith in the substance of things hoped for. And yet small commiserations can no longer placate our outrage. A sea change is required.

Forty years ago, when, as the evidence now shows, abusive priests and winking bishops were flourishing throughout the world, Sister Theresa Kane of the Sisters of Mercy stirred a bit of outrage in the Catholic rank and file when she implored Pope John Paul II, on his first trip to the United States, to “be open to, and respond to, the voices coming from the women of this country.” She added later that “serious social injustices” were imposed on Catholic women by the “very system” of their church, and that until the church began reckoning with this uncomfortable fact, it could not “give witness to justice in the world.”

Sister Theresa was not the first voice in the Catholic Church to suggest that discrimination against women was at odds with the church’s core mission. More than a decade before, in 1965, the Second Vatican Council released a document called “Gaudium et Spes,” or “Joy and Hope” — two gifts now in short supply among the Catholics I know. It said, in part: “With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

In barring women from the priesthood, then, what Sister Theresa called the “very system” of the Catholic Church is adhering to a rule, a mere custom, that is contrary to God’s intent. It is this grave moral error, far more than priestly celibacy or Catholic sexual repression, that provides the implicit rationale for abusive priests and, more insidious still, for the men who excuse and protect them.

Rape and abuse is not about sexual longing or loneliness. It is about power. It is about the cruel dehumanization of the other, the perceived lesser being, in order to gain, and retain, power. The institutionalized misogyny of the Catholic Church reinforces the notion of women, and their children, as the lesser. Catholic women, and their children, can have no assurance that the church can reform itself until that essential error is addressed and corrected. And that error cannot be corrected as long as women cannot be priests.

Lately, as I have listened to the conversations of my dismayed and discouraged fellow Catholics, I have thought of the Catholic women who have shaped my own faith — nuns, teachers, mothers, friends. I’ve recalled the particular sound of these women’s voices when they have come to the end of their patience; it’s a calm, powerful, sober sound, a formidable voice that can bring children up short, silence excuses, restore order to chaos. It’s the voice of a woman saying, simply: “All right. That’s enough.”

It’s the voice the Catholic hierarchy needs to hear.

Complete Article HERE!