Terry Laidler. What George Pell Might Have Said

What George Pell Might Have Said

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe …

“Your Honour

Please could I start by making a statement that I hope will help the Commission and that I pray will give some solace to so many people I now know to have been traumatised by abuse suffered on an horrendous scale.

I have no wish to put people who say they told me about sexual abuse that was occurring in a position where their recollections need to be tested in minute detail against mine. They have gone long enough with their voices not being heard by powerful figures in the Church and in society generally. I can accept that, despite differences of recollection between me and some of them, there is already enough evidence before the Commission that many tried to tell me from the time I was a junior priest in Ballarat and that I seemed to them to be dismissive or lacked compassion or took no action. For that, I apologise to them profusely: I did not do enough and more people were abused by the same priests and brothers complained about.

I must, also, accept my share of the responsibility for the systematic cover-up that occurred when I was a consultor in the diocese of Ballarat. Bishop Mulkearns acted shamefully, and we were complicit in it. I am not sure why exactly, perhaps it was a misguided wish to protect the Church as an institution, or a desire for advancement and the clerical culture that made us loyal to the bishop and to our fellow priests in such a dysfunctional way.

My colleagues and I may have been deceived or kept in the dark, but nonetheless, we lacked the compassion or the courage to ask more questions about things that should have focussed our attention acutely. When we knew of crimes committed against children, as loyal advisors we should have demanded that he act. When he did not listen to us, we should have resigned and gone to the police ourselves. I am so sorry for the hurt and damage that not doing so has caused.

By the time I came to Melbourne as an auxiliary bishop, I had no excuses for any continuing ignorance or lack of understanding. In that context, accompanying Gerald Ridsdale to court was one of the most harmful errors of judgment I have ever made.

And, there is now copious evidence available to the Commission to make it transparent that Archbishop Little and his leadership group, of which I was a senior part, failed abjectly to deal properly with abusing priests. My own previous attempts to shift responsibility for inaction in matters in which I was directly involved were just that, attempts to protect myself from recrimination by blaming others. I will do that no longer. I hope that that goes some way towards making retribution to good people who acted to end abuse but whom I have blamed.

I do hope that the Commission will be gracious enough to consider that in my time as Archbishop of Melbourne I did at least act promptly to set up a fair and survivor focussed system to deal with allegations of abuse. The suggestion that I set up this Melbourne Response to shield the archdiocese financially is correct. It was also one, but only one, of my objectives, and I thought at the time that this was a prudent thing to do as a leader. I can see now that this aspect of the scheme vitiated much of its benefit for survivors. I strongly endorse the Commission’s call for a national contributory compensation and survivor support scheme. I further believe that all allegations of abuse should be reviewed by independent external authorities.

I must also concede that my actions in seeking to prevent reputational and financial damage to the Church where confronted with legal action were wrong. The Ellis Defence is a sham I should never have allowed to run, and I sincerely hope that the Commission will recommend changes to Australian law that will no longer allow churches to evade communal responsibility for their obviously corporate actions.

On the basis of how I now genuinely view my own actions, I will tender my resignation to the Pope. I do not mind being “scapegoated” as some have said because I know that, until I accept responsibility, apologise for and bear the personal consequences of such a huge failure of trust, the process of healing for survivors and even for the Church itself will never have a sound basis.”

Terry Laidler is a former Catholic priest and radio broadcaster whose main work now is in the field of forensic psychology.


Terry Laidler is a psychologist and a former ABC Melbourne Drive presenter. He chaired the Victorian Road Safety Co-ordinating Council in the early 1990s through the Drink, Drive, Bloody Idiot campaign that saw a paradigm shift in road safety in the state.

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6 Responses to Terry Laidler. What George Pell Might Have Said

  1. Avatar community demonstrates great responsibility and care than most senior church clergy and executives says:

    It seems that the Australian community is demonstrating greater caring action and more responsibility, plus showcasing more integrity than the largest faith based institution and its leadership team.
    Why is the Catholic Church so out of step with its Australian community? When did the Catholic Church clergy forget that it had a mission to serve the poor and outcast and to take preventative action to safe guard those who most need help? Why is the Australian Government providing a tax free status to religious organisations that are not for filling their mission? When will the government investigate religious organisation’s Federal and State education and social funding and check if it is used as intended and that it is not being diverted to pay the Church legal fees .

  2. Avatar Jim Boyle says:

    Re this paragraph of a suggested response that would be more appropriate for Cardinal Pell to have said to the Royal Commission:
    I suggest:
    “I do hope that the Commission will be gracious enough to consider that in my time as Archbishop of Melbourne I did act with unseemly haste to secretively prepare and rush out my own Melbourne Response scheme ahead of the Towards Healing protocol that I knew was in final stages of preparation as a nationally consistent system.
    I ignored the collegial development process of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
    I did not use the considerable knowledge and experience of those who had been handing these issues in the Archdiocese, but trusted only my personal confidants whom I appointed to lead and administer my Melbourne Response.
    The system I established was very deliberately under my personal control, and no expense was spared in its administration. I did not ever commission or support any review or tolerate any comment other than obsequious approval.
    I claimed that the Melbourne Response was a fair and survivor focused system to deal with allegations of abuse. Many victims and commentators have suggested that it did not meet those objectives.
    The suggestion that I set up this Melbourne Response to shield the archdiocese financially is correct. That was my primary objective, as I thought at the time that this was a prudent thing to do as a leader.
    A secondary objective was to “protect the good name of the church.” I can see now that those aspects of the scheme vitiated much of its benefit for survivors.

    • Avatar Kieran Tapsell says:

      The most significant difference between the Melbourne Response and Towards Healing is that the latter required reporting by the Church to the civil authorities at least where the civil law required it. The Melbourne Response had no provison for reporting, but said that it would “encourage” victims to go to the police. This was in accordance with the policy stated by Cardinal Castrillon to the Irish bishops in 1998. He had further stated in 2001 that bishops should prefer to go to jail (ie break the civil law) rather than report a paedophile priest to the police. Pell was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1990 to 2000. He must have been aware of the views of the Curia heads, like Castrillon, Sudano and Ratzinger that bishops should not report child sexual abuse to the police. Pell told the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry that the people in Rome knew of the Melbourne Response and were pleased with it. That is understandable. It was completely in accordance with Vatican policy as stated by Castrillon. Pell was in the fortunate position in Victoria that there were no civil reporting laws applying to clergy. Towards Healing was not in accordance with Vatican policy on reporting. People can draw their own conclusions from those facts.

  3. Terry Laidler on George Pell

  4. Avatar Liz Leveridge says:

    This encompasses all the facts and the organisation should get out of spin and control damage and concede that indeed “suffer little children” was in the bible and occurred under Pell’s watch.

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