The Latin motto “nolite timere” translates as “be not afraid”. It is the personal motto of Archbishop George Pell, three words said repeatedly by Jesus in the Bible, notably at Mark 5:36, where he also amplified “Be not afraid, only believe.” As admonitions go, it falls a little short of “trust me” or “this will be our secret”, but it has a similarly child molest-y vibe.
Quite apt for Pell, who has definitely had an interesting week. His accustomed air of saintly naivete has been tested to the absolute limit by his four hours of testimony before a Victorian Parliamentary enquiry this week. Despite it all, he comes across as still convinced that the Catholic Church is being singled out, and that this is all just persecution.
Never mind that, as he himself told the enquiry, there were numerous coverups, and that he himself had participated in some of them. Never mind that, in numerous other cases – notably those of Gerald Risdale, Ted Dowlan and other Catholic clergy in Ballarat in the Seventies – he claimed an ignorance so profound that he can only be regarded as either terrifyingly incompetent at his assigned jobs or the most mendacious liar currently active in the Australian media. Never mind that Pell is absolutely infamous for his lack of empathy to those whose lives are destroyed by his actions and inactions. Never mind that he still has the temerity to threaten Parliament with dire consequences if they continue their current investigations. Never mind that he claims that there is “no moral obligation” to increase the size of compensation payouts, because obviously, we should all take the word of a man with the demonstrated morality of His Eminence, George Pell.
None of this matters, because as far as can be told from Pell’s statements, what’s really important here is the good name of the Church. Pell’s major defence of the coverups, after all, is that they were motivated by fear of scandal. The fact that coverups are, in and of themselves, scandalous, seems not to register with him. The fact that, in lying and bullying, he’s betraying the very same ideals that his service in the church is supposedly based on, every bit as much (and every bit as damagingly) as those who carry out the actual abuse.
I’ve spent most of this week writhing in disgust and rage, wishing there was more I could do, fearing for all the children still in the clutches of an organisation that increasingly seems to think that all it’s done wrong is get caught.
One of my most cherished ideals is that of the presumption of innocence. I think it’s a basic foundation of any civil society, and I have since I was old enough to think about this stuff. (Hell, one of my greatest regrets is a friendship I blew up one night when in the heat of the moment I forgot to be guided by this ideal.)
That said, I’d like to see every single member of the Catholic clergy in this country dragged before the bench and asked to testify. Asked to swear on a goddamned Bible that they were going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because I’m sick of the child-molesting elephant in the room – and I’m sick of it throwing its weight around.
I have a personal stake in this, you see. If you click here, and scroll down to the testimony of “Jamie” (not his real name, and I won’t be telling you what is)…
…I knew Jamie. I was in the same class as him at Cathedral College. I even attended the confirmation ceremony he mentions – some members of my extended family are still involved with that particular parish, in fact. I didn’t know about it at the time, but even then, there were rumours about Ted Dowlan. And that was just in the one school – we didn’t know anything about his history.
Unfortunately, that was all I knew when Jamie called me up, shortly before the case came to court. He asked me to testify, and I had to apologetically tell him that I didn’t know anything except hearsay. The most help I could give was help him get in touch with other boys from our class, whom we both hoped would know more.
Even now, nearly twenty years later, just thinking about this – the mere mention of Dowlan’s or Jamie’s names – fills me with outrage for the past, and fear for the future. “Nolite timere”? I don’t think so.
And so I freely confess that this particular post comes from a place of absolute hatred. Of contempt and loathing, and of rage and fear…
But not, I think, from a place of factual inaccuracy.