by Caitlin Johnstone, Caitlin Johnstone:
(A warning to my kind-hearted readers, there’s some heavy stuff in here. If you have any trauma around rape or suicide, please be gentle with your good self and maybe give this one a miss.)
After being convicted of one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four counts of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of, a child, Cardinal George Pell spent the first of what may be many nights in jail. While he lay there in his jail cell, my darling uncle’s body lay in a morgue.
Pell’s meteoric rise to the top of the Roman Catholic hierarchy was due in part to his ruthless management of rape and sexual abuse victims. He devised what came to be known as the Melbourne Response, which kept damage to the Church at a minimum by capping the payouts to $50,000 and later $75,000 and requiring victims to sign a silencing agreement. He saved the Church untold millions in compensation and incalculable damages in reputation. The Vatican took notice, and it was only a decade or so before he was tapped to manage the entire financial affairs of the Vatican under the lofty title of “Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy”, making him the third most powerful priest, only two steps down from the Pope.
Meanwhile, down at the other end of this heady world of high finance, my uncle was being handed out a mere $3,000 by the Church. Why? As a pay-off for being raped when he was just a little boy by serial pedophile Father Daniel Hourigan.
For this paltry sum he had to sign a strict confidentiality agreement, and from that day on until the day he died last week – via an on-again, off-again battle with drugs, alcohol, depression and paranoia – he was convinced he was being watched and monitored by the Church. Maybe he was, who knows, but they almost certainly planted the idea that he was going to be observed carefully, which is in many ways as torturous as the act.
Even if he had have put his head up above the trench and taken them on, he would have faced a monumental task. When Pell moved to Sydney to be Archbishop, he oversaw the development of a cunning and lopsided legal strategy known as the “Ellis Defence.” A victim with the surname Ellis attempted to sue the Church for sexual abuse as a child, but because of the tricksy configuration of its legal status as an unincorporated association, the victim could not sue because the priest was dead. Until very recently, the courts could do nothing but throw up their hands. He had no one to sue.
After successfully defending against Ellis, Pell spent a further $1.5 million of the Church’s money pursuing him through the courts, subpoenaing his former colleagues, boss and ex-wife for statements in an attempt to sue and destroy him, even though the internal Church findings had already found that Ellis had in all probability been abused. Once Ellis finally lost Pell’s vindictive lawsuit against him, Pell then pursued him for costs.
Pell was not seeking money; he was sending a message. It was his masterful manipulation of the narrative for which he was valued at the highest echelons of the Vatican. Even today, even after he has been convicted of raping and molesting children, many very powerful people have come out to defend him. Former Prime Minister John Howard endorsed a convicted pedophile by writing a character reference to try and secure him a lighter sentence. Today. In 2019.
My uncle was the last in a family of ten. My mother was nineteen years old when he was born, and he loved her so much that one time when he was about two he smuggled himself into the back seat of her car as she left the family home to travel back to the town where she was teaching. She got the shock of her life and nearly ran off the road when twenty minutes or so down the track he suddenly popped up behind her and said, “I go back and live with you!”
Because he was so much younger, he was more like a cousin than an uncle to me. Seven years my elder, I idolized him, and thought he was a real-life comedian. He was so kind, too. He’d take me, some of my siblings and some of my other cousins on a day out to the two-dollar shops, and after considerable perusing, we’d get to pick whatever we liked. That was back when everything really was two dollars, and I guess it was a pretty cheap outlay for him. For five of us he’d only need to spend $10 and we all thought he was Santa Claus, but still, he would’ve been just 18 or 19 at the time. What 19 year-old spends his spare money and time on 12 year-olds? Such a beautiful generous soul.
Twelve years old. I was the same age as he was when his whole life was yanked out from underneath him.