opinion

This letter sent to Catholic school students is astonishing.

Catholic schoolkids in Sydney have brought home a note to parents headed ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’.

But many Catholic parents will not be feeling the love.

Penned by the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher and published on his website, it references the horrific stories emerging from the Royal Commission hearings in Ballarat, which the Most Rev. Fisher admits are ‘harrowing and for many people demoralising’.

Witnesses have talked of the brutal bashings and sex crimes they experienced as young boys at the hands of trusted and respected Catholic clergymen. They have told stories of children shared around by pedophiles, and revealed that when they tried to speak out they were actually punished for speaking ill of God’s holy representatives.

The abuse is believed to have contributed to 45 suicides or early deaths in the region.

So what does Anthony Fisher say to his flock? He says he is appalled by the conduct of some priests and shares feelings of contamination and shame.

BUT – and here’s the Archbishop’s big fat ‘but’ – he says allegations the church tried to protect itself with legal evasions is unfair.  And he backs his predecessor George Pell.

The inquiry heard Cardinal Pell knew about what was happening in Ballarat, but did nothing to stop it. It also heard Pell attempted to bribe one of the victims who had confided in him.  They are allegations the Cardinal has denied in a statement from the Vatican, where he now resides.

By defending his predecessor and suggesting treatement of the church is unfair, the Archbishop is backing the church's former responses to allegations of sexual abuse.

The letter has had some interesting reactions from some Catholics we know here at Debrief Daily.  One parent calls it 'Satanic Verses', others have described it as a real kick in the teeth to victims and several see it as a sign that the Catholic Church is still in denial.

Most Rev Anthony Fisher

The letter looks like a sorrowful lament and an admission of shame, but it still fails to recognise the level of public outrage over the way George Pell's Melbourne system treated victims. The Church's Melbourne Response and its national Towards Healing response were both found to have been inadequate by the Royal Commission. They shamed, oppressed and denied victims their voice.

ADVERTISEMENT

Many Catholics are left wondering whether senior clergy – and Fisher is one of the most senior - have learned anything from the Royal Commission?

The egregious legal evasions have left victims like John Ellis in a despairing state. The Melbourne Response and Towards Healing have been found to be a way to keep victims silent – many offers of compensation came with strings attached and confidentiality clauses which the Royal Commission have now made null and void. Victims never knew their perpetrators had many, many victims before them.

Cardinal George Pell

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge says he's been contacted by a number of victims and support groups about the letter.  He says "it's remarkable that a new Archbishop in Sydney hasn't learn the lessons the rest of the country has.  Towards Healing and the Melbourne Resonse have been disasterous. They've empowered the church and disempowered victims".

Mr Shoebridge is set to introduce a bill to the NSW Parliament in the next three weeks that aims to repeals the 'Ellis Defence'. This referes to the fact that a NSW Court found the body corporate of the Roman Catholic Church Trust Property church could not be sued by a former altar boy. The Church denies that defence exists but David Shoebridge says "compensation should not be a gift of the church, the law should compell the church to compell victims".

Today will be a sickening day for the Royal Commission.  Convicted Paedophile Priest Gerald Risdale will appear via videolink from jail.  Risdale is in prison for extensive sex crimes against young boys.

Gerald Risdale and George Pell.

A senior priest conceded he thought Ridsdale’s serial offending must have been discussed at top-level meetings attended by Cardinal George Pell as early as 1977.  But Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied any knowledge of Ridsdale’s decades of abuse prior to 1993.

Meanwhile, Catholic school parents watch in horror and read weak letters while shaking their heads and wish for more humility and penance from their leaders.

For further coverage of the Ballarat case try ...

Ballarat victim had teeth pulled out by nuns with pliers.

The school where EVERY male teacher molested young children.