Who is Ultimately Responsible? (Or: Heads May Roll)


Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis (pictured above), is head of the Catholic Church and George Pell’s boss. The good Cardinal Pell has, consistently, absolved himself of responsibility for most of the abuses within the Australian branch of the Catholic Church on the basis that he is not the boss of the clergy here. He insists that he is only the “senior Catholic”, not the head of the Australian organisation.

The heads of all organisations with a history of child sexual abuse must be made to front the Royal Commission, on the basis of “the buck stops here” principle. If Pell is not the head, then the real head, the Pope, must appear to defend his organisation.

Many would almost immediately dismiss such an occurrence on the basis that the Pope is too important to answer questions before an enquiry. This is only pandering to his image. He, and no other abuser by extension, is more important than the victims. It is precisely this skewed sense of who is most important that has led to the extensive cover-ups for which the Catholic Church is notorious.

If the “Black Pope” is to have any credibility on the sex abuse issue, he would willingly appear before the enquiry to answer questions about how he intends to rectify the problem. His “humble” image, promoted by his PR people, would do well if he were to appear “barefoot in the snow” asking forgiveness from his Australian victims and promising to “fix things up”. While, of course, this is most unlikely, there should nevertheless be a global campaign to make him appear and take responsibility for his organisation as a matter of principle. Catching the bus to work will not be enough to claim humility.

All of this is necessary for one simple fact. The cover-ups have involved shifting priests around. Thus a bishop can say it is not his problem because the historical abuse occurred within another dioscese. This is a bit like a local Woolworths manager denying responsibility for breaches of the law, say with under-weight products, by saying the goods were packaged outside his or her area. The most consistent thing that can be found with the Catholic Church is that it assumes a right to be treated differently, and specially, from other community organisations ranging from business to government. This must change.

Another analogy can be made, this time with the diplomatic world. The status of a country is often measured by what rank officials meet. Low status is reflected by discussions with low-ranking officials. Even if the Pope gave Pell some sort of umbrella authority with the Australian Catholic Church officials, we would still have the problem that Australia was being treated as a low-status country.

If the Vatican is to overtly down-grade Australia’s importance then we should reciprocate. Instead of sending people like Tim Fischer and Amanda Vanstone over to the Vatican as ambassadors, we should send a low-ranking Foreign Affairs official instead. This might telegraph the message.

Of course, for many, this would be too little. Some would argue that the Vatican should not be deemed to be a State. It was only formed by an agreement with the Italian Dictator, Mussolini, in 1929. By being a State, it has been able to use protection from extradition for its officials who have committed offences in other countries. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston comes to mind here.

So, yes, probably only low-ranking Catholic officials will eventually front the enquiry. They will also be well protected by their lawyers and PR unit. But they will not be credible. Only His Incredible Greatness, Mr.Bergoglio, will be.

TOMORROW: More heads – the Anglican Church

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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