29 December 2015, The Tablet

Unprecedented fury at Ballarat hearings

Every case heard by Australia’s Royal Commission into child sexual abuse is uncovering ineptitude, maladministration, cover-ups and corrupt practices, according to the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council head. Francis Sullivan described unprecedented and “almost palpable anger” at the recent hearing into abuse at Catholic parishes and institutions in the Victorian Goldfields city of Ballarat.

This, he said, was provoked by the testimonies and in part by the failure of Ballarat-born Cardinal George Pell to attend the second instalment of the inquiry into decades of abuse in the Ballarat diocese, citing ill health. “This miserable history cannot be denied, nor can it be rationalised away. The very fact that a faith-based institution would perpetuate such evil is incomprehensible. But it has – and now the time for reckoning has well and truly arrived,” wrote Mr Sullivan in his blog on 17 December, the final day of the pre-Christmas public hearings.

The council led by Mr Sullivan was established three years ago by the Australian bishops and religious orders to oversee the Church’s engagement with the Royal Commission.

The Commission chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, will conduct hearings on 5 February into the ability of Cardinal Pell and the retired Bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, who governed the diocese from 1971-97, to attend the third instalment of hearings into Ballarat, due to be held there for two weeks from 22 February.

Both have cited health reasons for not appearing at the most recent hearing: Cardinal Pell has  given evidence to the Commission twice – once in person and once via video link from Rome – but Bishop Mulkearns, who is reported to be receiving palliative care, has not appeared at all.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth says he is amazed more people have not given up on the Church during the abuse scandal, which he calls the biggest crisis for the Church in his lifetime.

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