Pell Faithful Rush to the Barricades Too Late

Jingle bells, Cardinal Pell.

An orchestrated campaign has been mounted in belated defence of Cardinal George Pell who told the Child Abuse Royal Commission at the last minute that he was too ill to fly to Australia to give vital evidence (here).  

There was wide-spread skepticism since it was widely known that he had flown to Australia earlier in the year. 

The signs of a pro-Pell campaign were there when Pell’s ideological mate, Gerard Henderson, ran a puerile – and manifestly ill-informed – essay in Murdoch’s The Australian pleading that ‘George Pell Should be Given a Fair Go at the Royal Commission’ (5/12/15).

A couple of days later it became clear that Pell had instructed his legal team to go in hard on witnesses in breach of the Catholic Church’s policy in Australia not to cross-examine victims or survivors. Pell instructed his barrister to put the acid on the credibility of key witnesses providing testimony harmful to Pell, especially David Ridsdale. The witnesses bravely withstood that attack. (Transcripts of cross-examination can be found here and media report here

Not by coincidence, The Australian then ran a snide attack on David Ridsdale which was clearly designed to damage his credibility. (John Ferguson, ‘Pell accuser indecently assaulted boy in bushland outside Ballarat’, The Australian, 21/12/2015.) Ferguson must have been delivering Christmas cheer to the dioceses when he learned that:

Senior church figures are privately furious that David Ridsdale’s past, which is widely gossiped about in Ballarat, has been ignored in reports of the commission’s hearings.

The Murdoch press will surprise us all if they have the integrity to publish a supplementary article describing the fury of ‘senior church figures’ about the failure of Father John Thomas Walsh, to reveal when he was giving evidence to the Royal Commission, that years ago he sexually abused a young seminarian, John Roach. That news was broken by the ABC weeks after Father Walsh gave evidence in support of George Pell, a former housemate. (More)

Father Walsh was one among many ‘senior church figures’—an archbishop, several bishops, vicars general, priests and various members of curia and personnel advisory committees—who performed very poorly before the Royal Commission this month in its examination of the handling of child sexual abuse in Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat.

Anyone sitting in the public gallery of the Commission during those hearings would have been appalled at the testimony of this parade of Catholic leaders and the way it was dragged out of them .

Bit-by-painful bit they confessed that

  • there were cover-ups and priests were quietly moved from parish to parish because they were raping children and the church was protecting them;
  • crimes were not referred to the police;
  • the Vatican had issued orders to keep all sex abuse matters hush hush
  • the abused children, who should have been the focus of their response, were not believed and then neglected;
  • they were remorseful and ashamed to learn of all the evil crimes against vulnerable children.

As Dr Judy Courtin pointed out, however, at the end of all that damaging evidence, none of these senior Catholic officials would accept personal responsibility. The script was obviously rehearsed. ‘George Pell: the Catholic Church’s performance at the royal commission is farcical’ (The Age 15/12/15 here

To a man, to apply that term loosely, they were keen to place the blame on the dead – Archbishop Frank Little or his predecessors or Vicar General
 Gerald Cudmore – or those who are too ill (or said to be too ill) to give evidence, such as former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns. But not Cardinal George Pell. He was shielded, sometimes quite unconvincingly – and possibly to his detriment ultimately.

The script continued. In Courtin’s words:

Apparently, these once revered and powerful pillars of the Church were so dictated by secrecy and confidentiality, that, for decades, they spoke not a word about their fellow clergy colleagues – the serious sex offenders.

These powerful clergy who advised Little and Mulkearns claimed they knew nothing of the sex crimes. Or if they did know what Little and Mulkearns clearly knew, they had no power to do anything about it. Meekly, they confessed, they were intimidated, fearful or felt they had a higher duty to the Church. Thus are men of power in the church reduced to moral impotence.

In this context, another Pell mate, ex-Senator and ex-Ambassador to Italy Amanda Vanstone leapt up to the barricades. In her bold as brass piece, ‘In Defence of George Pell’,  (Fairfax press 21/12/2015) she asserted that “The cardinal has become a lightning rod for hatred.” She told stunned readers that the campaign against her friend was just a matter of animal pack-hunting instinct. His many detractors were “braying for blood”. Read more if you have the stomach for it.)

The public response to Vanstone’s misdirected assertions showed that such deflections won’t work. This letter to The Age from Leonie Sheedy of CLAN (Care Leavers Australasia Network) was one among many who put her right:

… Care leavers are not looking for the blood of Cardinal Pell, as Amanda Vanstone has stated… Care leavers are simply seeking the truth. They deserve, after all these years, clarity of the lack of action taken by all institutions; they deserve to see certain individuals made accountable for their lack of action or revolting actions. Most importantly, care leavers want and deserve justice.

Vanstone states that Pell is a man who fights for what he believes, well so do all the individuals who have suffered from the lack of action taken by the Church to deal with these perpetrators. We hope Cardinal Pell recovers from his illness and can tell his side of the story at the royal commission in February; he has been silent for far too long and the Australian people deserve the truth.

Judy Courtin had already made the point that Vanstone completely misses: that it is the truth and its acknowledgement that the Royal Commission is pursuing, not a Cardinal’s blood. That being the case, a two-way exchange of the truth is required.

Not only do victims want to tell their own story and have that acknowledged by the hierarchy, it is paramount that the hierarchy tell the truth about the full extent of its cover-up of the sex crimes and protection of the clergy sex offenders. The commission is very successfully addressing the first element. The second element, though – and not for lack of trying and perseverance – is not occurring. This is resulting in ongoing harm and injury to victims and their families.

Another commentator, Rob Cover, reinforced the point that the Royal Commission is not a witch-hunt or Pell-bashing; it’s a public inquiry into the failure of church leadership.

As such it will necessarily involve discussion about the leaders of the Catholic Church including George Pell and other bishops and archbishops.

(Rob Cover, ‘The scandal of defending George Pell: Amanda Vanstone’s moral support’, On Line Opinion, 23/12/2015, here)     

The Royal Commission has generated an immense public response—and Pell is bearing a lot of the weight of that response. This is not because Pell is a hated figure—though he does himself no great credit much of the time—but because vocal advocacy groups and the public at large are alarmed at the sheer scale of clergy sexual abuse,  its callous mismanagement and the overwhelming weight of evidence about the very serious life-long effects, even life-destroying, effects of child abuse.

Notwithstanding Pell’s mates, The Royal Commission may well yet refer some matters to the police or other relevant authorities. As Courtin explains, getting to the truth and acknowledging it is only part of the business of the Commission.

[C]riminal accountability of the hierarchy for concealing sex crimes is an equally crucial element of justice that was identified in my research. Despite this, there has not been one conviction of any member of the Catholic hierarchy in Australia for concealing clergy sex crimes (although one priest and one archbishop have been charged).

If there is any moral panic around the activities of the Royal Commission, maybe it is panic among the church hierarchy and among Pell’s mates that more charged will be made.

Just before Christmas this year, the Chair of the Royal Commission reports that

Since the Royal Commission began, I have referred over 760 matters to authorities, mostly to the police. This has resulted in a number of arrests and charges. Many police investigations have been instituted. (More here).

Jingle bells.








Care Leavers Absent from Higher Education

This a revised item first posted in June 2015. It draws attention to an important article found in the Australian Journal of Education, May 14, 2015: 
A forgotten cohort? Including people from out-of-home care in Australian higher education policy, by Andrew Harvey, Lisa Andrewartha and Patricia McNamara.

The Abstract reads:

People from out-of-home care backgrounds are largely absent from Australian higher education equity policy. Compared with the UK, Australia has moved slowly to consider legislative and programme incentives for young people who leave state, foster or kinship care and who wish to access higher education. One major reason for the relative inaction of the Australian higher education sector towards this cohort is the rigidity of the national equity framework established in 1990. This article argues that policy reform is required to improve the participation of people from out-of-home care backgrounds in Australian higher education. Effort could be directed into revising the national equity framework, in particular by including out-of-home care as a specific group to be monitored. In addition to revising the national policy architecture, further devolution of equity policy to institutional level may enable greater engagement with the out-of-home care cohort.

Read the full article here.

This article draws on similar material found in: 

Out of care, into university: Raising higher education access and achievement of care leavers, a report by Andrew Harvey, Patricia McNamara, Lisa Andrewartha & Michael Luckman, published in March 2015 by the Access & Achievement Research Unit at LaTrobe University available here.

My comments follow:

This article is excellent – as far as it goes. It alerts Higher Education policy makers to the need to revise the Australian equity framework (which was introduced 15 years ago) by including Care Leavers as one of a number of cohorts of disadvantaged students given special attention in university entry and support programs.

However, the authors largely  ignore the source of the problem: the huge barriers to success for Care Leavers in primary and secondary schools as the necessary pre-requisites to tertiary study. 

Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) surveys (2008, 2011) show that nearly a quarter of Care Leavers had no schooling beyond primary level. More than 50%  left school without having even the first level of certificate (Year 10). 

Many were abused, emotionally, physically and sexually to the point where survival was a more pressing issue than getting an education. But equally important, many report that their ‘carers’ routinely told them they were worthless and would never make anything of themselves. It’s easy to be demoralised when the adults looking after you tell you that you will be one of life’s failures.

To reinforce that culture of low expectations, ‘carers’ pushed young people out of ‘care’ as soon as they were old enough to get a job – any job. Many, of course, soon joined the long queues of the unemployed, the homeless and the marginalised. Many would love to get a university education – and some have somehow achieved that. But for many, many more, getting a university education is the last thing they have time to dream of.

Associate Professor Jacqueline Wilson and I have written an article for a book due in 2016 in which we expand on some of these matters (details will be made available as soon as we know them).

What’s needed is far more fundamental than a change of culture and  the odd scholarship at university. Success will not come unless Care Leavers are given  systemic support and structured resources including substantial financial support, realistic options for accommodation that is conducive to study and personal mentoring and emotional support.

This support is needed on a consistent basis from the time a child goes into ‘care’ and must continue well after they leave the system. 


Blame the Victims for Child Sexual Abuse

This is an important update on a blog first posted on 8 July 2015.  

It concerned an outrageous claim made by the Parenting Research Centre and the University of Melbourne in a ‘research’ report called, ‘Scoping review: Evaluations of out-of-home care practice elements that aim to prevent child sexual abuse’.

The report was commissioned by – and published (February 2015) on the website of – the Royal Commission into the Institutional Handling of Child Sexual Abuse. More to the point, Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission used the outrageous claim in her opening address on 10 March 2015 at the outset of the public hearing into ‘out-of-home care

The major focus of preventing child sexual abuse in out of home care should be on efforts to prevent child to child sexual abuse rather than caregiver child sexual abuse, since this type of abuse likely represents the vast majority of observed child sexual abuse in out of home care.

This false assertion was not backed up by reputable research evidence. Senior Counsel had been badly advised by the Commission’s researchers who should have known better than to present such a sweeping allegation.

However, the claim was swallowed by some professional bodies who should have known better – and by the media, hungry for a headline. 

CLAN CEO Leonie Sheedy and I  met with one of the researchers and presented her and the Royal Commission with  a thorough analysis of the many flaws in the research report. While holding the line, the  researcher undertook to review the report. Negotiations followed.

The Royal Commission “temporarily removed” the  offending research report from its website “to address an error”.

Meanwhile, however, the damaging claim remained, unchallenged,  in the public arena. On 2 July, I wrote a  Letter to the Editor of The Age . 

Dear Editor

Paul Austin reports (The Age July 1) that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard that “in the majority of cases of abuse it is perpetrated not by adults, but by adolescents who are also in care”. This absurd proposition was indeed put to the Royal Commission, but there is absolutely no evidence to back it up. The facts clearly run the other way. You have to wonder at the motivation of those putting forward this slanderous allegation against children in ‘care’  – who of course have no right of reply. It diverts attention away from the adults, both those who are the perpetrators of abuse and those who are responsible for supervising what goes on in out-of-home ‘care’. 

Frank Golding, Vice-President Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN)

The Editor couldn’t find space for my 120 words in  defence of the kids whose voices are never heard. The media showed, once again, that it has little interest in backtracking over “yesterday’s news” even when they find they got it wrong.

However, after months of to-ing and fro-ing a few days ago, a revised version has finally been posted on the Royal Commission’s website. The revised report contains this preliminary notice.

The original version of this report contained an error. Specifically the report stated that the majority of child sexual abuse in out-of-home care was child-child sexual abuse. Though there is evidence to suggest that child-child sexual abuse in out-of-home care occurs at substantial levels, its prevalence has not yet been established.

The report has been revised to correct this inaccuracy and all research implications that were informed by this inaccurate statement.

The authors note, since publication of the original report, the release of the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People’s report ‘…as a good parent would…’(August 2015). This report also discusses the sexual exploitation of children in out-of-home care and highlights a range of possible perpetrators including but not limited to abuse perpetrated by carers and other children within the placement.

You can see a copy of the revised report here or by following this link.


The tenor of the changes can be seen in comparing the initial February 2015 version at page 7: 

The major focus of preventing CSA in OOHC should be on efforts to prevent child–child sexual abuse rather than caregiver–child sexual abuseThe vast majority of CSA in OOHC currently appears to occur at a child-child level. Therefore, additional efforts to prevent CSA should have a greater focus on child-child CSA. (my underlining).

with the revised report November 2015 version:

A major focus of preventing CSA in OOHC should be on efforts to prevent child–child sexual abuse. While the prevalence of CSA in OOHC is yet to be consistently and rigorously measured, a substantial proportion of CSA in OOHC appears to be child-child sexual abuse. The different nature of this type of maltreatment (peer rather than caregiver perpetration) means that additional, and likely different, efforts to prevent CSA should be undertaken to prevent all types of CSA in OOHC (my underlining).


No Light Shines for the ‘Forgotten Australians’

Of all the things that happened to vulnerable children in institutional ‘care’, the  word ‘forgotten’ is so lame and tame.

New Comment

‘The forgotten Aussies crying out to be noticed,’ said the headline.

‘They have little influence on the national agenda, they struggle to stay connected and the things they care about are at the bottom of every list.’ Read more here.

Sadly,  they are not talking about the ‘Forgotten Australians’ of the Senate report of that name published in 2004 and used by many Care Leavers since that time as a nick name. This highlights one of the main problems of that title.

Too many Australians (rightfully) use the adjective to describe their plight. Using the same expression as a descriptor,  former Wards of State, Homies, people who grew up in orphanages and other institutions like foster ‘care’ all compete with a myriad of others who want public support for their causes.

The general public have no idea of the widespread emotional, physical and sexual abuse, criminal violence, humiliation and deprivation, and lack of love and affection experienced by children in these places.

Of all the things that happened to vulnerable children, the  word ‘forgotten’ is so lame and tame. 


Older Comment

This is a re-placement of a piece first posted on 7 August 2015. I wanted to make the same point again and give it its own page rather than be buried on a page with another post.

It was originally a letter to the editor of The Age (Melbourne) that did not get a run.  I have only slightly changed its contents. The central arguments are reinforced.

Simon Gardner (Royal commission can shine a light on ‘forgotten’ people – Age 5/8) writes: ‘Mention the stolen generations and child migrants and eyes light up in recognition…No such light shines for the forgotten Australians. Why?’ Simon’s answers are not the same as mine.

For starters, many former wards of state were not forgotten. My parents tried repeatedly to get me out of state ‘care’. And judging by the number of children who jumped the wall, ran away, absconded, they were not going to be passive

The term ‘forgotten’ is a limp synopsis of the childhoods of many of us who were not able to live with our parents. 

The very word ‘forgotten’ deflects attention away from the real experience. Many would say, ‘If we’d only been forgotten and left alone’. Instead, in the so-called  ‘care’ of government, churches and charities and foster parents,  too many suffered widespread emotional, physical and sexual abuse, criminal violence, humiliation and deprivation, and lack of love and affection. 

I do not expect the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will use the word ‘forgotten’ in its final report. The word is trite and hackneyed. It’s been trotted out from Bob Menzies (Forgotten People 1942) to the Human Rights Commission (Forgotten Children 2014). 

If justice is going to come about it will not be through  slogans foisted on us by well-meaning politicians, social workers and policy wonks. It will be because of the relentless lobbying and awareness raising of former wards and residents of orphanages, children’s Homes and foster ‘care’,  We refuse to be ‘forgotten’. 

A Charter of Rights to Childhood Records

A Charter of Rights to Childhood Records: Updated version

Following some very helpful, constructive comments on an early draft, this revised draft (3 March 2016) is posted with a further invitation to comment. It is also posted on the CLAN website.

We particularly welcome and value comment by Care Leavers, ‘Forgotten Australians’, people formerly placed in foster families, members of the Stolen Generation, former child migrants and people who were, as infants, arbitrarily taken from their mothers.

We will keep this draft open for a period of three months and, at the end of that time, a final draft version will be discussed by the CLAN Committee which will, after due discussion, consider its adoption as CLAN’s position.



  • Many Australian children, through no fault of their own, were placed in orphanages, children’s Homes, foster ‘care’ and other forms of institutions that replaced their homes and families and displaced them from ordinary community life; and
  • Many children left institutional ‘care’ angry, ashamed, confused about their identity and disconnected, often not understanding the reasons for their separation from family because no one explained their situation, wanting to re-connect with their families and communities wherever that was still possible, and carrying many unresolved burdens resulting from the physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect that were inflicted on them; and
  • Any records that were made and archived in those circumstances may represent the only documented account of the person’s time in such institutions; and
  • The historic reasons for creating, maintaining and archiving these childhood records are now, by the passage of time, redundant.

And recognising that the Australian government is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) which among other things:

  • Affirms that in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration; and
  • Requires governments to respect a child’s right to know their parents and the right of the child to preserve his or her identity and family ties; and
  • Requires governments to respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis; and
  • Affirms the right of any child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment to special protection and assistance provided by the State; and
  • Affirms that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

Therefore, in response to the contemporary needs of former institutionalised children and by ethical extension of the rights of the child to the adult the child has become, it is declared that:

  1. The historic records should now be held in archives principally in order to help the ‘subject’ person make meaning of the circumstances of their childhood; and/or to connect, if still possible, with family and community; and/or to seek redress and other remedial action for abuse or neglect, where relevant.
  2.  In all cases, every effort must be made by archivist, record-holders and support workers to expedite requests for access to personal records. Special consideration for expedited access to records should be given to the frail and elderly and those involved in litigation or redress claims.
  3. Under no circumstances should a request for records be influenced by consideration of any real or perceived conflict of interest in providing records.
  4. In some cases, the records have been lost, others are incomplete, and many are found to be inadequate for the above purposes. Therefore, in addition to historic personal files and case notes, archivists and other support personnel have a duty to search for and identify other archived records that are relevant to the person’s childhood experience to assist in providing a more complete narrative.
  5. Archivists and record holders must understand that many childhood records are partial; many contain statements that are inaccurate or filtered; and many include personal judgments or opinions and use language that is likely to be offensive. Archivists and records holders have a duty to inform the person of the right to challenge the records, and should encourage them to provide alternative relevant material.
  6. Record holders accept that they have a duty to assist the ‘subject’ person interpret the record with issues like historical context and technical terminology.
  7. The childhood records in relevant archives are ultimately the property of the person who is the subject of the records.
  8. The subject of the records (or, if deceased, that person’s closest living blood relative or by agreement another blood relative) has the right to determine who should have access to those records and the terms of that access.
  9. All agencies and organisations taking children into their custody must produce an official record comprising key documents including the child’s birth certificate, the names and last-known addresses of all members of the child’s family, any court orders or documents related to the reasons for the child’s placement, all medical and educational histories, the names of all people who visit the child during their time in custody, all documents related to transfers to other institutions including foster families and any other official documents that relate to the child’s time in ‘care’.
  10. All agencies and organisations taking children into their custody should encourage and help them to create over time a memory box or similar collection that includes such items as relevant photographs of people, events and places that are central to their time in ‘care’, objects of significance to their time in that facility and any personal or descriptive accounts written by the child.


Although they cannot be held responsible for the form of words in the draft, we acknowledge the significant contributions of members of CLAN; Dr Jacqui Wilson of Federation University; and Dr Joanne Evans and Professor Sue McKemmish of Monash University.

For more on this topic see: Whose file is it? Whose story is it? Here