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Tuesday, 26 February 2019

The Pell Tolls....

For those who haven't heard, the verdict on Cardinal Pell has just come out. Shocker - he's been found guilty.

If you've been living under a rock, Cardinal George Pell (the highest ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia) was (a while ago now) accused of sexually assaulting underage boys. Strangely enough, he denied this claim. After some time, he has now been found guilty, and that verdict has been released.

It's the latest in a long line of higher-ranking religious men, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church, who have been accused - and found guilty - of sexually assaulting minors. If you don't know much about it, go watch Spotlight on Netflix when you've got a couple of hours. It does a great job of telling the story.

But I think people are starting to ask the question - why is this such a widespread issue? How has this happened? And so that's something I thought I'd take a look at.

Let's say that you are a man in the Roman Catholic Church. You're quite devoted to your church, and so you decide to spend some time and become one of the clergy. You can't marry, and you spend a number of years in seminary, and some time as a deacon, before becoming a priest. It's a lot of hard work to get there, and there's a lot of pressure.
When you do become a priest, you promise to obey what the bishop says, stay celibate (don't have sex), and live a Godly life. That last one in particular can be a lot to live up to. But now, as a priest, you have certain privileges. You can minister to those under your care, and you learn about things that you didn't know before.

You're given power that you didn't have before. You have a certain level of access - both to areas, and to people, that you didn't have before. And there is a level of secrecy, or at least, lack of transparency, around many things that happen. Things are kept in confidence - after all, this is the point of the confessional. All that you would have to add to this volatile mix is an opportunity.

I should note. I do not intend this to mean that people join the priesthood explicitly to do these things. That would be highly (and, I'm fairly certain demonstrably) incorrect to suggest. What I do believe is the case, however, is that some people, when introduced to this environment - where they are given power, access, secrecy, and opportunity, and are under pressure - can use that in a bad way. Many won't, and haven't. When I'm saying 'many' and 'some', by the way; I'm meaning in comparison to the total number of priests. Not just as, this is a lot of people. Because it is, as you probably know, a large number of priests that have offended in this way. But in terms of percentage - it's about 4%. (At least, according to this study that I'm looking at.)

Unfortunately, churches - and not just Roman Catholic ones - can create situations which make it easier and less visible for leaders to hurt others in this way. Thankfully, we are now realising this, and starting to put measures in place to ensure that this doesn't happen again, now or in the future.

But I think this is also something that you can apply in different ways, to different organisations, and with different crimes. When you have this mix of power, access, secrecy, pressure, and opportunity - sometimes, even people that we'd think of as quite good, can turn down paths that are really quite terrible. It's why, more and more, people are emphasising the importance of transparency within organisations. Of accountability, and even rest.

There's a lot of work to be done. But perhaps, slowly, we might start to see some changes happening. Until then - keep pushing.