8 Jul 2008

Sex abuse scandal hits Aussie church ahead of Pope's visit

canada.com - July 7, 2008

by Michael Perry | Reuters

SYDNEY, Australia - The head of the Catholic Church in Australia was embroiled in a sexual abuse controversy on Tuesday, only days before Pope Benedict arrives in Sydney for a visit that could see abuse victims staging protests.

Cardinal George Pell denied he misled a man complaining of sexual abuse by a Sydney priest when he wrote him a letter in 2003 saying his abuse claim was rejected because there were no other complaints against the same priest.

Australian television reported that Pell wrote another letter on the same day to a different man saying his claim of sexual abuse by the same priest was upheld.

"Cardinal Pell misrepresented the truth. It destroyed my faith," Anthony Jones told Australian Broadcasting Corp's (ABC) "Lateline" programme on Monday night.

"He had to know that there was other complaints because he wrote to the man who as an 11-year-old boy was assaulted by Father Goodall on the same day," said Jones.

"I now hate Catholicism because of what Cardinal Pell has done to me, more so than what Father Goodall did to me."

Catholic priest Terence Goodall was convicted in 2005 of indecently assaulting Jones in 1982.

Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and brothers in Australia are calling on Pope Benedict to apologise when he arrives in Sydney on Sunday for World Youth Day, July 15-20.

The Pope confronted the issue of sexual abuse in the church during a visit to Washington in April, meeting victims and vowing to keep paedophiles out of the priesthood.

Broken Rites, which represents abuse victims in Australia, has a list of 107 convictions for church abuse, but says the real number of cases is far greater as only a handful go to court.

Pell said in a statement on Tuesday that "there was no attempt at a cover-up" in dealing with Jones' abuse case.

"I apologise for the confusion caused to Mr Jones," he said. "The letter to Mr Jones was badly worded and a mistake - an attempt to inform him there was no other allegation of rape."

The letter to Jones said: "...as no other complaint of attempted sexual assault has been received against Father Goodall and he categorically denies the allegation ... the complaint of attempted aggravated sexual assault cannot be considered to have been substantiated."

The letter to the other man, who said he was assaulted by Goodall when he was an altar boy, said his complaints were found to be substantiated.

President of Broken Rites, Chris McIsaac, said the Catholic Church system of reviewing allegations of sexual abuse was internal and had no transparency.

"We have complaints all the time about the Church's process. But this case shows the great weakness of the process," McIsaac told ABC television.

"It's left to each individual bishop or church authority to deal with the matters, and their decision is the end of the line for victims," she said. "Broken Rites always advises people if it's possible, go through the criminal process first."

Abuse victims have called on the Pope to not only apologise but to introduce a regime in which the church confronts the issue publicly, raising it in Sunday Masses, and being accountable.

"We're asking for a papal apology that's absolutely meaningful, meaningful with further action, that will bring processes into play that allow for transparency," said McIsaac. "Somewhere where there's an overriding body that can control things, rather than the bishops making individual decisions."

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