I was angry and bitter at the targeting of George Pell
But then the media taught me a lesson
Growing up as an impressionable church-going Catholic in Sydney with Cardinal George Pell in and out of the media spotlight was mostly strange, slightly testing and very sad.
At first, when I was young, I didn’t really know what to make of Cardinal George Pell and his situation. I found it strange and started to believe that perhaps Pell was covering the tracks of abusers and also that he perhaps was one.
But this changed a bit later. In high school, I found the attention given to Cardinal Pell hard to accept considering many people made allegations of different kinds but none could be proven. It seemed like people wanted to destroy his reputation, not because he was guilty of a crime but because they didn’t like him.
So although my personal experience with priests was very different, I became somewhat ashamed of my faith.
I met him on a few occasions and found him to be a normal human being who finds it hard to express his emotions but is of good will.
It was testing, as a kid, trying to live my faith amid the growing sentiment that many priests could be sexual predators and that those with responsibility in the church were covering up these atrocities up and perhaps were even partaking! So although my personal experience with priests was very different, I became somewhat ashamed of my faith.
I became more focused on my frustration with the media’s coverage of the issue.
In my sadness and frustration, I grew apathetic towards the victims of sexual abuse within the church. In 2002, when I was 16 years old, fresh allegations came out from someone who claimed that they were sexually abused by the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, when he was a seminarian in the Diocese of Ballarat, and Pell to my surprise stepped down as Archbishop.
I think it was an interview with Pell at that time that flicked the switch, and made my feelings change from sorrow for survivors of sex abuse to apathy and frustration. After this it hardly registered that these survivors needed to find healing and justice and I became more focused on my frustration with the media’s coverage of the issue.
My anger grew from a few sparks to a small furnace. As I grew more frustrated with the mainstream media, I completely lost perspective of the situation. I became less Christ-like when it came to this issue.
Then it got worse. I started working in the very industry I was angry with. I worked (and continue to work) as a news producer or journalist for various media outlets, public and commercial, and my obsessive suspicions grew.
And so I remained embittered about the media’s obsession with Cardinal Pell.
Moments in my career reinforced this conviction.
In 2012, I was working a morning news shift in TV and a newswire dropped – news that journalists receive that may or may not be aired – that a man around my age at the time, 27, had been charged with raping two toddlers he was suppose to be looking after at a child-care programme. A little while later, another wire dropped about two former teachers being charged with sexually abusing students at a Catholic school in the 1980s. The senior producer put this straight to the top of the news bulletin and reporters were sent to the school for the flagship bulletin that evening while the news about the young man charged with rape of minors was ignored.
And so I remained embittered about the media’s obsession with Cardinal Pell. Until recently.
Over the past few years, through a combination of silent prayer with Christ and becoming informed through the vehicle I blamed for everything – the media – my anger and apathy began to fade.
During the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, I learned more about the tragedy of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. One harrowing story sticks with me – the story of the Foster girls, Emma and Katie.
Their torment began when my brother-in-Christ, a Catholic priest, betrayed two young girls he was supposed to help grow in love for Jesus.
More than 30 years ago, the two girls were repeatedly raped by a parish priest while they were attending a Catholic primary school in Melbourne. In 2008, Emma Foster died of an overdose, aged 26. Katie developed an alcohol problem and was hit by a drunk driver in 1999, leaving her with brain damage requiring 24-hour care.
This story hit me more than other stories on the topic. In some way the un-nailing of my ‘apathy coffin’ happened when I learned of the sudden death of their father, Anthony, after a stroke.
What sad and tragic lives this family endured and their torment began when my brother-in-Christ, a Catholic priest, betrayed two young girls he was supposed to help grow in love for Jesus.
I began to see that journalists and producers viewed the Cardinal as an important figure in a influential and powerful organisation, the Catholic Church, which had in many instances betrayed the most innocent.
And although I could argue until I was blue in the face about how unfair the media coverage was, the reality is many children were sexually abused by priests and religious leaders.
Now, more than ever, I pray for the victims and survivors of sex abuse and their families and also for the perpetrators, for their eternal salvation, but while the media spotlight remains on Cardinal Pell the situation will remain testing.