Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Cardinal Pell is giving evidence

to the Royal Commission into sexual abuse. This is day two.
I, rather foolishly, tweeted something yesterday which caused a deluge of tweets back - from both sides of the debate over his guilt or innocence. My tweet was nothing to do with his guilt or innocence. (The tweet was to a journalist who did understand but others assumed they did. It is perhaps another problem with the entire Pell affair.)
I don't know what Pell knows or what he has done. I have never met him. I have observed him on television and that is it. I do know something else though. Anyone with a modicum of training in psychology would know the same thing.
Pell has been convicted in the court of public opinion. Even if it could be shown without doubt that he was innocent of any wrong doing people would still believe he is "guilty", guilty of something. They need to believe that. 
Pell was a junior priest during the time he was being questioned about yesterday. He is not however being questioned that way. He is being questioned as if he was a Cardinal at the time. He is being questioned as if he should have had full knowledge and authority to deal with any issue that occurred. It is little wonder that his evidence sometimes appears "evasive". Like him or not it is only fair to suggest he must be struggling to answer  under these circumstances.
It is rather like suggesting that, in my first few years as a teacher, I should have known if another teacher was sexually abusing students. I would have had no idea. I actually mixed very little with my fellow teachers. It was all I could do to keep my head above the stormy waters of trying to prepare good lessons, teach them well and care about the children in my care.  Would it be so very different from a young priest? I know several, about whom there is not the slightest whiff of scandal, and I know they wouldn't have time to know about the sexual activities of their fellow priests. Should they know? It's hardly the sort of thing that gets spoken about but I suppose it is possible to argue that people in such positions should be so observant that they notice and then act on such things even if they are very young and very inexperienced.
There is another problem however and that is a problem which lies with those who are victims and their families. It isn't anything they have done wrong. It isn't anything they ever intended or even intend now. They can in no way be blamed for what has happened to them.  
I hope if I put it into another context people might understand - that it might help them empathise with the victims and their families in a more positive way than merely raging at Pell.  Let me try and explain how I see it.
My mother was a "Christian Scientist". They do not believe in mainstream medicine and turn to "Christian Science Practitioners" to "work" for them instead. They see illness as "error" and their use of these "practitioners" is a form of faith healing.
My mother knew at least two practitioners and my father knew one of these people as well - through my mother although he never followed her beliefs. I met these people. The practitioner was married to another Christian Scientist, a woman who - like him - had been brought up in the church. They were, without any doubt, devout.
In her early 70's the wife had a "stroke" and it left her quite severely disabled. They did not seek mainstream medical attention for it. She also broke her arm in a fall and they did not seek medical attention for that either. They "worked" on it. 
Eventually, months later and following pressure from their children, they did seek mainstream medical advice and were told that, had they come much earlier - preferably immediately - something might have been done to help. Not long after that the wife died. 
Her husband continued to be a "practitioner". He  continued to follow Christian Science theology. He could not let his religion go even though his wife had been harmed by not seeking medical attention.
Some people find this very hard to understand. Why, they ask, didn't he give it up?
The difficulty for him was, to me, obvious. He  had invested an enormous amount of time, money and emotional energy in being a Christian Science Practitioner. To admit it might not work would have been a devastating loss. His entire life had been devoted to Christian Science. I don't think he could have handled it. He died still, apparently, believing the Christian Science theology.
I believe it is a similar situation for many victims and their families. There has been a lifetime of the loss of innocence. They want to see "justice". They want to believe the "bad" rather than any possible "good". It is how they survive. They reason that Pell must have known and could have prevented it.This allows them to direct their anger at him, even if it is not reasonable to do so. One man has been shown proof that Pell was out of the country when an incident occurred and that he could not possibly have been there at the time. I don't doubt for a moment that, despite this, the victim still genuinely believes Pell was there and that "they" have "got it wrong". He can't live with anything else.
People who believe in this way and who direct their anger towards others need a great deal of support. It's no good getting angry or suggesting that they are "lying". They genuinely believe what they are saying. They may be mistaken but they are not lying.
It doesn't make them right but it most certainly doesn't make them wrong either.
I don't know whether I am right or wrong either.


Anonymous said...

I hadn't thought of it that way but perhaps you are right. It makes it all the more awful doesn't it. That they might need to go on feeling like that.
I hadn't thought about Pell not being a cardinal either. It seems like he has always been one. Still don't think much of him, especially after day 2. Ros

catdownunder said...

Pell's comment about "sad but of no great interest" is going to be his downfall.