Jasmin Newman

We need to remove politics from the Pell verdict

While the Pell verdict has split the nation, scoring it as a win for our political station serves no purpose.

 

 

I have many left-leaning ideals but I probably sit slightly more to the right of politics. I was raised in a Liberal-voting household and there are some conservative values which I hold very close, others I find utterly archaic.

In the outfall of the guilty verdict of George Pell, I’ve watched the left and right sides of politics go to battle, as if their politics matters to victims. Between the grandstanding of the Right and the Catholic Church-hating of the Left, I’ve found little understanding of victims’ experience of clerical abuse. The Right doesn’t seem to want to understand victims and the Left doesn’t really care. If social commentary is anything to go on, they just want an outlet for their hatred.

I was raised a Catholic attending church every Sunday and on religious holidays for most of my childhood. I was 15 years old in 1980 when I left the church. It was the same year I was sexually abused by a priest in the Catholic boarding school I attended. Not just on one occasion, but on many.

I admit I don’t love the Catholic Church. I reject ideological and religious indoctrination of children because I know first-hand the unlearning of shame and guilt one has to overcome. Forty years on, I’m still unlearning. And this isn’t just a religious thing. People who have been indoctrinated into radical ideologies have stated that leaving those groups was harder than leaving the church. That’s saying something.

My personal views aside, I will always protect the rights of people to choose their faith or beliefs and to benefit from the strength and unity that can bring. Historically religion has played an important role in developing communities around the world, including Australia. Faith has united people and supported individuals to become part of the collective. It gave them power and shaped everything in our culture, including our political parties. As people we are naturally bound by groups, tribes and a sense of belonging. It is one of the many things that shape our identity.

However with the power to unite and move people, naturally comes abuse of that power. This is where the Catholic Church and many other religious institutions were the cause of their own demise.

The courageous victim in the Pell trial must have had one hell of a story and it must have been believable, especially when it was tested against the defence council of the most powerful and wealthiest institution in the world.

There has been much social commentary that the Left have a long-held agenda to bring down the Catholic Church. I don’t dispute this and in fact find much evidence to support it.

To argue in favour of the church (or anything on the political right) means you are labelled a regressive, misogynist, homophobe in the usual spray of rhetoric, including the disgusting accusation of being a protector of pedophiles. They will even say this to those harmed by the church.

Conservative right-leaning commentators believe George Pell was a scapegoat for the hatred directed at the Catholic Church. With his well-documented cover-ups and attempts at dodging the Royal Commission, I believe Pell needs to take responsibility for his own demise. Personal responsibility is a tenet of the Right and it’s time they accepted this applies even when it’s uncomfortable. Pell made his own bed.

While he was head of the Catholic Church in Australia, George Pell tried to avoid giving evidence at the Royal Commission into institutional abuse. The Royal Commission that found the Catholic church had 7% of its priests who had been accused of abuse. 1,880 offenders. 4,444 victims reported. If the church has lost popularity, if it’s struggling in Australia or around the world, it has nothing to do with the victims of the clergy and everything to do with the failure of the church and its leadership to address the sexual abuse of children under its watch.

Under Pell’s leadership the Catholic Church has paid off victims and forced them into silence through gag orders. It is Pell who drew the hatred from his actions and inactions. This makes him despised, but it does not make him guilty of the sexual abuse and rape of two boys.

What makes Pell guilty is the testimony given, the jury who deliberated for three days and returned unanimous, and the Judge who found him guilty.

I want to answer the critics and to help people—Catholics and conservatives alike—to understand the experience of victims such as the man who accused George Pell.

 

The unique experience of victims of clergy

Children who were abused by clergy have an experience that is unique to any other sexual abuse.

Catholic children of that era were raised to believe they would be punished for their sins. God was omnipresent and what they didn’t know he knew, they had to confess. There was no escape.

The parents of victims, the people they were most bound to, made sacrifices for the church. They attended to worship God and kneel before the altar of Christ. They recited prayers pledging their devotion. The church and its clergy had the ultimate power over their entire lives.

The church their parents worshipped was enabling abuses against them.

In 1980 there were no public awareness campaigns helping victims to speak out. No website. No call centre or 1800 number. There was so little awareness it took many most of their lives to even understand what happened. Victims were forced to suppress it and grapple with the internal conflict of religious indoctrination, simultaneously knowing something bad was done to them. For far too many, that led them to a life of substance abuse, crime and tragically in many cases, the ultimate pain so unbearable it resulted in suicide. Many never spoke out at all.

Conservatives need to understand that victims didn’t come forward earlier because there was no mechanism for them to do so. There are often inconsistencies in dates and sometimes even locations because it happened a long time ago. But they do remember certain specific events as if they happened yesterday. And they remember them so clearly they can recall the minutia. The smells, the sounds, the colours. They can’t and don’t make that stuff up. But sometimes they get muddled on specific dates and years and locations. It’s just the way it is when you’ve suppressed something for a lifetime.


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It was also an era of harsh punishment for children who behaved badly. If you were a child who misbehaved you were often physically punished by your parents. We know today that sudden changes in behaviour are often attributed to trauma in children. Back then, those children were just seen as bad or unruly.

Another key element regarding historical abuse victims is what they must go through in order to report. The conservative argument claims the absence of usual standards of evidence indicates all accused are now open to allegations based on believability, and that this is unjust. Conflating these types of sexual abuse or rape is a mistake.

They are rare, but a person who makes vexatious claims usually has something immediate to gain. They want to harm the accused, to destroy their reputation. Often they have a significant financial motive. They are usually adults at the time of the allegations and they are able to speak publicly and be named. In these cases, they may well get their 15 minutes of fame—if that’s what they are seeking.

This is not true for victims of historical abuse. They were children at the time. Their name is almost always suppressed and they make themselves enormously vulnerable in that process. There is no fame, accolades or monetary gain.

There is no guarantee they will be believed, but someone, usually a police officer, listens to their story. The motive is not to bring down the church. That’s not going to happen, even when its most senior priest is the defendant. It’s an enormous risk to make yourself vulnerable, to swear under oath and appear before the accused. There is an opportunity to be heard and maybe (maybe) some justice found in the verdict. And there is no guarantee of the verdict until the day it is delivered. The chances are, on the burden of proof, that you will not get a conviction. The accusers are warned of this, and yet they feel personally compelled to go ahead anyway.

The courageous victim in the Pell trial must have had one hell of a story and it must have been believable, especially when it was tested against the defence council of the most powerful and wealthiest institution in the world.

 

A matter of justice

I’ve always put my faith in the legal system when it comes to criminal matters. I am aware the system is imperfect and doesn’t always get it right. I have in fact witnessed it get it very wrong. I’ve seen people acquitted on legal technicalities who should have been found guilty and I’ve seen guilty verdicts handed down when there was little supporting evidence. This is why we have an appeals process. Just as I have accepted his guilt, if Pell’s mighty legal defence team successfully appeal his conviction, then I am bound to accept it. And so must the Catholic-hating left.

Let us be clear though. If you accept the legal process is imperfect, then you know that “not guilty” and “innocent” are two completely separate terms.

For the Left, they need to learn one vital lesson in relation to sexual abuse. Just because someone is conservative does not make them a paedophile, nor a paedophile supporter. You do not help victims by screaming “paedophile” at everyone. It makes the term meaningless and it actually makes it harder for victims, not easier. For those who have supported Pell after his conviction, I’m not happy about it either, but they have a right to say or do as they wish. It’s tactless, but friends of convicted paedophiles can take a long time to come around to accepting their friend’s guilt. They have often been groomed in the same way a victim has been.

For conservatives, there is one thing you must consider in the outfall of the George Pell verdict. There are real victims in this process. They were children who had the course of their lives altered. Many didn’t make it this far. Many have led less than ideal lives. Those who can speak up won’t always have the evidence you’d like. They won’t recall the things you expect them to. They must abide by the confines of the legal system and they are made vulnerable all over again, revisiting trauma and hurts they have buried. They deserve to be heard and if you actually seek justice, it would benefit you to understand them.

I implore all of you to leave your politics out of the Pell verdict. Seek understanding and a little perspective.

 

Jasmin Newman

Jasmin Newman is a Relationships Coach who has specialised in helping men who are going through high conflict divorce and separation, so they can move on confidently with their lives after a relationship breakdown. She is a mother of two and lives on the South Coast of NSW.

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