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‘He didn’t even look me in the eye’: one survivor on how George Pell chose the church over children

George Pell Ellis Defence

Title: ‘He didn’t even look me in the eye’: one survivor on how George Pell chose the church over children
Author: Christopher Knaus
Publisher: The Guardian
Date: 13JAN2023
Abused by a priest as an altar boy, then re-traumatised when he tried to sue the Catholic church, John Ellis is in a unique position to assess the cardinal’s character.

John Ellis, in his decades-long battle for justice from the church, came to learn two things about George Pell.

The late cardinal, he says, was fiercely intelligent, and a keen strategic thinker who took a “long view of things”, including threats to the church’s finances.

He also possessed the compassion to recognise and understand the profound suffering of victims of clergy abuse.

“Putting those two things together, the only conclusion I can draw is that he could see that at a certain point in time there was a fork in the road there and thought: ‘I can either protect the interests of the church, or I can look after survivors of abuse. I can make the church a better institution spiritually but less sustainable financially,’” Ellis says.

“Faced with that option, he has clearly taken the fork that says ‘protect and promote the church’.”

Ellis is in a unique position to assess Pell’s character.

He suffered trauma heaped upon trauma due to the Catholic church, first as an altar boy, abused for years by a paedophile priest in Bass Hill in the 1970s, and again when he took the rare step of suing the church and Pell himself through the New South Wales courts in the 2000s.

Under Pell’s leadership, the Sydney archdiocese adopted an aggressive strategy to undermine Ellis’s case.

Despite internally accepting that Ellis was abused, holding clear independent evidence supporting his allegations and knowing of other complaints made about the same priest, the archdiocese fought his claim tooth and nail, attacking his credibility and doing everything in its power to thwart the civil action.

Its strategy, Ellis says, was to keep the floodgates firmly shut to other survivors who might follow him by eschewing the church’s pitiful compensation process and turning to the courts for justice.

He says Pell balanced the long-term risk to the church’s finances with the suffering of abuse survivors, and chose to protect the former.

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