Cardinal Pell’s acquittal stirs abuse survivor memories in Ballarat hometown

Pell Belinda Coates Ballarat

Title: Cardinal Pell’s acquittal stirs abuse survivor memories in Ballarat hometown

Publisher: Channel News Asia (CNA)/ Reuters/jt

Date: 09APR2020

MELBOURNE: A thick line of black tape obscures Cardinal George Pell’s name on a board lauding ordained alumni of St Patrick’s College in the Australian town of Ballarat as coloured ribbons flutter on doors and mailboxes.

The high school in Pell’s home town has no immediate plans to remove the tape despite the former Vatican treasurer’s acquittal this week of the sexual assault of two choirboys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

The High Court’s decision to overturn a lower court’s ruling and clear 78-year-old Pell, releasing him from jail after serving just over a year of a six-year sentence, has stirred painful memories for child sex abuse survivors in Ballarat.

Belinda Coates, deputy mayor of the town that has the unfortunate distinction of being a hotspot of historic child sex abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia, said the decision was tough for survivors who have long feared the stigma and trauma of going public with allegations.

“There’s been shock and disappointment here at the decision,” Coates told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Pell not only grew up and went to school in the former gold mining town, located some 120km west of Melbourne, but served there as parish priest from 1973 to 1983.

Hundreds of people have made claims against the Catholic church in the Ballarat diocese, a region covering the town and 51 surrounding parishes, over alleged incidents from the mid-1960s to mid-1990s. At least six priests and members of the Christian Brothers religious order have been jailed.

Allegations by former pupils at a children’s home and three schools, all run by Christian Brothers, comprised an entire case study in a government-backed national inquiry into institutional child sex abuse.

After taking evidence from victims and clergy, the so-called Royal Commission found in a 2017 report there was a “catastrophic failure in the leadership” of the Ballarat Diocese. A climate of secrecy to minimise scandal and protect the Catholic Church saw priests accused of abuse quietly moved to other parishes, while records of allegations were destroyed, the commission said.

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