Don't worry. While this is partly about an Australian Cardinal currently in Rome, it's not going to be an anti Catholic church rant. I'm still safely on brand.
No, no, no, this is more about how music and public consensus are making their contributions to justice. Or one Aussie (ish) musician and a lot of generous donators are at least.
See, safely on brand given I'm an Aussie based in Italy with a thing for all things cultural.
Sometimes though, culture bleeds into deep, dark places. Places that we don't necessarily want to go to, but for our moral obligation to do so. Like, to Melbourne, say.
Like other places where Catholicism has reached out into, Australia has some Catholic history. It has produced a saint (St. Mary MacKillop), hosted a few papal visits, has some rather nifty looking churches/cathedrals and, like most other places in the Western world, an ever shrinking number of people who identify as being Catholic.
That said, for a small country, Australia punches above its weight at the Vatican, thanks especially to Cardinal George Pell. Pell's name was briefly bandied about before PF was chosen as Pope. (PF=Pope Francis). PF, being the good sport he is, later put Pell on the advisory group dedicated to reforming the Catholic Church. Since then, Pell has also gone on to head the IOR - commonly known as the Vatican Bank. His job there has been to bring it into line with international banking practice and transparency. Not an easy thing to do with all that internal opposition and secrecy, but it's been a role made even more difficult with the revelation of Pell's own lavish spending. Tusk tusk.
Like other places in the Catholic world, there's a seedy, darker underside to its legacy in Australia. That one that makes us shudder. The one linked to child sexual abuse at the hands of members of the cloth. And much like a lot of other places in the Western World, the Church's attempts to sweep things under the carpet in Australia have only contributed to a problem that won't go away. Even if you could argue that the 15,974km between Melbourne and Rome offers some form of distance from the problem.
What does Pell and Rome have to do with this? Well, he spent decades as the top ranking official in the Catholic church in Australia. From humble beginnings in Ballarat, he went on to hold the titles of the Archbishop of Melbourne, and later, Sydney before being called on to Rome. His decades long involvement in the Australian church's handling (and alleged cover ups) of child sex abuse has been, and continues to be the subject of investigation.
There's quite a lot of documented information about Pell's responses and the initiatives he led if you care to look for it online. A lot of the documentation now publicly available is the result of two State based parliamentary inquiries into the issue, and Pell's own testimony.
Different countries have their own mechanisms and legal processes, and in Australia, the holy Grail of these is called a Royal Commission. It takes things to a national level. And right now, there's one now currently under way in Australia - established to take a wider look into institutional child sex abuse and not, it should be said, as it only relates to the Catholic Church. It's investigation is broader than just one church.
For some time, Pell, still in Rome, has been called to testify (he has previously testified at state inquiries and to the commission back in 2014) in Melbourne. But the Cardinal's lawyers have continuously stalled attempts at getting him to testify again at the current Royal Commission. They say Pell's medical condition precludes him from making the long haul journey back to give evidence, so, you know, can't he just give his testimony by video link?
Have you ever used the internet and the phone system in Italy? It is shite! Complete shite! You'd get better, clearer international communication using smoke signals.
Now legal types who are working at Royal Commission level don't put up with this kind of nonsense for long. They get narky and it can only mean eventual bad things for Mr. Pell if and when he graces them with his presence. Which they expect him to do, not only to help them get to the bottom of things without the possibility of troublesome video links but also as a mark of respect to the church's victims.
The pressure is on Pell and his legal team even if it looks likely it's going to be a via satellite affair in the end. But if you think the judiciary gets narky when their big event has its authority undermined by someone, don't underestimate the Australian public's response.
One of the major Melbourne newspapers - a Murdoch paper - has printed an article that accuses the public of conducting a giant witch hunt on Pell. It's written by Andrew Bolt, one of Australia's highest profile commentators. Conservative commentators.
But those kinds of editorials/articles are incredibly out of step with the Australian public on this issue. Aussies, by and large, are furious that Pell's responsibilities and moral obligations to victims and to the Commission can be fobbed off with a sick note while he conceivably goes about his daily routine in Rome. Thankfully, Aussies are an inventive bunch and not all conservatives. Check out the image above taken from another of the letters pages in an Australian newspaper. (somebody sent it to me via Facebook, apologies for the lack of attribution!)
That laconic, Australian humour and straight forward no bullshit attitude is one of the things that I love the most about Australia and Australians. It's that kind of transparency that you can only hope that Pell is pouring into the IOR. But the thing is, with regards to the Church's cover ups, its the perception of a lack of historic (and present) transparency which seems to be at the heart of the issue. Not being able to fly back to give evidence doesn't help the perception.
So, what other recourse does the public have? Well, the court of opinion is a powerful thing.
The following video by Tim Minchin, a comedian/singer/non morally bankrupt kind of person has hit the web over the last few days. It's Minchin's own contribution to a crowd funding campaign that is underway: and, his own personal call for Pell to fly back to Melbourne and give evidence.
Crowdfunding? Yes. You heard right. Because, some bright spark figured that if Pell wouldn't come to the hearings, then they'd send the victims to Rome instead. The face to face testimony, they note, is part of the healing process. So, even if Pell gives video evidence later in the month, campaigners want the chance to confront him in person. With Minchin's help, the campaign has already doubled its target. Brilliant. More here.
Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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