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Publishing Decisions

In The Age newspaper today (27 September 2002) the front page's main headline is "I knew the altar boys, says Pell" by Martin Daly.

Archbishop Pell has been accused of sexually assaulting two altar boys at a Philip Island camp more than 40 years ago.

Another seminarian there was Anthony Salvatore Bongiorno, who became a priest and has since died. He was acquitted of indecent assault charges in 1996 that were allegedly committed between 1981 and 1986.

The inquiry is headed by former Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell under the Church's Towards Healing process. Martin Daly describes it as a "secret commission of inquiry". But this information is from a submission to the inquiry made on Dr Pell on Wednesday. Martin Daly described part of the complainant's statement to the commision in The Age on 24 September.

Martin Daly does not indicate the source of this information. In speculating I would categorise the possibilites as from the team of: the complainant, Dr Pell or the judge. From the information available to me all are possible, but the complainant seems most likely.

The complainant has decided he wants to be anomyous, hence the requirement for the secret inquiry. Can he have it both ways? Choose to be anomyous and give details of the secret inquiry? Yes. The Church will bend over backwards to be just in this.

Yesterday I saw an interview on Dateline with Archbishop Zycinski. He expressed concerns about media reporting:

" ... when I watched the last case of the April of this year of Cardinal Mahoney in Los Angeles, everyone knew in the United States that the accusing person was mentally disturbed, that she suffered from schizophrenia and, in 'New York Times', the situation was described without reference to this on the first page. When explanation came that it was untrue and it was only a product of her fantasy, the explanation was given on page 23. It is unjust and the case of Sydney for me, it is just immoral, I would risk even barbarian, method of presenting the situation in which someone noticed on TV screen is accused for what allegedly happened in the past, 40 years ago. In such a way, everyone could be destroyed psychologically, morally, culturally, using such methods. ..."

I see the injustice, but I see it as worthwhile to avoid worse injustices.

On Wednesday Cardinal Keeler in Baltimore published details of "priests and religious men who have served in the Archdiocese and have been accused of child sexual abuse". There are dangers in this: scandal, harming victims, being sued for libel and naming someone falsely accused. But I think his decision is the correct one.

His letter described the reasons for his decision:

"... Recognizing each of these realities, I have come to the conclusion that public disclosure is the right thing to do. Ultimately, there is nothing to be gained by secrecy except the avoidance of scandal. And rather than shrinking from facing this scandal ­ which, too often, has allowed it to continue ­ we must address it with humble contrition, righteous anger and public outrage. Telling the truth cannot be wrong.

I pray our actions will:

- Help provide survivors with the strength to come forward, knowing they are not alone and their Church values and believes them ­ so we may apologize and offer assistance.

- Help protect children by rooting out and preventing this evil ­ making clear that the Church will not tolerate child sexual abuse, and shining a purifying and healing light where darkness has allowed abuse to continue.

- Help remove suspicion from the priests who serve and guide our parishes and our people. They are the heart and soul of our Church, and we have no reason to believe that any among them has committed the crime of child sexual abuse. ..."

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 27 September 2002.

Other Sites:

"I knew the altar boys, says Pell" by Martin Daly

Dateline interview with Archbishop Josef Zycinski

Cardinal Keeler's publication of the names of accused priests