Cardinal George Pell is heading back to his home country of Australia to face multiple sexual assault charges from multiple accusers. Officials are not releasing details of the charges, nor the accusers — including their ages — but Pell has denied the complaints, calling them part of a "relentless character assassination."
“I can’t possibly be surprised,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian when he joined Jim Braude on “Greater Boston," along with investigative journalist Mike Rezendes, who was part of The Boston Globe Spotlight team that first broke the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in the '90s. Garabedian has represented thousands of victims of church abuse and both men were portrayed in the 2015 film “Spotlight.”
“I have cases around the world where children were abused by priests and some of them were high-ranking priests,” said Garabedian.
Pell is the third-ranking official in the Vatican and he's the senior-most church official to ever be charged.
“Most important, the church has not dealt with this problem,” said Rezendes. “Until the church deals with the problem head-on, we're going to see scandal after scandal after scandal.”
Cardinal Pell is one of nine church officials who were appointed by Pope Francis, shortly after his election in 2013, to study reforms within the Catholic Church. Boston's own Cardinal Sean O'Malley — who chairs the Pope's Commission for the Protection of Minors — was another.
“At this point, it seems like window dressing," said Rezendes. "The commission has been meeting for three years and they haven't come up with anything. They haven't come up with any reforms. They haven't come out with any recommendations. … I think it’s extraordinary that the church can’t come to grips with this.”
“The church is playing a long game,” Garabedian said. “They think in 100 years, this will be all gone — they'll rewrite history.”
As an attorney, Garabedian said clients have come to him with claims that they were abused by clergy members as far back as 80 years ago.
“It's been going on for decades,” said Garabedian. “There are thousands of abusers, thousands of negligent supervisors. Why aren't they doing anything? Why are they opposing statute of limitations laws across the country? … Because they don't want the truth to be revealed, and they're playing a long game.”
“I think the Vatican still believes this is a creation of the media, and it is not a systemic problem,” Rezendes said. “Despite all the evidence — and with scandals in country after country after country — I think there are a lot of people at the Vatican who just have their feet firmly planted in the idea that this is a media creation and, if they just wait long enough, it will go away.”
“We just have to keep doing what we're doing,” said Garabedian. “Laws have to be changed. Documents have to be produced. The truth has to be revealed. Victims have to keep fighting.”
“I do hope the church changes,” said Rezendes. “I think it's quite possible. Maybe when Cardinal Pell goes back to Australia, that will be an impetus for change. Maybe because such a high Vatican official has been criminally charged, maybe that will spur some change.”
To watch the full interview with attorney Mitchell Garabedian and reporter Michael Rezendes, including criticism of Pope Francis’ handling of the accusations, click the video link above.