Piper wept for former schoolmates who didn't survive

13th March 2019

The anger was for Pell's crimes, his influence and what he represented, and the grief for students of Mr Piper's old school, St Pius X, Adamstown, who did not live to see this day.

"I feel for the victims of Pell and for all survivors. If it wasn't for them stepping up we wouldn't be here because the church just denied. But there's a whole lot of people who couldn't step up and say what happened to them because they're no longer here," Mr Piper said.

They include former St Pius student and abuse victim John Pirona, whose suicide in 2012 was the catalyst for the child abuse royal commission.


"Pell's case makes me so angry. He's copping it because he so perfectly displayed the arrogance of the Catholic Church, the denials and minimising of people's suffering when they disclosed the pain they felt. How much pain do you need to feel to commit suicide, and yet Pell and his church did nothing," Mr Piper said.

George Pell started a six-year sentence after Victorian Judge Peter Kidd described his crimes against two choirboys as a "brazen and forcible sexual attack on the victims" at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne in 1996.

Hunter Catholic priest Geoff Mulhearn said Judge Kidd delivered a "balanced and thoughtful" sentence covering the evidence and reasons for the jail term.

Father Mulhearn said he held onto his faith despite the church's child sex crisis.

"I can see things that need to change in the church but I choose to remain a man of faith and I live in hope," he said.

Child sex survivor Bob O'Toole marked his 75th birthday on Wednesday as Pell, 77, headed for jail.

While the Pell conviction was hugely significant both in Australia and around the world, in the Hunter people continued to report historical allegations and there were many trials against Catholic clerics and members of orders still to come, Mr O'Toole said.

"Pell told the royal commission that allegations about a notorious priest were not of much interest to him, and what happens to him is not of much interest to me," Mr O'Toole said.

"He's just one of many Catholics before the courts at the moment. We're more concerned about the local survivors who are coming forward here in the Hunter."

Hunter survivor advocate Peter Gogarty said Pell's conviction and findings of the child abuse royal commission confronted the world with the reality that child sexual abuse reached every level of the Catholic Church.

"The shocking thing is there has not been any meaningful response from the Catholic Church, despite the fact that the Pope, as the world's most influential dictator, can lay down the law and change things overnight," Mr Gogarty said.

People's anger at George Pell was in part because of the huge influence he had in the church and Australian politics.

"His influence over the lives of Australians, whether Catholic or not, via his influence with people in high places, has been enormous," Mr Gogarty said.

"He has imposed his ultra-conservative traditional Catholic approach on Australian society. He has been a climate change denier with huge influence over prime ministers. And all that time he was a child sex offender."

Lock the Gate Alliance spokesperson Georgina Woods said we hardly know the extent to which Pell exerted influence over prime ministers and media figures to undermine climate change action.

“When you find out that people in power are not just misguided, not just uncaring, but have been systematically and deliberately lying about matters that are very weighty it shakes you to the core," Ms Woods said.

“There’s a lot of worry these days about how much people have lost faith in institutions, but that has happened because the people have been betrayed by institutions and by those in power.”

Newcastle Anglican Bishop Peter Stuart said his first thought was for the survivors of sexual abuse who have found some of the commentary over the last few weeks confronting.

"I have also been thinking about the many Christians who have lost trust in church leadership. There are many people who are convinced by the teachings of Jesus and devote themselves to loving service who are wondering how they should express their faith now," Bishop Stuart said.

"As a church leader I feel a great weight of responsibility. We know that the royal commission has set out a blueprint for churches and other groups to provide a child safe environment.

"In a couple of weeks time the Australian Anglican bishops will be meeting. Our agenda includes items about the next steps for further improvement."

Maitland-Newcastle Catholic Bishop Bill Wright acknowledged publicity about high profile child sex cases can be difficult for people with memories of their own abuse.

"So I think first of them and remind them and their families that the healing and support team of Zimmerman Services is available if they need personal support at this time. (Phone 4979 1390).

"I want to express again my confidence in our legal system and, specifically, in trial by jury. I think that the present case confirms that juries generally are diligent and responsible. Clearly the two juries concerned have found this a difficult matter," Bishop Wright said.

"The first time the Cardinal was tried, the jury could not reach a verdict, then at the re-trial a new jury took over three days to agree on the verdicts now delivered. They took their duty seriously.

"Finally, recalling again that child sexual abuse is not only a serious crime but also a morally repugnant and sickening act that often has devastating and long-lasting effects on its victims, I renew my commitment as bishop to ensuring the safety of children in our diocese, to co-operating with civil authorities in bringing offenders to justice, and to hearing and responding to victims and survivors to the best of our wisdom and ability to help."

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