From last week – Cardinal George Pell is leaving Australia for a new job in the Vatican, and for a good-bye present he told a royal commission that priests should be insured against being sued for child sexual abuse. Elizabeth Farrelly is…shall we say, taken aback.
Our man in purple, our alpha priest, moral paragon. Our Vatican princeling, just days from taking up his dauphindom in Rome: he said that? He dropped this fissile solipsism on our public debate and left, smacking the dust from his hands like, we’re done now, right?
For this was no dinner party throw-away. The cardinal – fully frocked, schooled and premeditated – breathed his proposition into the stone tablets of a royal commission. He wanted it recorded and kept. Forever.
But insurance? Does he think child sex is some unavoidable occupational hazard? Something a priest will sooner or later fall to? An accident? If you wanted to maximise the damage already done to countless children, you’d be hard put to find a surer way, or crueller.
And does he think the church should just be able to put in a claim and then sail on majestically unperturbed?
Consider for a moment. Is abuse insurance like car insurance, green-slip to start and no-claim bonus for good behaviour? Or is it like health insurance where you select your cover to suit. Ten grand, say, for talking dirty to preschoolers. A hundred grand for touching. What, half-a-mill for penetration? Or is professional indemnity the model – the surgeon’s slip of the knife, the architect’s of the pen?
Apologies if you think this talk indelicate but, as the sex fiend said to the shrink, I’m not the one drawing the dirty pictures here.
Insurance is risk management. Pell’s purpose, one can only presume, was to downscale the entire abuse project from major moral issue to mere workplace risk. This is appeasement, the moral equivalent of adapting to, rather than mitigating, climate change. Is this what confession teaches? Outsource your risk?
It’s business. It’s nothing personal, it’s just business. He’s got to answer to the stockholders.
If this were some dumb corporation – some downtown retailer, say – a far lesser abuse scenario would have seen heads roll, many and large. Were the abuser Joe Blow, he’d be jailed as a rock spider. Were the abuse organised, secret, power-protected, woe betide, especially the ringleader.
Yet Paragon Pell shrugs, denies responsibility and skips away to Rome. A fine example he set, squirming in the witness box, blaming his colleagues, his lawyers and the children themselves. Yet the church, far from enforcing virtue, promotes him.
It’s how they roll.