You’re in good hands with the Vatican

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.



  1. Al Dente says

    Pell has always struck me as a not very bright man without a shred of empathy or concern for anyone who isn’t him. This just reinforces my opinion about him.

  2. RJW says


    I’m sure he’s very intelligent, he’s a Prince of the Church after all. He lives in a quite separate moral universe from plebs like us and His Eminence is a very senior executive in a multi-billion dollar corporation.

    I’d agree that his main interest is the protection of the corporation’s capital, not the customers.

    If only Henry II had won his war with the Church.

  3. Blanche Quizno says

    Must be nice to not have to answer to the same laws all the little people have to answer to.

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    So let me see if I understand: It is inevitable that priests will sexually abuse children at some point or other. It’s just a fact of life, an ever-present and unavoidable risk, just like the risk of getting in a car accident. You can be the safest driver on the planet, but there’s always that OTHER guy. And we all know just how seductive and manipulative small children can be, don’t we?

    So, you know, these adult men in dresses are so likely to find themselves at some point sticking their privates into some child’s various orifices that they really should have insurance against the inevitable. Just like how if you live in California, you should probably have earthquake insurance, right? It’s just an occupational hazard, nothing those good-hearted ADULT priests could possibly exercise any control over.


  5. Blanche Quizno says

    OMG – I can’t believe this. I shared this information with my husband, an atheist scientist, and HE said, “The purpose of the insurance is against being accused of child molestation. You don’t think ALL those accusations against priests are TRUE, do you??” I indicated that I was certain that the overwhelming majority of cases were legit. So HE said, “So what if YOU were a priest falsely accused?” So *I* said, “Why can’t priests make sure they’re never alone with children? When a male doctor is examining a female patient, he always has a female nurse in the room. For obvious reasons. So why can’t priests take similar precautions and thereby avoid virtually ALL questions of impropriety??” So HE says, “So you’re mad at me now??”

    I’m speechless.

  6. brucegee1962 says

    Is there any chance that what he actually said was that the DIOCESE should be insured against being sued? That would still be fairly reprehensible, but it would at least make sense. You’re right, it makes absolutely zero sense to say individual priests should be insured. And what company would sell such insurance? Presumably nobody who was confident that they wouldn’t rape any children would buy it, so for each priest who DID buy it, the insurance company loses.

  7. mildlymagnificent says

    Quite apart from what he’s saying to the world at large, what on earth is your ordinary, everyday, entirely ethical priest going to think about this?

    The blokes far from the rarefied realms of diocesan and Vatican hierarchy who do the hard, get your hands dirty work with addicts and homeless people and prisoners. The ones who – one way or another – absorb the emotionally draining work of sitting with the sick and dying, conducting the funerals and comforting the grieving bereaved week in, week out. My first reaction in their place would be to say How dare you! It’s your job to get rid of these scourges on our church, and you choose instead to say that none of us can be trusted! And if an entirely honourable, honest priest ventures into areas like suggesting that the priesthood might benefit from admitting married priests or women into sacramental roles or that contraception is a good idea, he’s the one likely to be disciplined or defrocked.

    What an insult!

  8. Axxyaan says

    @Blanche Quizno #7

    I am not sure that reaction is helpful. You are implicitly acknowledging it is a risk factor for priests. Why else do you expect priest to take all those precautions? Or do you expect every one to take those kind of precautions? Should every one assure themselves that they are never alone with a child? If not, should parents who are going through a nasty divorce?

  9. John Morales says

    brucegee1962 @8, I can’t see any press release where Pell made such a claim, but with a bit of looking I find this relevant section in the public transcript of the proceedings of the Public Hearing of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse during Case Study 8 (Day 60) at 6359:45-47 & 6360:2-12:

    Q. Of course, it’s always possible to sue the priest,
    isn’t it?
    A. That’s correct.
    Q. Do you think there might be wisdom in the Royal
    Commission recommending that priests should be insured?
    A. I think that might be a very useful development.
    Q. And it would solve a lot of problems very quickly,
    wouldn’t it?
    A. I think so.
    Q. And you understand that many professionals are
    required by law to carry insurance?
    A. Yes.

  10. Kevin Anthoney says

    Frankie’s asking for forgiveness.

    “We will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed,” he said.

    Would rather like to see a step forward being taken at some point.

  11. Abdul Alhazred says

    Let’s see if I get this right.

    It’s liability insurance that is being proposed. Such as is mandatory in the USA for car owners. It’s not like you get behind the wheel intending to cause an accident, etc.

    Likewise a priest raping a child. Is that it?

    I suppose their rates go up afterward, too?

  12. Abdul Alhazred says

    Someone doesn’t understand how insurance works.

    Indeed. But there’s a lot of that going around.

  13. Allan Frost says

    Axxyaan @11:

    @Blanche Quizno #7

    I am not sure that reaction is helpful. You are implicitly acknowledging it is a risk factor for priests. Why else do you expect priest to take all those precautions? Or do you expect every one to take those kind of precautions? Should every one assure themselves that they are never alone with a child? If not, should parents who are going through a nasty divorce?

    I don’t know. I think it would be a good idea for us as a society to prohibit priest’s alone time with children… or adults… or animals… or plants… you get the idea.

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