This Sunday marks the beginning of a new year (Year B, to be precise) in the Church’s liturgical calendar. That may be a relief for Australian Catholics, who will be glad to say goodbye to 2017 a few weeks early.
The year opened on a hard note, with the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, in its fifth and final year, holding a three week “wrap-up” session on the Catholic Church in February. The results were shocking and sickening, and were splashed across the news daily. While the vast majority of abuse was historical (between 1950 and 2010) these reports cast a chill on all good-hearted people – Catholic or not.
Many faithful Catholics were further disappointed and disillusioned as entire archdioceses lay paralysed by silence, peeping out from behind media releases and communications offices. Where were the prayer vigils? The novenas? The tears? Church billboards declaring “Not in my name”?
While disappointment was one emotion, another was rage. And the mainstream media capitalised on the zeitgeist, openly speculating whether it was Catholicism itself – from celibacy to Confession – that was intrinsically paedophilic.
Over the months, the spotlight was slowly directed towards one man – Australia’s highest ranking Catholic, Cardinal George Pell. The cardinal became the subject of countless articles, parodies and memes. A comedic song, calling him “scum”, gathered 2.5 million views, while a polemical book Cardinal: the Rise and Fall of George Pell was published in May. In November, an obscene public mural crept across a pub wall in Sydney depicting the cardinal with former prime minister Tony Abbott.
When Cardinal Pell returned to Melbourne from the Vatican to answer charges of historic child sex abuse – charges which he will denounce when the trial begins in March next year – hundreds of journalists camped for hours to report as the 76-year-old presented himself to court.
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