THE man widely tipped to be the next Pope told an audience in Glasgow yesterday that the Catholic Church will not grow unless it deals with the sex abuse scandal that has rocked it in recent years.
Cardinal George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, warned the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland that sex abuse was a “criminal moral cancer” and that the Catholic Church will not recover “until every cell is excised”.
He said: “Few, if any, people 50 years ago expected the dark stain of sexual abuse to have spread so widely across the church, while varying in extent even within countries. It does not need to be said that this is the most important and powerful barrier to the New Evangelisation.”
He also admitted the Catholic Church in Australia had not dealt properly with sexual abuse within the church.
“It is shameful and shocking that this abuse, with its tragic toll on those who were abused and on their families, was committed by Catholic priests and church workers,” he said during a speech at the Glasgow City Chambers.
“That church officials have sometimes failed to deal appropriately with those who have been abused, and with priests and church workers accused of abuse, is deeply disturbing.”
He continued: “Much still needs to be done in Australia and will be done, but substantial steps have been taken procedurally in the last 16 years and generally these procedures have been followed.
“We would hope that the church community is purer and stronger in itself after removing much of this criminal moral cancer. However, the church will remain at the foot of the cross until every cancer cell is excised.”
Pell, who has been a cardinal for almost a decade, is well regarded within the papal community for his skills with the media and gift for public speaking, and is believed to be under serious consideration in the Vatican for the future papacy.
Pell also talked about the need for the church to modernise while retaining its identity. “Instead of lamenting the help traditional Catholic life gave across the centuries in cities, towns and villages and somehow rejoicing in small numbers in our hostile world, we need to be working to rebuild our defences, to shore up Catholic identity and practice sociologically rather than insisting on the removal of those surviving props,” he said.
He also discussed strengthening relationships with other religions, particularly Islam and Judaism, saying: “We are grateful to God for the opportunities we have to work and stand together, especially on these issues of marriage, the family and religious freedom.”
Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow and president of the Bishops’ Conference in Scotland, said: “Cardinal Pell has been a hugely influential figure in Australian society and a powerful voice in the English-speaking Catholic world for more than a decade.”