Straight talk about body parts and a no-secrets policy can protect young kids without scaring them
We can arm kids with knowledge that might save them from being victimized.
We can arm kids with knowledge that might save them from being victimized.
Vatican treasurer, the third most senior Catholic in the world, convicted on five charges in Australian court case
Tue 26 Feb 2019 14.41 AEDT
Cardinal George Pell, once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic, has been found guilty of child sexual abuse after a trial in Melbourne.
A jury delivered the unanimous verdict on 11 December in Melbourne’s county court, but the result was subject to a suppression order and could not be reported until now.
A previous trial on the same five charges, which began in August, resulted in a hung jury, leading to a retrial.
Pell, who is on leave from his role in Rome as Vatican treasurer, was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 as well as four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. The offences occurred in December 1996 and early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, months after Pell was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne.
He is due to be sentenced next week but may be taken into custody at a plea hearing on Wednesday, having been out on bail since the verdict and recovering from knee surgery.
Pope Francis, who has previously praised Pell for his honesty and response to child sexual abuse, has yet to publicly react, but just two days after the unreported verdict in December the Vatican announced that Pell and two other cardinals had been removed from the pontiff’s council of advisers.
Pell’s conviction and likely imprisonment will cause shockwaves through a global Catholic congregation and is a blow to Francis’s efforts to get a grip on sexual abuse.
It comes just days after an unprecedented summit of cardinals and senior bishops in the presence of the pope at the Vatican, intended to signal a turning point on the issue that has gravely damaged the church and imperilled Francis’s papacy.
The suppression order covering the case was lifted by county court chief judge Peter Kidd on Tuesday morning.
Pell walked from the Melbourne courtroom to a waiting car surrounded by a phalanx of police and press. He was jeered by survivors of sexual abuse who had gathered outside.
“You’re going to burn in hell. Burn in hell, Pell,” one man yelled.
Pell did not comment but a statement released by his solicitor Paul Galbally said the cardinal “has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so.”
“An appeal has been lodged against his conviction and he will await the outcome of the appeal process.”
One of the complainants at the centre of the case, who cannot be named, asked for privacy in the wake of the suppression order being lifted, saying he was “a regular guy working to support and protect my family as best I can.”
“Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle,” he said in a statement.
“Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life.
“At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust. I would like to thank my family near and far for their support of me, and of each other.”
Before returning to Australia to face the charges, Pell was for three years prefect of the secretariat for the economy of the Holy See, making him one of the most senior Catholics in the world. He was one of Francis’s most trusted advisers, and was handpicked to oversee the Vatican’s complex finances and root out corruption.
On the day of the dramatic verdict, after a four-and-a-half-week trial, Pell stood in the dock showing no reaction and staring straight ahead. The room was silent as the foreman told the court that the jury had found the cardinal guilty on all charges. Pell’s defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, when asked by journalists if he would appeal, responded: “Absolutely.”
Pell will now almost certainly face jail time.
The jury found that in the second half of December 1996, while he was archbishop of Melbourne, Pell walked in on two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral and sexually assaulted them.
The complainant, who is now aged 35, said he and the other choirboy had separated from the choir procession as it exited the church building. The prosecution’s case hinged on his evidence, as the other victim died in 2014 after a heroin overdose. Neither victim told anyone about the offending at the time.
After leaving the procession, the complainant said, he and the other boy sneaked back into the church corridors and entered the priest’s sacristy, a place they knew they should not be. There they found some sacramental wine and began to drink. The complainant alleged that Pell had walked in on them and told them something to the effect that they were in trouble.
Pell manoeuvred his robes to expose his penis. He stepped forward, grabbed the other boy by the back of his head, and forced the boy’s head on to his penis, the complainant told the court.
Pell then did the same thing to the complainant, orally raping him. Once he had finished, he ordered the complainant to remove his pants, before fondling the complainant’s penis and masturbating himself. The complainant said the attack lasted only a few minutes, and the boys left the room afterwards, hung up their choir robes and went home.
Being in the choir was a condition of the complainant’s scholarship to attend St Kevin’s College, an elite independent school in the affluent inner-Melbourne suburb of Toorak, the court heard.
“I knew a scholarship could be given or taken away even at that age,” the complainant told the court. “And I didn’t want to lose that. It meant so much to me. And what would I do if I said such a thing about an archbishop? It’s something I carried with me the whole of my life.”
The complainant alleged that either later that year in 1996, or in early 1997, Pell attacked him again. He said he was walking down a hallway to the choristers’ change room, again after singing at Sunday solemn mass at the cathedral, when Pell allegedly pushed him against the wall and squeezed his genitals hard through his choir robes, before walking off.
The complainant told the court that after the attacks he could not fathom what had happened to him and that he dealt with it by pushing it to the “darkest corners and recesses” of his mind.
In his police statement, the complainant said he remembered Pell “being a big force in the place”.
“He emanated an air of being a powerful person,” he said. “I’ve been struggling with this a long time … and my ability to be here. [Because] I think Pell has terrified me my whole life … he was [later] in the Vatican. He was an extremely, presidentially powerful guy who had a lot of connections.”
In his closing address, the crown prosecutor Mark Gibson told the jury their verdict would come down to whether they believed the complainant beyond reasonable doubt. They should find the complainant an honest witness, Gibson said.
Pell pleaded not guilty from the beginning. He was interviewed by a Victorian detective, Christopher Reed, in Rome in October 2016, and the video of that interview was played to the court. In that interview Pell described the allegations as “a load of garbage and falsehood”.
When Reed said the attacks were alleged to have occurred after Sunday mass, Pell responded: “That’s good for me as it makes it even more fantastically impossible.”
Pell’s defence team told the jury there were so many improbabilities in the prosecution’s case that they should conclude the abuse could not have happened. Richter said it was unlikely that two boys could leave the choir procession after mass unnoticed or that the sacristy would be unattended or left unlocked, or that Pell would be able to manoeuvre his robes to show his penis in the way described by the complainant. The robes were brought into the court for jurors to view.
Richter used a PowerPoint presentation in the retrial during his closing address to the jurors, something he did not do in the first. One of the slides read: “Only a madman would attempt to rape two boys in the priests’ sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass.”
In his directions to the jury, Kidd told them that the trial was not an opportunity to make Pell a scapegoat for the failures of the Catholic church.
The jury took less than four days to reach their unanimous verdict.
As many as 100 journalists accused of breaching the suppression order have been threatened with a charge of contempt of court and could face possible jail terms. Letters were sent to journalists from major media outlets which published or broadcast pieces in relation to the trial including News Corp, Nine Entertainment and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in February.
The reason for the strict order was that Pell faced a second trial in relation to separate alleged historical offences. The first trial was suppressed temporarily so information from it would be less likely to influence the jury in the second. Suppression orders are not unusual in such cases.
But Kidd has now ordered that reporting restrictions be lifted after the Department of Public Prosecutions dropped the second set of charges. Kidd had ruled that key evidence was inadmissible and could not be used, significantly weakening the prosecution’s case.
President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, said the case had shocked many across Australia and around the world, “including the Catholic Bishops of Australia.”
“The bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system. The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal’s legal team has lodged.”
“Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served.”
Sarah is living proof that “life after hell” is possible.
For more than 20 years she says she endured beatings, rape and degradation at the hands of her family.
She tells of being locked in sheds, made to eat from a dog’s bowl and left tied to a tree naked and alone in the bush.
Her abusers spanned three generations and included her grandfather, father and some of her brothers. She has scars across her body.
“This is from a whipper snipper,” she says, pointing to a deep gouge of scar tissue wrapped around the back of her ankle. Higher up is another she says was caused by her father’s axe.
But Sarah survived.
Now she is speaking out in the hope of empowering others trapped in abusive situations.
“There is life after hell, but you need to learn how to believe in yourself,” she says.
As confronting as Sarah’s case may be, she is not alone.
While most people assume child abuse ends at adulthood, it can bring control, fear and manipulation that can last a lifetime.
Incestuous abuse into adulthood affects roughly 1 in 700 Australians, according to research by psychiatrist Warwick Middleton — one of the world’s leading experts in trauma and dissociation. If that estimate is accurate, tens of thousands of Australian adults like Sarah are being abused by family members into their 20s or even up to their 50s.
“It’s a mechanism of ongoing conditioning that utilises every human’s innate attachment dynamics, and where fear and shame are used prominently to ensure silence — particularly shame,” says Professor Middleton, an academic at the University of Queensland and a former president of the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation.
He has personally identified almost 50 cases among his patients, yet there was no literature or studies on this kind of abuse when he began publishing his findings.
Sydney criminologist Michael Salter has found similar patterns in his own research. He said cases of incest are “fairly likely” to continue into adulthood, but this extreme form of domestic abuse is unrecognised within our health and legal systems.
“It’s unlikely that these men are going to respect the age of consent,” says Mr Salter, who is an associate professor of criminology at Western Sydney University. “It doesn’t make sense that they would be saying, ‘Oh you’re 18 now so I’m not going to abuse you anymore’. We’re just not having a sensible conversation about it.”
The ABC spoke with 16 men and women who described being abused from childhood into adulthood.
They said their abusers included fathers, step-fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings and uncles.
Medical and police reports, threatening messages and photos of the abuse supported these accounts. Some family members also confirmed their stories.
Sarah says her father and his friends photographed some of her abuse. One image shows her beaten and bloodied with a broken sternum at five. In another photo (pictured here), she cowers as her father approaches with a clenched fist.
Most victims described their families as “well-respected” and outwardly “normal-looking”, yet for many the abuse continued well after their marriage and the birth of their own children, as they navigated successful careers.
“You see a lot of upper-income women who are medical practitioners, barristers, physiatrists — high functioning in their day-to-day lives — being horrifically abused on the weekends by their family,” Mr Salter says.
Helen, a highly successful medical professional, says she hid sexual abuse by her father for decades.
“They didn’t see the struggle within,” she says.
Professor Middleton describes abuse by a parent as “soul destroying”. In order to survive psychologically, a child will often dissociate from the abuse.
Compartmentalising memories and feelings can be an effective coping strategy for a child dependent on their abuser, says Pam Stavropoulos, head of research at the Blue Knot Foundation, a national organisation that works with the adult survivors of childhood trauma.
The extreme and long-lasting nature of ongoing abuse can result in dissociative identity disorder, which on the one hand can shield a victim from being fully aware of the extent of the abuse but can also leave them powerless to break away, Ms Stavropoulos says.
Claire*, 33, describes her dissociation as both her greatest ally and her worst enemy.
“You feel like you’ve keep it so secret that you’ve fooled the world and you’ve fooled yourself,” she says.
In her family, women — her mother and grandmother — have been the primary physical and sexual abusers and she says some of her abuse is ongoing.
“In a way you have freedom, but at the same time you are trapped in a nightmare,” she says.
For many, the attachment to an abuser can be so strong, they lose their own sense of identity.
Kitty, who was abused by her father for more than five decades until his recent death, says she did everything her family said to try to win their love.
“I thought I was some kind of monster because I still love my father,” she says. “It’s like he’s melted into my flesh. I can feel him. He is always here.”
Mr Salter says the conditioning is difficult to undo, and often leaves a victim vulnerable to “opportunistic abuse” and violent relationships.
“If the primary deep emotional bond that you forge is in the context of pain and fear then that is how you know that you matter,” he says. “It’s how you know that you are being seen by someone.”
Many of those the ABC spoke with were also abused by neighbours or within the church or school system. Others married violent men.
“They don’t have the boundaries that people normally develop,” Mr Salter says, adding that parental abuse could leave them “completely blind to obvious dodgy behaviour because that’s what’s normal for them”.
Professor Middleton said premature exposure to sex confuses the mind and the body and leaves a child vulnerable to involuntary sexual responses that perpetrators will frequently manipulate to fuel a sense of shame, convincing them they “want” or “enjoy” the abuse.
For Emma*, violent sexual assaults and beatings at home began when she was five and are continuing more than 40 years later.
“When you are naked, beaten, humiliated and showing physical signs of arousal, it really messes with your head. It messes with your sexuality,” she says.
“Your sense of what is OK and what isn’t becomes really confused. You come to believe that they literally own you and own your body. That you don’t deserve better than this.”
A medical report viewed by ABC shows Emma required a blood transfusion last month after sustaining significant internal tissue damage from a sharp object. The report stated Emma had a history of “multiple similar assaults”.
She said medical staff do want you to get help and sometimes offered to call police.
“What they don’t understand is that for me police are not necessarily a safe option,” she says.
As a teenager she had tried to report to the police, but was sent back home to face the consequences.
She said a “lack of understanding about the dynamics of abuse and the effects of trauma” mean victims rarely get the response and help they need.
While Emma has been unable to escape the abuse, she has made many sacrifices to shelter her children from it. But they still suffer emotionally, she says.
“It makes it hard for anyone who cares about you having to watch you hurt over and over again.”
For Graham, it was devastating to find out his wife Cheryl* was being sexually abused by both her parents 10 years into their marriage.
“I had no idea it was going on,” he says, of the abuse that continued even after the birth of their children. “The fight between wanting to kill [her father] and knowing it’s wrong wasn’t fun. I don’t think people know what stress is unless they’ve been faced with something like that.”
With Graham’s support, the family cut contact with his in-laws. He says the fallout of this abuse ripples through society impacting everyone around both the abused and the abuser.
Mr Salter urges anyone suffering abuse to reach out for help, and for those around them to be supportive and non-judgemental.
“You can get out — don’t take no for an answer. Keep fighting until you find someone who is going to help you keep fighting,” he says.
Sarah met Professor Middleton after a suicide attempt at 14, but it took many years for her to trust and accept that things could change.
“I just couldn’t grasp I was free. It didn’t matter what anyone did,” she says.
“I still felt overall that my family was in control of me and at any moment they could kill me.”
Through therapy with Professor Middleton — who she spoke of as the only father figure she has ever known — and the support of her friends and partner, Sarah finally broke away from her abusive family to start a new life of her own.
“You need people to help you through it. In the same way that it took other people to cause you the pain, it takes new people to replace them and help you give yourself another go,” she says.
“If I can give hope to one other person out there, then all my years of pain will not have been for nothing.”
*name changed to protect identity
Thinking back to the times Brett Sengstock was molested as a young boy makes him want to vomit.
Even seeing photos of Frank Houston causes him to breakdown.
After 30 years of silence and shame, Mr Sengstock has finally decided to come forward because he says he is tired of others speaking for him.
Breaking down in Sunday’s night’s 60 Minutes program sharing his horrific story, Mr Sengstock recounted the graphic details about what happened to him starting when he was seven years old.
The predator was Hillsong founder Brian Houston’s father, Frank Houston, a high-profile pastor who used his position of power to sexually abuse young boys.
Decisions around how the matter was handled were made by Brian while he was head of the Pentecostal movement, the Assemblies of God in Australia.
As a young boy, Mr Sengstock said he considered Frank Houston royalty. He was leader of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand and when he visited Mr Sengstock said it was like the Pope coming to town.
He would stay with the Sengstocks when he came to Australia.
“He would come into my room and lay on top off me,” Mr Sengstock said.
“I couldn’t speak. I could not speak. I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t push back, I just went rigid and I couldn’t breathe, I was petrified.
“(He would say) ‘You’re my golden boy, and you’re special to me,’ and all these sort of things, which, as an adult now, I look back at, it makes me want to vomit.
“When you do that to a child you murder them, you take everything away from them, there’s nothing left.”
The abuse continued until Mr Sengstock was 12 but at 16 he finally decided to tell his mother what had happened. He was shattered by her response.
In a statement on its website, the Hillsong Church said Brian Houston “acknowledges the inexcusable crimes committed against” Mr Sengstock.
“It is misleading that the report failed to mention the many who knew about this issue before it came to (Brian Houston’s) attention,” the statement said.
“Pastor Brian was the one who actually took action when he learned of it as evidenced to by the transcripts of the royal commission readily accessible to the public.
“From the day Frank Houston was confronted by Pastor Brian, he never preached again.”
“She turned around and said to me that you don’t want to send people to hell, and stop sending them to the church,” he said.
When his mother finally revealed what happened 20 years later, without telling him, the matter was “quietly” dealt with.
Frank Houston confessed and paid Mr Sengstock $12,000 for his forgiveness.
The matter was never reported to the police, even when Brian Houston found out about his father’s actions in 1999.
Frank Houston died in 2004. Many didn’t know of his actions until Mr Sengstock spoke to the Royal Commission into child sex abuse in 2014.
Brian said he believed it should have been up to Mr Sengstock to report his father to the police when he first found out about his father’s paedophilia.
The church did strip Frank Houston of his credentials and he retired on a pension with no one the wiser.
It was not until a letter to church members in 2001 that they suspected something serious had taken place.
In the letter the church described his acts as a “serious moral failure”. They would later learn they were criminal acts.
In interviews during the commission, Brian said he “didn’t have any doubt that it was criminal conduct”.
“Rightly or wrongly, I genuinely believed that I would be pre-empting the victim if I were to just call the police at that point”.
After the Royal Commission Mr Sengstock sought compensation, but was not successful because he could not prove the Assemblies of God in Australia was responsible for Frank when the abuse happened.
The powerful speech @AsiaArgento during the closing ceremony of Cannes. “I was raped here in 1997 by Harvey Weinstein.” Going on to describe Cannes as HW’s hunting ground; many BBC past Students & their Families will remember how BBC was remembered as a ‘hunting ground’. Even the term “hunting ground” can be remembered in some of BBC’s (un-admitted) Offenders of the 1990’s. Perhaps this why any public announcements correlate with a psychological effect, that’s been hidden to some level. Even decades and decades after the events happened, any reminders of them may trigger some reaction(s).
This is where LivingWell have provided their resources, suitable to these male Survivours and their Families. “We all benefit from maps of life’s territories. We do not live our lives in straight lines” is from the Indigenous themed clip ‘No Straight Lines’.
Government agencies, organisations and individuals who may have information or documents relevant to the work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse can all be required to produce them.
What is an institution?
What powers does the Commission have to require production of documents or summon witnesses?
What is a reasonable excuse for not complying with a summons to give evidence or produce documents to the Commission? (cont…)