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Governance, ethics & leadership in PNG – a personal perspective

After fall of Cardinal Pell, what’s now for PNG church?

ChurchSCOTT WAIDE | My Land, My Country

LAE - It was bound to come to light sooner than later. Over the last 20 years, the Catholic Church has been under intense pressure to admit to cases of sexual abuse within its ranks.

Admitting is one thing. But investigating and bringing criminal proceedings against the offending priests and other members of the clergy is another matter altogether.

It is something the Catholic Church has shied away from for many decades.

Last week people around the world read in horror as the Vatican treasurer, the third highest ranking Catholic clergyman from the Pope, Cardinal George Pell, was found guilty of sexually assaulting two boys when he was an archbishop.

There is no need to go into details here because there is enough online.  But what we should note is that Pell’s and other abuses happened over several decades and that large amounts of money were used to silence many of the victims and their families.

Why is this event in Australia significant and why should it concern Papua New Guineans?

There are 2.7 million PNG Catholics. Nearly a third of Papua New Guineans state ‘Catholic’ as their church denomination. We have the biggest Catholic population in the Pacific and the church has played an important part in the early and subsequent development of the country including the construction of schools, health centres and in economic activity.

Those at the helm in Papua New Guinea as well as well as the people need to take stock of what has happened in Australia. Serious questions need to be asked.

With the recent developments, many critics argue that the church has lost its moral compass and maybe lost its relevance as well.

George Pell may be just one person but he represented millions in Australia. As the institution argues against abortion, same sex marriage and family planning, the Pell trial has exposed ongoing abuses and moral hypocrisy that were covered up until the trial and exposure of Pell as a child abuser.

What should also concern Papua New Guineans is that over the last 50 years, Australian Catholic dioceses and orders have transferred  priests and religious brothers to rural parishes in PNG to prevent Australian authorities following through with child abuse  investigations and making arrests.

One example. In 2014, Australian priest, Fr Roger Mount stalled a deportation from PNG. Previously known as Br Roger Mount, he was investigated for child abuse in Australia and was later sent to PNG where he worked in the Sogeri parish for 20 years after his abuses came to light.

His victims in Australia were reportedly paid the equivalent of K400,000 to shut up.

Roger Mount is one of several members of the clergy sent to Papua New Guinea to ‘hide’ from Australian authorities.

Many of those decisions were made primarily because our systems were, and still are, too weak to track down offending members of the clergy and there is little awareness of the different forms of abuse in rural areas.

Cardinal John Ribat, the most senior priest in PNG, seems to have taken a strong stance against abuse. But his words need to be enforced in a country where abusers of the worst kind tend to hide.


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William Dunlop

Chris Overland. Well said.

Chris Overland

Philip Kai Morre is labouring under several major misunderstandings.

Australia's legal system may be slow and excessively costly, but the principles under which it operates are sound.

In particular, the presumption of innocence is rigorously applied as is the insistence upon due process and procedural fairness for any defendant.

Indeed, many people believe that the system is unduly weighted to benefit the defendant rather than the victims of crime.

George Pell had the benefit of an outstanding Queen's Counsel to represent him and access to more or less limitless amounts of money to organise his defence.

In pre-sentencing hearings his character references came from some of the most eminent and powerful people in this country, including a former prime minister.

Most defendants do not have the resources that Pell has had at his disposal, let alone the public support of the supposedly great and good amongst us.

Contrary to Philip's assertion, Pell was, in short, very far from "defenceless".

The extent to which the jury may or may not have been predisposed to find Pell guilty is impossible to know. As I understand it, the judge was meticulous in instructing the jury to ignore past media reports about Pell or the Catholic Church generally when considering the case before them.

The right wing media and certain conservative politicians have questioned the verdict but none of them sat through the whole trial nor heard all of the evidence nor had any chance to examine and assess that evidence in its totality.

Their opinions appear to be based upon the notion that Pell is not the sort of man to commit such an offence.

As we all know, the Catholic Church has harboured and protected many priests and laity who have supposedly not been that sort of man either, but they have been found to have committed serious crimes against children nonetheless.

Pell's appeal will be heard by three judges in an Appeal Court. If Pell's conviction is upheld, then he still has a technical right of appeal to the High Court, which may or may not decide to hear such an appeal.

Australia, like PNG, is a sovereign nation, and allows no appeal beyond its jurisdiction, so this case will not find its way beyond the High Court of Australia.

This case has caused enormous public interest and disquiet. One result has been all sorts of commentary (including mine) that cannot be based upon anything but incomplete information.

It is therefore incumbent upon us all of us to allow the judicial process to be carried out and accept the results.

Philip Kai Morre

It has been shocking news that Cardinal George Pell was convicted of sexual abuse charges.

I am not interested in the crime that many have been committed over the years but why fabricated stories and accusation to convict a innocent person.

Why it took a long time to convict a person going through complex legal process with many technical errors that cost million of dollars, resources and people involved? Why is that such a small issue turn into a completed and big issue that reached world media attention?

Why is that the implications, consequences and cost involved is far greater than the problem itself. Where is the justice and equality? Where is the positive law and natural law that is in build in our conscience.? If our conscience is scrupulous, we make erroneous decisions to sacrifice a innocent person.

In any court ruling there should be odd number of jurists or judges to hand down the verdict and not 12 jurists (even numbers) to hand down the decision to convict Cardinal George Pell.

The jurists may be at fault to turn a simple case into a completed criminal case making a big issue in the world media. Have any of you judge felt any guilt or remorse in handing down this decision because you decision has a lot of negative impact?

It has been a known fact that some judges and jurists do not count what is going to happen if they make this decision. Just balance it out first and make a decision that benefit both complainant and the defendant.

Cardinal Pell knows that he is the victim of acrimony but defenceless to speak out. He was already made guilty before the verdict was handed by jurists of the County Court of Victoria. In any appeal case it must be heard by international jurists to create justice.

Chris Overland

In relation to Peter Warwick's comment that juries are "quite hopeless" in cases such that of George Pell, I think he is doing a grave disservice to 12 fellow citizens who sat through many days of evidence and argument before coming to their conclusions.

Peter speculates that a highly impressionable jury will conclude that because the police have arrested Pell he must therefore be guilty.

I am reminded of a comment by a senior trial lawyer to the effect that if you are guilty and want to be found innocent, then make sure you are tried by a jury.

His reasoning was that whereas a judge alone will ruthlessly apply a forensic mind to the case and be utterly unswayed by sentiment in any form, a jury is capable of being emotionally manipulated by a clever QC to create doubt where very little actually exists.

There are exceptions of course but, based upon public statements made subsequent to the trial by people who know the complainant in the Pell matter, the verdict appears to be soundly based.

Still, because the gross miscarriage of justice in the Lindy Chamberlain case still causes me disquiet, I can understand why some people are uneasy.

That said, the now obvious collapse in the moral authority of the Catholic Church and, indeed, organised religion in any form, seems likely to accelerate as a consequence of this case.

This seems to me to be a part of the apparent general collapse in confidence in many of our once trusted institutions, across the western world at least.

Whether a similar development becomes manifest in PNG remains to be seen.

Quite where this is likely to end is anyone's guess right now but there is a looming sense of existential crisis which bodes ill for the future. Pell's case just reinforces this.

Of course, I am a perennial pessimist and so we may yet burst forth onto the sunlit uplands of universal peace, prosperity and goodwill to all.

Ross Wilkinson

I suppose I'm very much in Peter's camp as to my current beliefs. However, what hasn't been commented on here is the high moral ground that the Catholic faith has set for its clergy with the requirement for celibacy.

Sexual desire is a natural function and the church requires that its clergy demonstrate strength through this observance. Therefore, any failing such as has occurred in the documented cases, not just Pell, creates a greater fall from grace than the ordinary person.

Paul Oates

Garry raises some excellent points to ponder. Many dedicated followers of a number of Christian churches have and are labouring to bring essential services to the PNG people, in many cases due to 'other' government funding priorities.

There is another important factor that people should consider. When a spiritual vacuum is created, others will always seek to fill it with their own ideas and ideologies.

History abounds with examples of where humans can be very susceptible to accepting ideologies and spiritual beliefs when they can't either be proven or disproven.

If the reputable christian churches and their followers are dispensed with over such examples of poor behavior by a few, what might then take their place? The modern concept of Christianity had to go though many unethical and disastrous phases before today's version evolved.

Let's not throw the proverbial 'baby out with the bathwater'.

Lindsay F Bond

Along with Peter, is my appreciation of Garry's observation and his hope. But, on review...

As more folk sight the arse of a monkey, the supposition is that the monkey is increasingly aloft, yet as to what ‘more’ is viewed of the arse, only expectation is heightened.

In quantum, the ‘doubling down’ on particularity, produces quandary as to which has expediency for the observer, position or momentum. Thus the consternation of attitude about altitude.

A decent monkey is unlikely descending, nor might impact on the unwary.


Garry, thanks for a well measured and clear response to this difficult situation. Declaration: I am a lapsed Anglican and 99.8964321% atheist. The problem for PELL is that Australians place certain people/ positions on a higher plane that others.

The Governor-General of Australia would be expected to account for every red cent of his positions expenditure (indeed the GG insisted that his staff be audited every three months, and that every cent be accounted).

Why do we do this ? Perhaps its connected to the ”tall poppy syndrome”, and our ready willingness with the secateurs. . We hold those who expend public funds to a very stringent standard simply because they are tall poppies - the stamp account is rigorously checked and if there is one stamp short, there is trouble.

If the petty cash holder of Joes Trucking Company of Bullamakanka is short in the petty cash, then an adjustment is made and everything continues on.

And PELL was a tall poppy.

And it follows that “men of the cloth” are held to a higher standard than others, simply because we and they have placed them on a higher plane/ pedestal. (“The higher the monkey climbs the tree, the more you can see of his arse”).

I believe that Pell suffered from the situation where, in any court case, the moment sex is involved the case takes on a different complexion. Emotions run high, and the simple act of touching someone can convert into assault. Lawyers are always looking for work, and can convert a simple brush of a person into an assault case, laden with dreadful sexual connotations.

Juries are quite hopeless is these situations. There is often a belief with jurors that if the police have arrested someone, s/he must be guilty. “The police only arrest the guilty bastards – surely they would not arrest an innocent person !”.

Only a week ago, while I was standing at the checkout at the supermarket, a woman came to me and apologized profusely for touching my bum with her trolley. I had no idea what she was talking about, and told her exactly that. But I suppose a lawyer, looking for work, could have made a meal of it.

It remains that we may never know the truth of the PELL matter. It comes down to one word against another. The old adage “There are two sides to every story” can be modified to “both sides are lying”, and the court has to decide what lie is the more plausible.

Lindsay F Bond

In contrast to the stricture of departing Ower’s Corner, the footslog journey to Kokoda and site of lessening weaponry (1943) near Sanananda, a variety of trails await tourists in traverse.

Much longer in history is the beckoning of the pilgrimage associated with Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) also offering a footslog to Santiago de Compostela, variously begun but merging toward Santiago, Spain. So, it is said, an earlier Roman trade route became known also as a Milky Way.

A way once wrought works imaginatively, varied by start, closing to satisfy, eased by stricture.

Following footfalls of forebear folk is prone to forbearance flowing less forgivingly.

Garry Roche

Regardless of whether or not George Pell is successful in an appeal, - and some commentators think he may be successful, - I think Scott Waide is generally correct in his analysis of the situation. While reliable statistics reveal that the percentage of sexual-abuse offenders is no higher among clergy than it is among other professions, the existence of clerical sex-abusers is of course more scandalous and shocking because of the hypocrisy and cover-up involved.
While I myself am no longer involved with Church matters in PNG I do know that for almost two decades the Catholic Church in PNG and Solomon Islands has had protocols in place both to protect children and vulnerable adults and also to investigate actual cases. There has also been an awareness campaign among the faithful about such matters. There have been cases where Church authorities have themselves informed police about abusers. And while some Australian dioceses may in the past have sent some of their problem personnel to PNG, these would have been in the minority.
That having been said, there is no doubt that the image of the Catholic Church has suffered greatly because of the recent scandals. And it must be admitted that at times some Church personnel acted as if they were above the law.
I would at the same time argue that any crisis is also an opportunity and this crisis is an opportunity for the Catholic Church – and other Churches – to re-discover the fundamental mission of promoting the values preached by Christ, e.g., love and respect for all people, and believe and hope in the future. And the Church can and should do this without being too self-righteous or too moralistic in a negative way.
As Scott has said the Churches in PNG have played an important role in the fields of Education and Health. Hopefully they can continue to assist with integral human development.

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