Former pope John Paul II handled sex abuse claims within the church “poorly” because he simply could not grasp the scale of the problem, a retired senior Bishop in Sydney says.
Geoffrey Robinson, a key player in the church’s response to child sexual abuse by members of the clergy between 1994 and 2003, is giving evidence today before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney.
Bishop Robinson said he felt the Vatican was far behind in its understanding of the problem worldwide, and that John Paul II — the Pontiff from 1978 to 2005 — showed little leadership on the issue.
“If I am honest, he handled abuse poorly,” Bishop Robinson told the inquiry.
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“It didn’t fit into his image of church, and he couldn’t deal with it.”
Bishop Robinson said had John Paul II taken to Vatican Square and spoken in strong terms on the issue, bishops worldwide would have taken notice.
“That would have got worldwide publicity — it would have sent out a message to the whole church,” he said.
“Instead, what we got from him was silence. And so bishops were loyal to the silence.”
Bishop Robinson also criticised Cardinal George Pell, whose leadership he said was “ineffective” during his time as Australia’s most senior Catholic.
“Priests simply forgot the diocese, put their heads down and looked after their parishes, because [Cardinal Pell] had lost the support of his priests,” he said.
He said in the 1990s Cardinal Pell, who was at the time the archbishop of Melbourne, decided to create his own protocol called the Melbourne Response while the rest of the church worked on a national response called Towards Healing.
“He destroyed our unity,” he said.