Monday, June 03, 2002

Now for something completely different. It's a cross
between media commentary and some serious
soul-searching. For my generation (b 1964),
perhaps our key defining quality is a distinct variation
on the "Where were you when you heard the news
about JFK" theme. In my case, it goes something like
"Where were you when the paedophile priest and
brothers were doing it at your primary/elementary
school?" and "When you hear the news only thirty
years later, does it matter, anyway?". I won't go and
regurgitate what is "the news" here - if you want to
find out more, just google "george pell" and "ridsdale".

As a six/seven year old at St Alipius primary school in Ballarat, Australia
in 1971, I have so far followed the Ridsdale case in a detached manner. I
simply don't remember very much at all about that year, and until today, I
have been quite content to leave it at that, in a "whatever happened, I'm
over it" way.

What has just changed for me is not a flood of memories, but just the
piecing together of some stark facts that have emerged in relatively recent
court cases. First fact: this was a primary school - the *upper* age range
for institutional "pickings" was thus 11 to 12 year olds. Second fact - in
the year 1971, the entire male teaching staff - four Christian Brothers, Br
Robert Best (headmaster and teacher), Br Edward Dowlan, Br Stephen Farrell,
Br Fitzgerald [died 1970's], and also school Chaplain/priest Fr Gerald
Ridsdale, were later to be convicted (or in Br Fitzgerald's case,
posthumously accused) of child sex crimes.

"Paedophile ring" is an emotive phrase. With the age of consent for gay
sex varying widely within Australia, the term potentially means anything
from a legal, if hardly flavor-of-the-month, social gathering for gay "sugar
daddies", to secret groupings of utter depravity and evil. While the
younger the victim, the more reprehensible the act will usually be - more
importantly - the younger the victim, the more there presumably will be a
real "ring" - of persons acting in concert.

What I'm saying, then, is let's not have a false witch-hunt. I'm reasonably
sure that if George Pell had much of an inkling about what was going on at
St Alipius school in 1971 (the year that he (and I) moved to Ballarat, but
two years before he actually shared digs at St Alipius for a year, 1973),
far more serious accusations would have since been made against him.
Whatever he, or anyone else, has done wrong in handling the matter should be
judged by what they did or didn't do at the time, and not by now going for
the tallest target, who has - by coincidence - grown into a position of real
power decades after the event. My guess is that George Pell does have a lot
more to say about what happened at St Alipius in 1971 - but it's not at all
his own skin that he's protecting in so far maintaining his silence.

I suggest starting up whatever process that will best will bring out the
whole truth, Royal Commission or otherwise. In one sense, this leads me
personally into murky, unknown waters. Equally though, whatever
long-dormant villains, in high or low places, may be uncovered, there must
logically also be heroes in the story.

I don't know about George Pell here, but my clearest
and happiest memory of 1971 is of classes with Sister
Wanda. If you are still out there, Sister Wanda,
I want you to know that, whatever happened,
I'm all right - and I hope that you are too.

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