Spotlight’s Oscar and questioning of Cardinal George Pell good news for abuse survivors

Catholic Church and child sex abuse

It has been a good week for survivors of clerical child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The success of the film Spotlight in winning the Oscar for best picture set a tone. About the 2001 Boston Globe investigation into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in that city's archdiocese, it was welcomed by Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley. A member of Pope Francis's Council of Cardinals and president of the Vatican's Commission for the Protection of Minors, he described it as "an important film for all impacted by the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse".

On Monday one of the most powerful figures at the Vatican began giving evidence about his handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in Australia. Cardinal George Pell was questioned until Thursday by Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse via video link, as he couldn't travel for health reasons. That a civil institution could hold him to account – and in Rome – says a lot about progress on this fraught issue.

Lest there be complacency, there was also Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His response to Spotlight was familiar. Few priests had been proven guilty of abusing minors, he said, while he had problems with the phrase "hush up" being used "far too lightly" with reference to bishops and such cases. He told German daily Kölner Stadt Anzeiger "for me hushing something up means deliberately preventing a recognised criminal offence from being punished or not preventing a further offence from occurring". Quite. And he resorted to the well worn "learning curve" argument, despite the fact that it has always been a crime to rape a child.

Echoes of his mindset remain in Ireland where some clergy reject the Murphy Commission and its findings on clerical child sex abuse in Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese. Significantly the same clergy have had nothing to say about the same commission’s findings in Cloyne diocese. Such ways have no place in the Catholic Church anymore. Anywhere.