The death of Cardinal Pell was unexpected but not so the intensity of polarised responses to his passing. For many within the Catholic Church Cardinal Pell was a towering leader while for other people, and particularly for many survivors of child sexual abuse, he embodied, rightly or wrongly, the systemic failures of so many institutions to protect innocent children and keep them safe.
Many survivors see Cardinal Pell as a divisive figure, whose repeated appearances in front of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse left them aghast. He arguably did not acquit himself well, and his seeming emotional detachment left many survivors who watched firsthand or who later saw quotes, triggered, distressed and outraged.
For lots of survivors and their loved ones Cardinal Pell came to represent the then lack of accountability of many institutions which failed to act in the epidemic of institutional child sexual abuse by prioritising institutions, clergy and leaders over the wellbeing of children and survivors, even after the fact when seeking compassion, support and justice.
His conviction in 2019 for child sexual abuse charges and subsequent release when the conviction was quashed launched another emotional rollercoaster for many victims which continued for years. There is little doubt that Cardinal Pell’s death has heightened similar intense feelings and distress, which often throws them back into their own experiences in which they often battled secrecy, silence and denial. For many survivors, justice, redress and support not only remain elusive but so do the apparently simple desires to be listened to, heard and believed. Many people still struggle every day just to feel and be safe, and to move past their prior betrayals to be able to trust again and to reach out for support.
For anyone reading this who is living with the impacts of their own trauma, regardless of what it is, please remember to be as gentle with yourself as you can be and as you deserve. Such events generate a great deal of media, and in this day and age, social media can totally buzz with powerful judgements and personal commentary. If you are being affected by some of this, try to disconnect from it, and turn your head to doing the things that help ground and soothe you. Whether it’s going outside and feeling the sun on your back, or being in nature – in the green of a park or the gentleness of a stream.
And remember that even if it feels like no one understands or that there is no one there to walk alongside you, there is hope and there is help. Not saying it’s easy to reach out for support and comfort but maybe just think about who could be there for you through challenging times – whether a friend, another survivor, a family member, a member of your community or a counsellor – if you want. And please know that you can also call the Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Service on 1300 657 380 between 9am and 5pm seven days a week to speak with a specialist trauma counsellor. Take care.
Dr Cathy Kezelman AM is President and Executive Director, Blue Knot Foundation.