George Pell has a special place in the hearts of the Australian sex industry. It’s a dark place that he shares with other morals campaigners who have seen an opportunity to try and assuage their own guilt over child sex abuse by accusing people who work in the sex industry of the crimes they were guilty of themselves. In the 1990s and 2000s, Pell went on a special crusade to break the back of Australia’s adult goods and services industry. He wasn’t alone though and was ably assisted by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference and any number of church clergy from all denominations – many of whom have now been exposed as paedophiles themselves or of harbouring paedophiles. But Pell was a flag waver and behind the scenes he lobbied and informed powerful politicians like John Howard, Tony Abbott, Brian Harradine about the evils of sex and the potential for the sex industry to cause the sexual abuse of children. Pell’s message to politicians, was that porn and the sex industry corrupt public morality which then leads to the sexual assault of young kiddies. John Howard’s glowing reference that he provided to the court put it bluntly, “Cardinal Pell …. maintains a deep and objective interest in contemporary social and political issues.” Pell was anything but objective about sexual issues even if he was the most political Catholic Archbishop we’ve had since that other Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix.
Pell’s modus operandi and attitudes to child sex abuse were similar to that of the lay Baptist preacher and Labor Member for Capricornia in the 1990s, Keith Wright. ‘Save The Children’ and the ‘Porn Free Zone’ became Wright’s campaign slogans and his clarion calls. When he was arrested and charged with raping and indecently dealing with two young girls in 1993, Wright vigorously denied that he was a rapist and went on as if nothing had happened. He even had the nerve to stand as an independent in the 1993 federal election (after being expelled from the Labor Party) while awaiting trial and remarkably 5.9% of the citizens of Rockhampton voted for him. A few months later he was convicted and jailed for nine years.
Pell’s insistence on his innocence and the sheer arrogance that he brought to his 2016 interview with police at the Hilton Rome Airport Hotel, bear all the hallmarks of the fallen morals campaigner. However like Wright, Pell still has supporters both in and out of the church.
Before being elected to the Victorian Parliament in 2014, I was the CEO of Australia’s adult goods and services industry association – The Eros Association. I remember vividly the increasing and totally unwarranted attacks on the sex industry through the 1990s by Australia’s churches but mainly by the Catholic Church. These attacks appeared to me to be increasing at the same rate as the number of paedophile priests and in 2000 my partner, Robbie Swan and I, decided to publish a list of the 450 child sex assaults perpetrated by church clergy. We called it Hypocrites and in the introduction called for a Royal Commission into child sexual assault in religious institutions. It was the first time a public lobby group had called for this. The reaction from the churches and their supporters in the various parliaments was swift and predictable. Scumbags, filth, defilers.
Hypocrites predicted that up to 15% of all church clergy would turn out to be paedophiles. The recently convened Royal Commission found that up to 2018, 7% of priests in Australia have sexually offended against children. I’m still sticking to my prediction. Not long after publication of this book an ABC’s Four Corners program broadcast my claims about the rising tide of priestly abuse and pitted Pell against us. When asked why he thought Eros had embarked on this course of action, he said it was to sell more porn! It was a completely unhinged answer and clearly one he did not want to answer with facts or personal insight.
In 1996 I wrote to the Rev Mark Coleridge who was at that time a regular anti-sex campaigner in the Catholic Church in Canberra. He is now Archbishop of Brisbane and President of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the church’s main commentator on Pell’s position. I requested a meeting with him to suggest ways that the church could engage with the sex industry to halt the escalating numbers of convicted church clergy. His reply to me on the 11th October 1996 offers many clues as to why the church is in the position it is. He wrote: “In my capacity as church spokesman I have received many invitations but yours ranks among the more exotic. I am not sure what you have in mind when you suggest a debate but I cannot imagine anything that would be of mutual benefit. I am afraid, therefore, that I shall have to decline.”
As Archbishop Coleridge bemoans the Pell legacy for the church and promises to do more, he needs to reflect upon the fact that the Royal Commission found that 4,444 people alleged incidents of child sexual abuse through 4,756 reported claims. Most of those suspected of abuse were Catholic priests and religious brothers. Against that there is still not one documented case of a sex worker, porn star, topless dancer, lube manufacturer, vibrator tester, fluffer or sex industry worker ever being convicted of a child sex offence.
Today, Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, was sentenced to 6 years in prison, after he was found guilty of sexually abusing two choirboys while he was the archbishop of Melbourne in 1990s.