Aug. 31, 2014, 3:05 p.m.
Most of us – if asked – would agree that the sexual abuse of children is about as bad as human behaviour gets. This I've been saying for a year and a half now.
Most of us would like to think that we would do anything within our power to avert it, if given the opportunity.
But in the real world, people's reasons for looking the other way are many and varied.
In Britain this week, the South Yorkshire city of Rotherham – a regional metropolis just a bit smaller than Canberra – was devastated by the release of a report finding that 1400 young girls had been sexually abused and trafficked in the local area over the past seven years. That should be 16 years - 1997-2013.
Councillors, council staff and police – the report found – had profoundly under-reacted to the widespread abuse of children, which was mainly inflicted by men of Pakistani origin.
Former Labour MP for the area, Denis MacShane, confessed that he had failed to inquire deeply enough into what was going on.
"I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural boat, if I may put it like that," he told the BBC.
|No-one to turn to; no-one to help|
It's easy to register the failure of an organisation to respond properly to abuse. It's easier still when the leadership of that organisation appears to have difficulty registering – on a human level – exactly where that abuse should rank in terms of its priorities.
When Cardinal George Pell drew his recent analogy between church organisations and trucking companies, it was honestly difficult to spot whether he had got the idea from some parchment-shuffler in Vatican PR, or practised it himself in front of the mirror that morning with a hairbrush.
"If the truck driver picks up some lady and then molests her, I don't think it's appropriate – because it is contrary to the policy – for the ownership, the leadership of that company to be held responsible," he told the Royal Commission. If it happens over and over and you keep transferring the pedophile around the country to avoid prosecution - then the leadership should certainly be held accountable.
It is not the first time Cardinal Pell has selected an unfortunate transport-related analogy to reinforce his argument that the Catholic Church has been unfairly targeted in the matter of sexual abuse.
"We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church. We object to it being exaggerated," Cardinal Pell said in November 2012, responding to the establishment of the Royal Commission. Is that even possible?
"We object to being described as the only cab on the rank." - Must be an Aussie thing!
|Cardinal Pell titanic struggle with his own mouth|
In the ongoing titanic struggle between Cardinal Pell and his own mouth, it's become increasingly easy to demonise the church. Really, the church demonised itself when they hired and protected pedophiles.
Crimes against children are unspeakable enough; to complain implicitly that one's own organisation is less free to commit those crimes than another sounds reprehensible principally because it is.
And the church's brutal use of legal strategy to minimise its financial liability creates a simple and irresistible narrative: Money wins out over children. This would be distasteful enough from a national trucking company, but from an organisation built around love and solicitude for the helpless, it's a particularly nasty look.
The truth in Cardinal Pell's argument, though – however callously expressed – is this: Epic human failures in the recognition and prevention of child sexual abuse are not just a church thing. They're not even just an organisational thing.
As the evidence from Rotherham this week demonstrates, horrific crimes can be overlooked by individual people who tell themselves they are doing the right thing.
Calls are being made for the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner to resign over the failure of his force to investigate and pursue charges against the perpetrators.
The South Yorkshire police, of course, are the same law enforcement officers who raided Cliff Richard's house this month on the basis of a single allegation of sexual assault dating back three decades.
Why did those at the BBC who had their suspicions about Savile not pursue them? Why were men in Rotherham allowed to assault young girls while authorities ignored the increasingly evident crime patterns around them? Why were some paedophile priests in the Catholic Church shifted from parish to parish, and not punished for their crimes?
In the case of the church, it's easy to blame an organisation – particularly when it's a large, powerful one, and especially when it has as its spokesman a person so inveterately cloth-eared as Cardinal Pell.
But blaming organisations helps us avoid a deeper, altogether more uncomfortable truth; that looking the other way out of fear, deference, embarrassment or unwillingness to be thought prejudiced or unfair is a common human flaw, found everywhere.
Indeed, most people still don't comprehend the magnitude of child sex abuse or the devastating consequences it has on its victims.