WHEN he was the Catholic archbishop of Sydney in late 2012, Cardinal George Pell welcomed then prime minister Julia Gillard’s decision to establish what became the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
He did so on the understanding that the Catholic Church would not be the only cab on the rank.
And so it turned out to be. Over the past couple of years, the royal commission has heard evidence of past child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, to be sure.
But also within Anglican and other Christian churches, the Salvation Army and sections of the Jewish community along with state government institutions.
Despite the evidence that child abuse has been a blight on virtually all sections of Australian society, the ABC has tended to focus its attention on the Catholic Church in general and Pell in particular.
This despite the fact that Pell was one of the first leaders in church or state to address the matter when he established the Melbourne Response, soon after taking over as Catholic archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
There was a media conference where Pell was criticised ferociously by two leading ABC presenters — 7.30’s Leigh Sales and Lateline’s Emma Alberici.
Four Corners has targeted Pell on a couple of occasions.
Currently the royal commission is hearing evidence about the Uniting Church’s Knox Grammar School on Sydney’s north shore.
The evidence suggests that for close to four decades there was a nest of male pedophile teachers who sexually assaulted boys. Moreover, the abuse was known to at least some school authorities, including the long-time headmaster Ian Paterson, who stepped down in 1998.
Pell is one of the best known Australians.
So it is not surprising that he sparked media attention during his time in Melbourne and then Sydney. He is still creating attention in his senior role in the Vatican.
ABC managing director and editor-in-chief Mark Scott is also a high-profile Australian.
Yet I do not recall that, in its extensive reporting of child sexual abuse at Knox Grammar School, the ABC has made even one mention of the fact that Scott has been a member of the Knox Grammar School council since late 2007 and deputy chairman since mid-2013.
The extent of child sexual abuse at Knox, which commenced as early as the 1970s, was not publicised until 2009, when a male teacher was arrested and charged on a sex-related offence.
The royal commission’s public hearings cover the period between 1970 and 2012.
In correspondence over the past few days, with the permission of the chairman of the Knox Grammar School council, Scott wrote to me that he did not recall any discussions of matters relating to child sexual abuse on the Knox council before 2009.
He also advised that he was not aware of any discussion of the treatment of relevant files, although the school council was briefed that some key files appeared to be missing.
In subsequent correspondence, Scott wrote that it was not appropriate for him to answer questions as to why the issue of child abuse was not discussed at council meetings before 2009.
He also declined to say why the school council had not advised parents of the extent of the scandal before the royal commission’s public hearings commenced.
I accept that Scott is a truthful and professional person.
However, ABC journalists would not accept an “I did not know” or a “no comment” response if Pell or the former Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen were on the board of a school where teachers molested students.
As ABC editor-in-chief, Scott publicly and privately supported the pursuit of Pell by ABC journalists. But these very same journalists, so far at least, have not asked Scott to what extent he believes that he — and other Knox Grammar School council members — fulfilled a duty of care with respect to students for whom they were responsible.
It’s called a double standard.
Around the time that child sexual abuse at Knox Grammar commenced, the Latelineprogram on ABC radio ran an episode titled Pederasty .
It was July 1975. An ABC presenter interviewed three self-declared pederasts but made no criticism of their criminality in having sex with young boys.
When a controversy erupted, Richard Downing, in his official capacity as ABC chairman, had a letter published in The Sydney Morning Herald in which he both defended the pederasty program and called on Australians to “understand the culture” of men who have sex with boys.
A few days ago, I wrote to ABC chairman Jim Spigelman, a former chief justice of NSW, asking whether he was prepared to renounce the view of his predecessor Downing.
My point was that over recent years ABC presenters, producers and editors have taken a detailed interest in child sex abuse, especially with respect to Catholic priests and brothers.
Yet no one had ever disassociated the ABC from Downing’s call for Australians to “understand the culture” of pederasts.
It seemed a modest proposal. But Spigelman threw the switch to attempted humour in his two-line reply, which read as follows: “I can think of nothing polite to say about your suggestion.
“I will content myself with the observation that mine is not an Apostolic Succession.”
No one ever suggested that ABC chairmen succeed their predecessors the way the popes have succeeded each other since Peter’s time.
Yet it is not unreasonable that Spigelman should accept some responsibility for distancing the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster from Downing’s call.
It is impossible to imagine that ABC journalists would accept that an Anglican or Catholic bishop should remain mute if it were discovered that a predecessor a mere four decades ago had called for an “understanding” of clerical pederasts.
The evidence suggests that ABC operatives, from the youngest journalist all the way to the chairman, seem to expect that they should be judged by a different standard from that which they demand of others.