JOANNE MCCARTHY: Devil is in the delay over Cardinal George Pell, not the details

Cardinal George Pell leaves court in Melbourne after the suppression order was lifted.
Cardinal George Pell leaves court in Melbourne after the suppression order was lifted.

POPE Francis should have cut George Pell loose back in March, 2016 after the cardinal's disastrous second appearance at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, when Pell's "sociopathic lack of empathy" was on quite shocking display.

How more clear do you have to be?

"Cardinal George Pell has to resign. Before the week is out, and on the back of his evidence to the royal commission, the cardinal must go, and Pope Francis must be involved," I wrote back then, only hours after Pell's staggering response to questions about a notorious child sex offender priest's horrific abuse of children.

"It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me," said Pell, with the words that damned him as a moral leader, and prompted me to write an opinion piece saying the Pope had to force Pell out if he wouldn't leave voluntarily.

"The Pope's statements about child sexual abuse will be seen as nothing but more words from a church whose standing has been trashed on the issue, and shockingly so over the past three days," I wrote.

It reflected what the vast majority of people who watched Pell's evidence were thinking. 

The Pope didn't act, and three years later a prince of the Catholic Church is now a "tool of Satan" - the ludicrous euphemism used by the pontiff this week to describe its child sex offenders, while seeking to distance the church's laws, rules, policies, procedures and traditions from a global enterprise that protected its criminals for decades.

It wasn't the church that did it, it was Satan, is the take-home message from Pope Francis's speech at the end of a conference of the world's bishops at the Vatican, after an annus horribilis for the church in 2018 as country after country documented the church's crimes against children.

Gold Walkley Award-winning journalist, Joanne McCarthy.

Gold Walkley Award-winning journalist, Joanne McCarthy.

As if we're going to cop the Satan line now, after five years of a royal commission that showed not only the extent of the crimes and the church's knowledge and complicity, but what it must do in future.

And now we finally have public knowledge that George Pell is a convicted child sex offender, which is a crisis for the Catholic Church.

The man hand-picked by Pope Francis to be his chief financial headkicker - whisked away from Australia to Rome in 2014 only days after Pell's first brutal royal commission appearance - is a criminal.

Pope Francis hasn't responded to royal commission recommendations to change canon law, lift the secrecy over church deliberations, ensure all child sex allegations are reported to police and reconsider celibacy - which the royal commission found was not a cause of child sexual abuse, but contributes to a "culture of secrecy and hypocrisy" in the church after data showing it's more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Pope Francis hasn't responded to recommendations to include more women in church leadership positions, with authority over priests, after evidence of a direct link between the involvement of women in positions of authority, and reduced child sex rates.

He hasn't responded to the blueprint - backed by evidence and paid for by Australian taxpayers - about how the Catholic Church can respond to the disaster of its own making and attempt to restore its standing as a moral authority. 

Instead Pope Francis has responded with more flowery words about how there is a "growing awareness" in the church of having to "face the phenomenon decidedly".

It is 2019. American priest Tom Doyle's stark warning to Catholic hierarchy of the global child sex disaster facing the church was delivered in 1984.

Senior Australian clerics told the NSW Wood Royal Commission in 1996 that the church was no longer naive about child sexual abuse and was ready to respond.

The Boston Globe's Spotlight investigation in 2001 laid bare the church culture that destroyed children's lives, and by 2012 the Australian public backed an historic royal commission to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, that became the world's most intense investigation of the Catholic Church to date.

Cardinal George Pell heckled at court after guilty verdict

Cardinal George Pell heckled at court after guilty verdict

If there is only a "growing awareness" of this issue in the Vatican it's because the church hierarchy has been in denial for decades, up to and including today, while children have paid the price.

It is time for governments to act, because this week has shown Catholic Church leaders from the pontiff down aren't responding, because they aren't capable of responding.

There should be no more special deals for Catholic entities, and specifically schools, which send mixed messages to the church about its standing.

And tax concessions should be on the table.

If the church is not prepared to respond to evidence-based recommendations from a taxpayer-funded royal commission, then tax concessions should be in play.

I wrote the March, 2016 opinion piece very quickly, and while strangely shocked by Pell's evidence.

He reminded me of notorious Hunter priest John Denham, who will be sentenced this week for crimes against another victim, bringing his total child victims to nearly 60.

When Cardinal George Pell, the man who ruled the Australian Catholic Church with an imposing, iron fist for years, said "It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me", I gasped like so many people, but it was the gasp of someone who has sat through too many court cases, and seen evidence given by too many child sex offender priests.

I believed that day we had seen a child sex offender give evidence.