Reckoning with Denial and Complicity: Child Sexual Abuse and the Case of Cardinal George Pell


This article is concerned with public responses to allegations of child sexual abuse by representatives of powerful state-like entities such as the Catholic Church. It focuses on the responses of hegemonic groups and individuals to the recent trials and acquittal of the most senior Catholic figure ever to face child sexual abuse charges, Australian Cardinal George Pell, and his sworn testimony denying knowledge of sex crimes committed by a priest he associated with in the past. The article examines organised political campaigns denying the possibility of child sexual abuse in relation to a more generalised cultural denial permeating society about the entrenched nature of child abuse. As a means for coming to terms with the denial of atrocities, this article invokes philosophical debates about responsibility for mass crimes in the context of war tribunals, such as those formulated by Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt.

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Published: 2020-11-26
Pages:31 to 44
Section:Special Issue: State Violence - Practices and Responses
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How to Cite
Gleeson, K. (2020) “Reckoning with Denial and Complicity: Child Sexual Abuse and the Case of Cardinal George Pell”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 9(4), pp. 31-44. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.1688.

Author Biography

Macquarie University

Dr Kate Gleeson is a senior lecturer at Macquarie Law School and a member of the Macquarie University Research Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics (CAVE). Kate is an executive board member of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, and has particular expertise in justice for crimes of institutional and historical child sexual abuse in Australia and internationally. She is currently writing a book about historical prosecutions of child sexual abuse, and undertaking ongoing research about Irish and Australian histories of institutionalisation.