Pell’s plaque deserves to taken down


Jake Bekemeyer

In late August, a group of comedians called The Chasers added an amendment to George Pell’s plaque at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney reading “and convicted pedophile,” underneath his title of Archbishop of Sydney. Discourse about whether the plaque should remain untouched, or remain with the altered text from the comedy group, or be taken down altogether was reported by media outlets. 

Pell, for those out of the loop, besides his Archbishopship, is a convicted child-sex offender. It has been nearly 18 years since news first broke about the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church and the subsequent coverups. The Jay Report, commissioned by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004, revealed that between 1950 and 2004 there were 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests.

There are really only two relevant facts in this case. George Pell is a convicted pedophile. There is a plaque in his honor at the very church he committed the atrocities at. Yet every time something like this comes up in the news cycle, there are those rushing to defend the plaque–substitute statue, monument, whatever it may be. In this particular case, the group on the defense is the Catholic Church. 

Before all the moral stuff, there is a fundamental problem in calling the taking down of a plaque (statue, dedication, etc…) erasure. I turn to the classic example of the old Confederate general statue, pick your favorite. Personally—and maybe I’m literally the only one and this point is totally moot—I learned about the Confederacy, the slave trade, the battles of the Civil War, and just about everything the statue could possibly represent in history class.

A statue is meant to honor someone who has done something worth honoring. Fighting for the right to continually honor someone who sexually assaulted children isn’t honorable, it’s deplorable. That’s how it should be taught. To gloss over or ignore it completely is pointless, but so is honoring it.

The reason people rushing to defend Pell’s plaque is particularly gross to me is that many of the defenders identify as Christians, including the Catholic Church itself. In response to the comedy groups actions, the church claimed it was a photoshopped picture. The Chasers shot back with a video of them putting it up less than 24 hours before it was removed, which is either real or a very convincing fake. Why covertly remove the plaque and claim it never existed? Such a strange and shady move.

This man has been convicted on five counts of child sex abuse and denied appeal at multiple levels. What is left to defend? There seems to be issues separating the institution from the doctrine. The institution is beyond corrupt, we’ve known now for nearly 18 years and people still pledge their time, money, and spiritual well-being to it. The belief doesn’t disappear if the institution as we know it does.

The Chasers may have a point, however. With their addition, the plaques purpose becomes not about honoring the man, but publicly ridiculing him. They crudely written words may not fit in with the daunting and intricate gothic revival style—maybe we could have it done formally, by a professional—but if the Catholic Church still wants the plaque to remain where it is, for whatever reason, it may ease the wounds, if ever so slightly, of those affected.

But of course it must be taken down. The punishment, really, is a slap on the wrist compared to the magnitude of the crimes committed. A serial child-sex offender and a prominent figure in covering up large scale abuse all under the guise of being someone holy enough to be an Archbishop? The fact the plaque is even in question is appalling, he deserves far, far worse.

So I call on the plaque defenders, the statue defenders, to really consider what it means when you defend them. There is history behind these monuments both important and abhorrent. They need not be mutually exclusive, and they certainly won’t disappear if the monument is destroyed. See it simply as an act of common courtesy, allow a group of people to have even the smallest of victories against those who harmed them.