Last week, the suppression order on Australian media regarding the conviction (currently under appeal) of Cardinal George Pell – once the third-highest official in the Catholic Church – was lifted, and the full details of the trial ran rife across the nation’s pages. We’re not here to go over the trial, or the terrible abuse suffered by countless victims of institutions like the Catholic Church, but one tragic detail of the trial stuck out.

One of the former choirboys allegedly assaulted by Pell during his time as Archbishop of Melbourne died of heroin overdose in 2014, aged only thirty. He never told his parents what happened, and never gave evidence against the organisation that was supposed to keep him, and his classmates, safe. Childhood trauma is one of the leading risk factors in the development of addiction issues in later life. Dr Gabor Mate observes that, in cases of extreme trauma such as childhood sexual abuse, there is a “huge statistical link between that trauma and the addiction. That’s not a theory. It’s just reality.”

Treating addiction as a disease, or reducing an individual’s problem behaviour just to the substance of concern, further dehumanises and alienates people who have already been rendered vulnerable by their life experience. For this reason, SMART Recovery Australia meetings are more concerned with the people attending the meetings than the substance or behaviour for which they are seeking help.

Another area in which abuse and addiction is the stigma associated with each. Feelings of shame, self-blame, and further alienation accompany the stigma and silence around both addiction and childhood sexual abuse. SMART Recovery Australia unreservedly believes that this stigma must be broken down, and these issues discussed openly and without judgement, in order to allow people to recover from the trauma inflicted upon them by others. When you treat a person with addictive behaviour or a drug dependency as a person first and foremost, you provide a pathway for them to become a healthier, happier version of themselves. When you alienate them and treat them as a criminal, a liar or fail to acknowledge their humanity, you only show them the path of criminality. People interested in trauma informed practice are invited to attend our upcoming webinar on that very subject.

The tragedy of George Pell’s crimes (under appeal), and his being complicit in covering up the crimes of others, cannot be overstated. The devastating impact of childhood trauma on his victims and countless other children and adults across the country must be addressed. SMART Recovery provides a safe, stigma-free recovery option for people who want to take control of their addictive behaviours. Hopefully the Church can learn from their own parables, and offer the prodigal sons and daughters affected by systematic abuse the same compassion and treatment.