Reports of Pell guilty verdict emerge, despite gag order

The reported conviction has not yet been confirmed by the Australian judiciary, reports Ed Condon, and the gag order on Australian media could remain in place for several months.

Australian Cardinal George Pell is pictured at the Vatican in this Aug. 5, 2014, file photo. (CNS photo/Robert Duncan)

By Ed Condon

Sydney, Australia, Dec 12, 2018 / 10:48 am (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell has been convicted by an Australian court on charges of sexual abuse of minors, according to media reports and sources close to the cardinal.

A judicial gag order has restricted Australian media coverage of the trial since June.

Despite the gag order, a story published Dec. 11 on the Daily Beast website first reported that a unanimous verdict of guilty had been returned by a jury on charges that Pell sexually abused two altar servers in the late 1990s, while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The verdict reportedly followed three days of deliberations by the jury – the second to hear the case. An earlier hearing of the case is reported to have ended in early autumn with a mistrial, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.

In October, two sources close to Cardinal Pell, members of neither his legal team nor the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, told CNA that the first hearing of the case had ended in a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury.

In remarks to CNA Dec. 12, those sources independently confirmed this week’s report that a guilty verdict had been reached.

The reported conviction has not yet been confirmed by the Australian judiciary, and the gag order on Australian media could remain in place for several months.

Pell will reportedly be sentenced in early 2019. He will not be incarcerated prior to his sentencing.

Citing deference to the gag order, the Vatican has declined to comment on reports of the guilty verdict.

“The Holy See has the utmost respect for the Australian courts. We are aware there is a suppression order in place and we respect that order,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters Dec 12.

Pell has been accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse of minors. In May, lawyers for the cardinal petitioned the County Court of Victoria to split the allegations into two trials, one dealing with the accusations from Melbourne, and another dealing with accusations related to his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s.

As the trial for the Melbourne allegations began in June, the judge imposed a sweeping injunction preventing media from reporting on the progress of the case. The gag order reportedly remains in force, over concerns that the verdict could influence the outcome of the second trial, which is expected to be heard early in 2019.

Pell has been on leave from his position as prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for the Economy since 2017. Pell asked Pope Francis to allow him to step back from his duties to travel home to Australia to defend himself against the charges, which he has consistently denied.

Prior to his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, Pell served as the Archbishop of Sydney.

In October, Pope Francis removed Pell, along with Cardinal Javier Errazuriz and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, from the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with helping the pope draft a new constitution for the Holy See’s governing structure.

In April 2018, Robert Richter, the lead attorney on Pell’s legal team, refuted the allegations made against Pell.

“The allegations are a product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may or may not have, or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country,” Richter said.

Richter further said that the accusations were “not to be believed,” and were “improbable, if not impossible.”

Until the imposition of the gag order in June, Pell had been the subject of sustained media attention in Australia, prompting the order. The extent of hostile attention directed at Pell by several Australian outlets, even prior to the accusations being made, led to a public debate in some sections of the Australian media about whether it would be possible to find an impartial jury for the cardinal.

In remarks to CNA, one source called the integrity of the proceeding into question, calling the trial a “farce” and a “witch hunt.” He said that Australian prosecutors were determined to secure a conviction, despite the earlier mistrial.

“They kept going until they got the jury who’d give them what they want,” the source told CNA.

Last week, another Australian court overturned the recent conviction of the former Archbishop of Melbourne, Philip Wilson, on charges he failed to report complaints of sexual abuse.

Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis said Dec. 6 that the Crown had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Archbishop Wilson did not report abuse committed by Fr. James Fletcher, when Fletcher was charged in 2004 with child abuse which occurred between 1989 and 1991.

The judge also noted the possibility of undue media influence on the case.

“This is not a criticism of media, but intended or not, the mere presence of large amounts of media from all around Australia and the world carries with it a certain amount of pressure on the court,” Ellis stated.

The heavy media presence “may amount to perceived pressure for a court to reach a conclusion which seems to be consistent with the direction of public opinion, rather than being consistent with the rule of law that requires a court to hand down individual justice in its decision-making processes.”

“The potential for media pressure to impact judicial independence may be subtle or indeed subversive in the sense that it is the elephant in the room that no one sees or acknowledges or wants to see or acknowledge,” Ellis said.

He added that Archbishop Wilson could not be convicted merely because the “Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in terms of its historical self-protective approach” to clerical sex abuse. “Philip Wilson when he appears before this court is simply an individual who has the same legal rights as every other person in our community.”

“It is not for me to punish the Catholic Church for its institutional moral deficits, or to punish Philip Wilson for the sins of the now deceased James Fletcher by finding Philip Wilson guilty, simply on the basis that he is a Catholic priest.”

If the decision is confirmed, Pell can appeal to the Supreme Court in Victoria, and from there to the Australian High Court.

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  1. As with all these cases, whether involving clergy, nkn-clergy, of whatever religion: After nearly 30 years, what evidence can there possibly be?

  2. I don’t believe Pell is guilty.

    “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
    — Matthew 5:11-12

    • Agree. It has always seemed like a total flimsy sham.

      I have never seen a report with any credible-sounding facts about abuse.

      I have always thought that the crooked double-life thugs in the Vatican knew he was getting to close to catching them in the financial investigation, so they had some pals in Australia pay some petty criminals to fabricate charges.

      I have never seen a single reliable-sounding report on this case…and the Australian Church is packed with pro-sodomy agents (like Bishop Coleridge), making me think that they were happy to cut Cardinal Pell’s throat.

      And the Australian press and political establishment seems to be radically pro-sodomy.

    • I wonder what George knew but didn’t say…Let us not forget thousands of innocent children suffered terribly at the hands of our clergy.

    • I agree wth Harry and Chris. Cardinal Pell is an innocent man and will be found to be so in time. Sinister forces are at work here because he is a threat to the homosexual mafia in the Vatican, which, tellingly, Pope Francis himself does little about..See Fr. Rutler;s recent, no holds barred, comments on our dangerous Pope Francis.

    • As an Irish-American catholic I can tell you the Irish people are more anti-catholic than Americans. The Lord’s name alone is used on tv, in public, in the homes and in print, constantly and they don’t even know it is blasphemy. That’s how low they have sunk. Thank God for the few saintly people who continue to try to turn it all back to the days of the great Saint Patrick, dear saint of our isle.
      I was back living there 2002 to 2007. I could hardly believe how poorly the priests taught the faith on Sundays ( with few exceptions ) They just” went along to get along.” Being seen as a nice guy to all was their motive.” I complained ( to Archbishop Michel Cleary’s secretary,) a number of times about three churches in Co. Mayo not having the sanctuary Lamps lit. He was used to me calling about my genuine concerns, like tarrot cards at Church fairs) He said : “Ah don’t worry yourself about these things , just continue your prayers.”
      That priest is now a bishop, no doubt recommended by Michael Neary himself . Ay, there’s the rub! ‘Birds of a feather’

  3. A rainbow lobby of homosexualists, feminists, ‘gay’ clergy, secular press and anti-Catholic politicians has been after HE Cardinal Pell for decades. The Australian atmosphere in his regard has been toxic for years. By his ‘conservatism’ regarding the trendy, liberal rainbow path he was a marked man.

  4. I don’t trust the secular courts anymore. We seem to be moving toward an age of show trials. No priest is going to get a fair trial nowadays. Which is sad for both the guilty and the innocent ones.

    • Not only priests. All it takes is one person to make an accusation, unsupported by any evidence, decades after the fact, and someone’s life can be ruined, with people saying, “Well, we *must* believe the victims, they are so brave to come forward,” and not grasping the fact that a “victim” could be lying and therefore not be a victim at all.

  5. This kangaroo-court trial reeks of similarity to the show trial of Cardinal Joszef Mindszenty in the late 1940s.

    Cardinal George Pell is just as innocent of the charges leveled against him as Cardinal Mindszenty was then – that is, completely innocent.

  6. I would suggest we all be cautious about these reports. There are forces at work here that would knowingly put out false news…. to keep the ball rolling. Hoping that the news would whip up more accusations… in a pile-on. Which seems to be par for the course…. in the lawyer’s Playbook.

    • That is one of the things I find distinctly troubling. “Detective Superintendent Paul Sheridan told the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court that the investigation into Cardinal Pell began in March 2013 to ascertain whether he had committed crimes which had gone unreported.
      Defence barrister Robert Richter QC told the detective that police had assumed Cardinal Pell had committed serious unreported crimes.
      “When Tethering started it was an operation looking for a crime because no crime had been reported,” he said.
      “It was an operation looking for a crime and a complainant.”
      Detective Superintendent Sheridan agreed that there was a search for potential complainants and that no-one came forward until more than a year after the police investigation had begun.”

      Does that sound like justice to you? Decide that someone must have committed a crime, and then go out and hope you can find someone to accuse him; and make sure enough time has passed since the alleged crime that there cannot be any evidence. Then put out a gag order so that nobody can read the testimony and perhaps say, “Wait a minute, that couldn’t have happened, because I know he wasn’t there at that time” or “because the accuser told me something completely different,” or any number of other reasons.

      I find this very, very fishy.

  7. Guilty until proven innocent. Because of horrible situations like Cardinal Pell’s I am beginning to think… is a robust Catholicism too difficult a religion for the average Joe? The church is unable to shift gears quickly due to the hierarchy’s confusion on the sexual man. It appears that God made man to reproduce. We have far too many saints running interference. Too many ICONs and not enough Protestants.

    • What? Too many saints running interference on what?

      No, robust Catholicism is not too difficult for anybody: it is joyful and wonderful. And nearly entirely untried. Oh…and Christ would not have left us a religion that was too difficult for the average joe, after all, his apostles were all average joes.

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