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The case against Cardinal Pell: What are they saying?

Is the guilty verdict against Cardinal Pell justice being served or “a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat”?

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

Today the Vatican Press Office stated that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be conducting an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal George Pell, allegations of which Pell was found guilty by an Australian jury in December 2018. That verdict, which found Pell guilty of five counts of sexually abusing minors in 1996, was only made public this week, after prosecutors dropped additional allegations against Pell dating back to the 1970s.

This statement was issued by the interim director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti:

After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm.

The results of that investigation will determine what disciplinary actions, if any, the Vatican will take against Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne and of Sydney who, until three days ago, was prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy. On Tuesday the Vatican confirmed that “precautionary measures” have been imposed on Cardinal Pell—he is “prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors”—during the course of his sentencing by the Australian court and the expected appeal process. Pell, who has maintained his innocence, was taken into police custody today to await sentencing on March 13.

Some observers have drawn contrasts between how the Vatican is handling the Pell case and how it handled the case of the former archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Once the accusations against McCarrick were made public, his removal from the College of Cardinals, his banishment to a life of “prayer and penance,” and his eventual removal from the clerical state, took place in a number of months.

John Allen, writing at Crux, explains the difference between the McCarrick and Pell cases: “It’s actually fairly simple: Early on, senior officials were convinced of McCarrick’s guilt. With Pell, they still aren’t.” He states:

Over the last couple of days, Crux has spoken with some of the Catholic Church’s leading reformers on clerical sexual abuse, inside the Vatican and out. To be clear, these are not people automatically inclined to give accused clergy the benefit of the doubt, and several are figures who actually dislike some of Pell’s political and theological stances as well as what’s often see as his fairly bruising personality.

Nonetheless, they’ve expressed skepticism that Pell is actually guilty of the crimes with which he was charged and convicted.

The irony is that the people in the Vatican most inclined to welcome Pell’s conviction aren’t really reformers on sexual abuse, but those lukewarm about house-cleaning on the financial front who resented Pell’s challenge to the status quo during his brief tenure as the Vatican’s financial czar.

Allen details the problematic elements of the prosecution’s case, also outlined by George Weigel at National Review under the headline “Why the case against Cardinal George Pell doesn’t stand up”. Weigel writes:

Before the trial, one of the complainants died, having told his mother that he had never been assaulted. During the trial, there was no corroboration of the surviving complainant’s charges. Other choirboys (now, of course, grown), as well as the choir director and his assistant, the adult members of the choir, the master of ceremonies, and the sacristan all testified, and from their testimony we learn the following: that no one recalled any choirboys bolting from the procession after Mass; that none of those in the immediate vicinity of the alleged abuse noticed anything; that indeed nothing could have happened in a secured space without someone noticing; and that there was neither gossip nor rumor about any such dramatic and vile incident afterward.

Notwithstanding this evidence of Cardinal Pell’s innocence (an innocence affirmed by ten of the twelve members of the first trial jury), the second trial jury returned a verdict of 12–0 for conviction. Observers at the trial told me that the trial judge seemed surprised on hearing the verdict. The verdict and the finding of the first, hung jury suggest that, in the media circus surrounding Pell, a fair jury trial was virtually impossible. That point was recently conceded by the attorney general of the State of Victoria, who suggested that the law might be amended to permit bench trials by a judge alone in such cases — an option not afforded George Pell.

In an essay for First Things, titled “The Pell Affair: Australia Is Now on Trial”, Weigel further argues:

No one doubts that the Catholic Church in Australia was terribly negligent in dealing with clerical sexual abuse for decades. No one who actually knows the history of Catholic reform in Australia can doubt that the man who turned that pattern of denial and cover-up around was George Pell—who also had the honesty and courage to apply the stringent standards he imposed on others accused of abuse to himself. If Pell is made the scapegoat for the very failures he worked hard to correct, the gravest question must be raised about Australian public opinion’s capacity for reason and elementary fairness—and about the blood lust of an aggressively secular media, determined to settle political and ecclesiastical scores with one of the country’s most internationally prominent citizens, who dared to challenge “progressive” shibboleths on everything ranging from the interpretation of Vatican II to abortion, climate change, and the war against jihadism.

A report by Catholic News Agency—which published details of the Pell verdict in December, despite the Australian court’s gag order—illustrates why senior Vatican officials, including those who are otherwise disinclined to favor Cardinal Pell, may well be wary of his “guilty” verdict:

CNA reported after Pell was convicted that the evidence advanced by prosecution relied entirely on a single accuser, one of the alleged victims.

The second alleged victim did not give evidence in court. The court did hear evidence that the man told his mother at least twice that he had not been a victim of sexual abuse, before he died of a drug overdose in 2014.

The other former choir member, who did testify  in court, reportedly told the deceased man’s mother only after the man died that both had been abused by Pell.

According to the prosecution, Pell and the choir members “went missing” from a recessional procession at the end of a Mass celebrated by the archbishop in 1996. Pell is alleged to have abused the choristers somewhere within the cathedral sacristy immediately following that Mass.

The defense’s legal team produced records that showed that during the period between August and December 1996, when the abuse was alleged to have taken place, Pell only celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Sunday Mass twice. The court also heard witness testimony that Pell had been with guests immediately following Mass on one of the two Sundays.

According to evidence given at the pre-trial hearings in March 2018, on both of the Sundays at which Pell said the 10:30 Mass, the choir held practices for the taping of a Christmas performance immediately following Mass, when the absence of two choristers would have been immediately noticed.

Evidence was also presented which showed that the layout of the cathedral did not match the narrative of the prosecution. The court had previous heard evidence from a pastoral associate at the cathedral, Rodney Dearing, who testified that Pell required help to remove his vestments after every Mass, and it would have been nearly impossible for the archbishop to expose his genitals while fully vested, or to commit other sexual acts in the vestments.

Dearing also told Victoria police that the layout of the cathedral did not align with the accusations.

“I can’t understand, knowing the layout [of the cathedral] and how things worked, how it could have occurred,” Dearing told police, according to Australian media reports filed before a gag order on the trial was instituted.

How then to understand the 12-0 “guilty” verdict, reached after the jury in the first trial against Pell had been deadlocked 10-2, with the majority in the cardinal’s favor? Frank Brennan, a Jesuit priest who was present for the Pell proceedings, writes that he was “devastated by the verdict”:

My only conclusion is that the jury must have disregarded many of the criticisms so tellingly made by [Pell’s defense lawyer] Richter of the complainant’s evidence and that, despite the complainant being confused about all manner of things, the jury must nevertheless have thought—as the recent royal commission discussed—that children who are sexually violated do not always remember details of time, place, dress and posture. Although the complainant got all sorts of facts wrong, the jury must have believed that Pell did something dreadful to him. The jurors must have judged the complainant to be honest and reliable even though many of the details he gave were improbable if not impossible.

Pell has been in the public spotlight for a very long time. There are some who would convict him of all manner of things in the court of public opinion no matter what the evidence. There are others who would never convict him of anything, holding him in the highest regard. The criminal justice system is intended to withstand these preconceptions. The system is under serious strain, however, when it comes to Cardinal Pell.

The events of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry, the federal royal commission, the publication of Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal and Tim Minchin’s song Come Home (Cardinal Pell) were followed, just two weeks before the trial commenced, by the parliamentary apology to the victims of child sexual abuse. … Such things tend to shift not the legal, but the reputational, burden upon an accused person to prove innocence rather than the prosecution to prove guilt. …

Was the verdict unreasonable? Can it be supported having regard to the evidence? Those are questions for the appeal court. I can only hope and pray that the complainant can find some peace, able to get on with his life, whichever way the appeal goes. Should the appeal fail, I hope and pray that Cardinal Pell, heading for prison, is not the unwitting victim of a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat.

A piece in today’s edition of The Age has several quotes from close friends and acquaintances of Pell:

Anne McFarlane said the cardinal had been staying with her family during legal proceedings this year and last year.

“Living with Cardinal Pell for so much of the past eight months, driving him to and from court and sitting in support of him on many occasions, I have come to know him on a day-to-day level… his needs are very simple, he is completely humble and undemanding and he is very grateful for any kindness or help at all,” she wrote.

“I don’t even recognise the George Pell who is portrayed in the media.”

She said Pell offered the family support when her daughter gave birth to a baby who was very sick and while her 51-year-old sister was terminally ill.

“Over the years of our friendship I have been well aware of the portrayal of Cardinal Pell in the media and it is a far cry from my experience of him,” she said.

Others that submitted character references to the court included Sue Buckingham, the founder of religious group David’s Place, which helps people who are homeless and disabled; Ellie Heiss, the former coordinator of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry; and a former colleague at the Archdiocese of Sydney, Daniel Casey.

Finally, regarding media coverage of the trail, Reuters reports:

Dozens of Australian reporters and editors may face jail sentences for their coverage of Vatican Treasurer George Pell’s child sex abuse trial after being issued with legal notices asking why they should not be charged with contempt of court. …

The maximum penalties for contempt of court in Victoria state are five years jail and a fine of more than A$96,000 ($69,000), while a company can face a fine of nearly A$500,000.

Victoria’s The Age newspaper on Tuesday said that the state’s Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had issued 32 show cause notices to its journalists and other mastheads owned by parent Nine Entertainment Co asking them to explain why they should not be charged.

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    • By who? What would be the incentive for the man in his thirties to make the complaint and go through all of this? Are you saying that this man is trying to falsely accuse Pell all by himself, or that others are helping him/ paying him? Why would anyone want to go through this, and how would they survive the relentless cross examination before the trial?

      • There was no cross examination. The ‘victim’ was allowed to record his testimony. In the first trail, when he appeared live for testimony, the jury voted 10-2 not guilty.

        By the way, the other ‘victim’ is dead, and while he was alive, he never alleged abuse at all. The living’victim’ will be lionized a hero in Australia, and has a lucrative future ahead doing book deals, speeches, etc. There is a lot in it for him.

        • Very well said Tara. This is what now stands for western culture all over western countries. Sit before the fake news media ‘s TV cameras with crocodile tears and ramble on nothing but lies. I have watched Cardinal Pell since 1994 and the way he was hounded by the critics of Christian faith to compromise its Biblical values and even incensing him inside the place of Christian worship. Despite their relentless provocation Cardinal Pell kept his cool and did not compromise. Why can’t these critics go against any other faith as there are faiths in this world with more than billion followers who condemn anyone asking for a change or leniency in their dogma but stifle such exhortations with certain death? No one has ever seen crowding around a mass murder terrorist while being brought for conviction and bayed for his blood the way the Melbourne crowd did for this 77-year-old Christian man. Sham democracy.

        • There is a ‘Day of reckoning’ coming,
          when the TRUTH will out. Film,12 Angry Men (Court Drama) has much to tell us about true JUSTICE. Pell must not be a scapegoat or the Fall Guy, for others.

      • What would be the incentive? What would be the incentive for any person making a false accusation – hatred of the person or the institution he represents, spite, publicity, possibly money, an attempt to undermine the authority of the Church because he wants the teaching changed…

        Why would an actor on a successful television show manufacture a hate crime?
        Why would a professor make up accusations against a high school acquaintance some forty years later?
        Why would Titus Oates start the outrageous lie that was the “Popish Plot?”

        People lie, for all kinds of reasons.

      • It is interesting to note that the Victoria police started criminal investigations even before a complaint was lodged. They advertised asking for anyone who knew anything that happened at the Melbourne Cathedral. Why were they being so specific?

    • The allegations are so bizarre and impossible that there should never have been any trial in the first place. Anyone with any sense of justice would throw them out right away. I have had personal dealings with Cardinal Pell and I never found him in any way like what the media says about him. Plus, justice is about real facts, and not whether jurors like the accused or not, or they have read tirades against him on the papers. IN my opinion, he has had too much confidence in the Australian justice system. An Australian lawyer friend told me that anti-Catholic bigorty is long standing in Victoria, since the 19th century Irish immigration.

      • A lot of people who knew him when they were children had unpleasant experiences with him, which they now tell first hand. Did you know him when you were a child?

        • “A lot” of people? Who? Even the kangaroo court doesn’t seem to have found any other accusations even as credible as this ludicrously incredible one, or you can bet your bottom dollar they’d have tried him on it. So – who are these people?

      • Very well said. Cardinal Pell convicted mainly on the basis of hatred towards the Irish however, Cardinal Pell towered over everyone and exposed the legal double standards. For more information, one should read Robert Hughes’ ‘The Fatal Shore’where Hughes vividly narrates the pitiful fate of the early seditionist Irish at the hands of colonialists.

  1. I heard a lot of commentary from the secular press regarding the interview with the police in Rome. I felt they didn’t understand Cardinal Pell’s objections and interruptions when the police were explaining the charges. They saw him as combative and arrogant and this was the Cardinal presented to the jury. People are sad and angry and somewhat powerless when it comes to the failure of the Catholic church to protect those in it’s care. We are loath to question the truth behind the victim’s statements because so much pain has been caused, especially knowing that predators were moved around and enabled rather than stopped and dealt with by the proper authorities. Once people would doubt, now they believe anything is possible. I think the wrong legal representation was chosen. A flamboyant, arrogant and some say condescending presence does not evoke empathy for a client already represented as heartless and too dogmatic for this progressive country. I have been looking for more answers because I can’t understand how a jury can convict someone without evidence even if they believe the victim to be honest. There must be more to the case?

    • My thoughts exactly. How can someone be convicted of an assault that allegedly occurred more than 20 years ago, solely on the word of his accuser, with no corroborating statements? There has to be more to the prosecution’s case.

      • My view too Derick, Pell has been convicted of the most heinous of crimes without the merest shred of evidence. It is one person’s word against another, accusing a man of the most implausible offending in the most implausible of circumstances without any evidence whatsoever. Something stinks here.

  2. The fact that Pell was thrown under the bus while Farrell, Tobin and Maradiaga continue enjoy the Vatican’s protections is a clear double standard. I personally think Pell is innocent and he is the victim of anti-Catholic bigotry and prosecutorial misconduct.

  3. I feel that justice has not been done at all in this case.
    I pray that God will somehow provide a way of
    obtaining proper justice in these matters both for
    real victims for abuse and for falsely or incorrectly accused
    priests and bishops and cardinals.

  4. The best thing the Vatican can do fof him, is shut its trap. It is so atrociously compromised – and desevedly – that anything it says can only hurt his case.
    Being guiltless of the charges against him, does not make him fit to be a cardinal, bishop, or priest. If he is guiilty of even a single instance of paedophilia, he needs to be expelled from the priesthood, and from the Church. There is no place for paedos in Christianity – regardless of who they may be, or what good they may have done.

    Bring back the Inquisition. And give it universal jurisdiction over all seminarians, all clergy and all religious, including the Pope. If turfing out every last homo in the Vatican is what is needed, do it. Purge the swamp until nothing is left.

    If the price of purifying the Church is the destruction of everything in it, all its wealth, property, buildings, social life, and everything else, that is a price worth paying. Paintings, cathedrals, religious orders, traditions and vestments are worth *nothing* compared to a single soul. Christians used to know that.

    • Thank God Jesus didn’t judge or act like you propose. Take a read of the Gospel and find out that if he had applied your criteria, certainly he wouldn’t have sent the adulterous woman away telling her to “sin no more”, or would he have had the father of the Prodigal Son reinstate him as a full member of the family with no chastisement whatever. You are a follower of the elder son. Besides, one wonders if you have analyzed the allegations against Pell, and realize that they are simply outrageous and it is impossible that he could have done what he is accused of. Besides, how can justice be done in something that allegedly happened as many as 43 years ago. For good reasons the Roman pagan jurists invented the Statute of Limitations. In any case, such matters have to be analyzed rationally and not emotionally with evident anger.

      • Every Catholic should be asking why God would CHOOSE to grant the ability to do the Sacraments to any man that God KNOWS will use the position of authority to facilitate crimes against children. This question applies with respect to any priest who has committed crimes against children. I have been asking this for years and nobody has been able to give me a satisfactory answer.

  5. I have never believed that Cardinal Pell was guilty and am comforted by the report above. The charges have all related to events in public places. This is not the way paedophiles operate; I have sympathy for paedophiles, terrible though there crime is, they do not choose to be that way. However Cardinal Pell is not one. I have thought for some time that the attacks on him are almost satanic; also have felt that this brave, intelligent, rather shy man is targeted because he was a threat to the corrupt in the Vatican and perhaps here. May God bless him and give him strength.

    • How nice to hear someone say they have sympathy for paedophiles I agree they do not choose to be that way. Some people are so close to the prayer of the pharisee [that God did not like at all.] “Thank God i am not like the rest of men…etc”

    • Pedophiles don’t “choose to be that way?” They choose to act that way. What next? “I have sympathy for serial killers, terrible though there crime is, they do not choose to be that way?”

      This is what comes of labeling people into groups based on whatever their particular temptations to sin are. Strangely, though, it always seems to be the sexual sins that get this treatment of “Oh, he’s tempted, and therefore he can’t help it.”

  6. This conviction is extremely worrying. The cardinal had practically proved his innocence. I hope that the appeal court overrules the decision.

  7. I too am convinced of the innocence of the Cardinal. It is precisely being in this sort of situation that St. Francis of Assisi described as “perfect joy” since it was the desire of St. Francis to be completely one with Christ in his Passion.

  8. Remember the late 1970s, in Rome, Pope John Paul I also figured out the complications of the Vatican’s financial meanderings. The rest is history. Is there something strange about all this? It seems to be more complicated than the surface reveals.

  9. I’m an atheist. But I really want to know how you prove beyond reasonable doubt that a man abused a child twenty years ago when the only evidence is the victim’s testimony and there’s no corroborating evidence.

    • Not only is there no corroborating evidence, but the victim’s testimony contradicts the physical reality of the cathedral and the reality of the routine of the Cardinal and everybody else after Mass.

  10. The devil is in the loose. The innocent go to jail. The guilty sin boldly.

    When nothing makes sense and insanity rules the day, be assured Lucifer is present.

    I saw the interview tape. Cardinal Pell, one of the few orthodox non-sodomite or sodomy-sympathizer prelates left, is as innocent of these charges as a lamb.

  11. George Pell, Cardinal, found guilty of sexual assaulting two choir boys. Those 12 of his peers who heard the entire evidence against the prelate, voted in unanimous agreement to convict.
    Despite the public condemnation by a criminal court, the Cardinal, having maintained his innocence throughout trial will appeal both the conviction and subsequent penalty to follow.

    Based on the written articles by some it would appear the Cardinal has a following of supporters who believe him wrongly convicted. Some of those favouring his innocence attended the court proceedings and heard the testimony of all who offered or were summoned to give evidence. If my opinion relies on any , it must be the witnesses for the defence. But I hasten to add I have not read any of the trial transcripts.

    Sexual urges developed in the mind eventually excite the entire physical system.
    These preliminary urgings don’t require physical exertions beyond stimulating
    increased interest leading to satisfaction. But once the subject has reached the anticipatory arousel stage, a great deal of agility , strength , and movement is necessary. I raise this observation for two reasons. The Cardinals health status appears essential to a defence position , he could not withstand the physical rigours required the total sex scenario. I could not find information where the court was offered a review of the Cardinal’s health status at the time the offense(s) took place. Secondly, conditions would of necessity be highly selective and protective before any person would engage in a criminal act. I see no where in the accounts I’ve read, this prelate took careful and predetermined steps to preclude witnesses and/or seek absolute seclusion for he and his alleged victims.

    Again without the benefit of trial evidence and based solely on the accounts I’ve read there is sufficient in the defence evidence presented to warrant the conviction be overturned and a new trial ordered. I do thank the Roman Catholic heiarchy for opening its own fact finding probe before making any official determination regarding the future of Cardinal George Pell.

  12. We need to look at who is our allegiance to the church or the state. What would Thomas Becket done do Catholics get tried in church court or civil court. Just look at the movie 12 Angry Men if it wasn’t for the one who had a sense of intelligence that kid would have ended up in prison maybe the death penalty because they wanted to get to the Ballgame and it was hot? Now that we know that there is a evil force looking to destroy the Catholic Church and every good Catholic or even a Catholic that makes mistakes what are we going to do aboutare we going to keep writing in Catholic World Report, crisis magazine ,and keep reading these articles and getting excited over them and mutually stimulating one another mentally with our ideas or are we going to start getting back to the parishes rebuild the parish rebuild the neighborhood make it strong what are we going to do.

  13. I will say this again, that Cardinal Pell’s enemies may, at one level, have handed him a very special gift, given the apparent strength of character that he has – this, in spite of what has been done to him being astoundingly contemptible and horrible for him in every other way.

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