The Holy See and Cardinal Pell

Why did the Vatican, the day after the conviction was announced publicly, reiterate the mantra that has become habitual in Vatican commentary on the Pell case?

Pope Francis signs a cricket bat of a Canterbury cricket team received from Australian Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican Oct. 29, 2015. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Cardinal George Pell’s December 2018 conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse” was a travesty of justice, thanks in part to a public atmosphere of hysterical anti-Catholicism — a fetid climate that had a devastating impact on the possibility of his receiving a fair trial. How else does one explain how 12 jurors, presented with uncorroborated charges refuted by overwhelming evidence that the alleged crimes could not have happened, completely reversed the overwhelming pro-acquittal vote delivered by a hung jury in the cardinal’s first trial last year?

Cardinal Pell knew from hard personal experience how virulent the anti-Catholic atmosphere in Australia had become. As a member of the College of Cardinals and a senior Vatican official, Pell enjoyed Vatican citizenship and held a Vatican diplomatic passport; he could have stayed put, untouchable by the Australian authorities. Yet he freely decided to submit himself to his country’s criminal justice system. He knew he was innocent; he was determined to defend his honor and that of the Church; and he believed in the rectitude of the Australian courts. So he went home.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that the Australian justice system has thus far failed one of Australia’s most distinguished sons, who had put his trust in it. The police went on a tawdry fishing expedition for something-on-Pell. (Who, one wonders, set that in motion? And why?) A preliminary hearing sent the subsequent charges to trial, although the hearing magistrate said that, were she a juror, she wouldn’t vote for conviction on several of alleged crimes. The first trial proved the cardinal innocent, and the re-trial returned an irrational verdict unsupported by any evidence, corroborating or otherwise. The media gag order placed on both trials, although likely intended to dampen the circus atmosphere surrounding the case, in fact relieved the prosecution of having to defend its weird and salacious charges in public.

So as of early March, the cardinal is in jail, in solitary confinement, allowed a few visitors a week, as well as a half-dozen books and magazines at a time. But he is not permitted to say Mass in his cell, on the bizarre grounds that prisoners are not allowed to lead religious services in prisons in the State of Victoria and wine is not permitted in cells.

Given all this, it is not easy to understand why, the day after the conviction was announced publicly, the interim Vatican press spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, reiterated the mantra that has become habitual in Vatican commentary on the Pell case: the Holy See, Gisotti said, has “maximum respect for the Australian judicial authorities.”

Why say this? It is precisely the Australian judiciary (and the lynch-mob atmospherics in Melbourne and elsewhere) that is on trial today in the global court of public opinion. There was no need for such gratuitous puffery. Mr. Gisotti could have, and should have, said that the Holy See awaits with interest and concern the results of the appeal process, and hopes that justice will be done. Period. Full stop. No flattery. Above all, no hint of a suggestion that the Holy See believes that the Australian police and judicial authorities have done their job fairly, impartially, and respectably thus far.

Shortly after Mr. Gisotti’s comment, it was announced that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was beginning its own canonical inquiry into the Pell case. In theory, and one hopes in practice, the CDF investigation can be helpful: properly conducted, it will exonerate Cardinal Pell of the preposterous charges on which he was convicted, because there is zero evidence that the cardinal abused two choirboys and ample evidence that the abuse could not have occurred in the circumstances in which it allegedly happened. So justice can be done by the Holy See, whatever the ultimate outcome in Australia.

For the sake of an old friend, but also for the sake of Australia’s reputation in the world, I hope that the appeal process, which begins in early June, will vindicate Cardinal Pell — and the faith he has put in his countrymen and the Australian judicial system. The latter is and should be under the closest scrutiny by fair-minded people, however. The Holy See should take note of that, and should therefore resist any further temptations to render a gauzy, and certainly premature, verdict on “the Australian judicial authorities.”


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About George Weigel 238 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). His new book The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform was published by Basic Books on September 17.

55 Comments

  1. Dear Author,
    How quickly you forget. Cardinal Pell in his due diligence at his former Vatican position uncovered many, many millions of Euros previously unaccounted for.
    Created a few enemies, did he? You bet he did. Rich and powerful enemies who play for keeps.
    Pell now lives in prison. His pope is silent. Next.

    • Ranger01
      The matter before the Victorian Court had no clandestine connection to Cardinal Pell’s former position with regard to the Vatican finance. Your conspiracy mindset is not relevant to the issue of child abuse and pedophelia among Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese that Cardinal pell had responsibility for while archbishop and while overseeing education in the Archdicese of Ballarat. Cardinal Pell has a track record with respect to Clergy abuse that goes back many years but the issue before the courts was singularily the abuse that occured in St Patric’s Cathederal, Melbourne, Australia. I implore you to do some research into the matter of Pedophelia in and around Melbourne. That pedophelia has been practiced by many Priests and that these priests have been protected by the Melbourne church and the blameless childred who are now adults have been villified is of tragic consequence for the ministry of the Holy Spirit among the Body of Christ. That is the Issue.

      • And did your research uncover the fact that immediately after becoming archbishop of Melbourne and just before the alleged crime, CD Pell created the Melbourne Response, the world’s first system in any institution of any kind to systematically assist both real and claimed victims of sexual abuse by priests who did not wish to or were unable to take their cases to the police, or where the police or courts had dismissed the charges. A system which has been praised by victims’ advocates as superior to the system introduced 18 months later by the rest of Australia’s bishops.

        It is remarkable that the two bishops viciously pursued by the police in Australia for supposed sexual abuse and the covering up thereof, are the two (archbishop Phillip Wilson is the other, convicted and then exonerated) who have actually done the most to combat sexual abuse by priests. The real pedos are celebrating Cd Pell’s conviction.

      • I thought the issue was whether or not Cardinal Pell was guilty of abusing two choir boys, not whether other priests in Australia did so.

        • Well when one choirboy says the abuse happened to both him and his supposed wine stealing accomplice, and later the accomplice, when asked twice by his mother says it never happened, you no longer have just one accuser but you now have none. Indeed the accomplice called the accuser a liar and if you’re not going to believe him, best not to ask him in the first place. Then after trial, the Methodist judge in a summation that could and should have taken around 7 to 10 minutes, raved on with his DIRTY TALK for 70 minutes. Reminds me of the Protestants in Scotland hanging Catholics for not rejecting Jesus and giving allegiance to the king

    • “the Holy See, Gisotti said, has “maximum respect for the Australian judicial authorities.”” A remark indicative of a party bent on having their own agenda served by said “judicial authorities”. Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod did not succeed in their dark agendas to destroy Christ. We pray this Lent that their modern counterparts will fail in their own attempts to destroy Christ’s servants and His Church.

    • Ranger01, I asked before: who was behind the police, who was behind the victim and who was behind the jury? Well I think you know the answer to that.

      How timely, this “get Pell” case hot on the heels of his exposure of corruption at the Vatican. But God does not sleep.

  2. Dear Mr Weigel,
    I’m sad to read your article on Cardinal Pell’s conviction. It is obvious to many who live in Melbourne Australia that you speak of matters you know very little about. The trial never was a process of anti Catholicism. False assumptions are the pathway to prejudice and your article is built entirely upon false assumptions. This is an issue beyond politics, beyond liberal verses conservative Catholics. I speak as one who was present at the forum when Cardinal Pell Launched his Melbourne Response to victims of Clergy Abuse. With regard to his actions in relation to victims of Clergy Abuse, I can say they are not in the spirit of a follower of Jesus. Your article is a devastatingly sad example of betrayal of what our lord Jesus taught his followers. I am a practicing Catholic and hope and pray that you consider very carefully the statements you have made in this article. They do not represent the truth of the subject about which you speak. I put it to you that Jesus and the Body of Christ is the pure and holy friend who’s reputation is being trashed, not Cardinal Pell’s.

    • “I speak as one who was present at the forum when Cardinal Pell Launched his Melbourne Response to victims of Clergy Abuse. With regard to his actions in relation to victims of Clergy Abuse, I can say they are not in the spirit of a follower of Jesus.”

      Which means what, exactly? We could better evaluate whether we believe you or agree with you if we knew of what you were accusing Cardinal Pell.

      Leaving aside any consideration of anti-Catholicism, the accusations as reported are on the face of them ridiculous.

      -The second alleged victim denied to his mother that abuse ever happened, and never testified in court, and according to a report on CNN (hardly likely to be biased in Cardinal Pell’s favor), “The second boy died of a drug overdose, apparently having never divulged what had happened to him.” If I were to accuse you of committing a crime against me and against a friend of mine who never reported the alleged crime to authorities, denied to her mother that she had ever been the victim of that sort of crime, never said to anybody that the crime had been committed, and never testified in court and was now dead and unable to testify, or to be cross-examined, would you think it right that you be convicted of the crime? Any court truly interested in justice would have laughed the charge out of the building. Does the Australian system not include the right to face one’s accuser? Only in this case, the “accuser” in fact never accused.

      -In the case of the remaining, in fact the sole, accuser, the circumstances described are enough to raise far, far, far more than a reasonable doubt; they practically prove that the accuser is lying. Do the courts in Australia make it a practice to believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast, and many more in the course of the day?

      • Dear Leslie, your first statement [quote] “the accusations as reported are on the face of them ridiculous” [end quote] betrays your closed mind on this subject. The accusations are very serious and cases of abuse by pedophile priests in and around Melbourne are numerous. These cases have historically been denied and victims silenced by the process Cardinal Pell put in place known as The Melbourne Response. This is a deep, multi layered and tragic situation that has unfolded over the past 30 years or so and to simply make the statements that you have made shows pre judgement bereft of any knowledge of the matters your commentary addresses. I have nothing personal against you and your love of the church and for Cardinal Pell is to be admired. My statements in no way show a hatred of Cardinal Pell, rather a desire for the truth to be known and justice served. Above all I hope that Catholics can rise above defensive knee jerk reactionary commentary and acknowledge the damage that pedophelia among a minority of Priests has done massive harm to our Church, The Body of Christ. How do we minister in truth while we live a lie?

        • Chris, you are the same one who prejudged Pell. Look at all the facts. The so called ‘victim’ lied. Very clearly lied. And the jury left reason and critical thinking at the door if the courthouse. The prosecution did not prove the claims of the victim. Someone was behind the police, the pretend victim and the jury.

          • Peter, I was present in East Melbourne at Cardinal Pell’s launch of The Melbourne Response. That information is mentioned in my other comments here. Please read them and the two links I provided. The second link details some of the experiences of Helen Last, the counsellor hired by the Catholic Church in Melbourne to assist victims of clerical abuse at the time of the launch of the Melbourne Response. Your statement regarding The Melbourne Response being “A system which has been praised by victims’ advocates as superior to the system introduced 18 months later by the rest of Australia’s bishops.” is inaccurate. The Melbourne Response was problematic in many respects.

          • I’m sorry Peter, my reply regarding my presence at the launch of the Melbourne Response was meant as a reply to Peter K a few posts above. It also appears below when I mistakenly posted in as my new computer, automatically it seemed to me, re cut and pasted the reply again.

            I have made no statement as to the guilt or innocence of Cardinal Pell. Please read my response to
            Larry Northon for a more detailed explanation.

        • I notice that you skipped blithely over the first part of my post, so I will repeat m question:

          “Which means what, exactly? We could better evaluate whether we believe you or agree with you if we knew of what you were accusing Cardinal Pell.”

          “your first statement [quote] “the accusations as reported are on the face of them ridiculous” [end quote] betrays your closed mind on this subject.”

          The accusations on the face of them are ridiculous because they are physically impossible, or at least so unlikely as to approach that. We are expected to believe a chain of improbabilities – amazingly, nobody was near the Cardinal, nobody came in to what is apparently a fairly open sacristy, nobody noticed that the two choir boys weren’t at the rehearsal where they were supposed to be, and on, and on, and on.

          “The accusations are very serious and cases of abuse by pedophile priests in and around Melbourne are numerous.”

          The accusation of sexual abuse is serious, but that does not mean that a particular accusation, laden with improbabilities, is not ridiculous. And at no point did I say there were not numerous cases of pedophile priests in and around Melbourne. That is irrelevant to the particular case of one man. I assume there are quite a few rapes committed by men in Australia. Therefore, if someone accuses you of rape, since you are a man and you are Australian, should I assume you are guilty even if the person making the accusation tells a very unlikely story?

          “to simply make the statements that you have made shows pre judgement bereft of any knowledge of the matters your commentary addresses.”

          It is not a pre-judgment, it is a judgment based on the information about the case that has been published – finally, after the gag order was removed.

          “Above all I hope that Catholics can rise above defensive knee jerk reactionary commentary and acknowledge the damage that pedophelia among a minority of Priests has done massive harm to our Church”

          It is not “defensive knee-jerk reactionary commentary” to recognize a trial that has produced a clearly unjust verdict. I do not defend those priests who are clearly guilty and have been convicted in a fair trial. And the way to heal the harm done by a minority of priests is not to convict the innocent.

        • Chris, in response to your response to my post below.

          You did not address one bit the fact that the so called “victim” lied.

          You go on and on about how you think Pell’s response to claims of abuse were not good enough. But the problem is that is not what he is on trial for.

          He is on trial because 2 men claim to have been abused by him when they were choir members at St Patrick. One of them said that he was never abused at all. So who put this guy up to make a false statement so that they can arrest Pell?

          The one who still claims to be abused are clearly lying about the circumstances of the abuse. All the circumstances of his claims – from the time, to the place to the manner of the abused have been proved false.

          So you may dislike Pell but the fact of the matter is this trial is a witch hunt. It was done buy a lynch mob. A jury who parked their intellects at the door of the courthouse because all they cared about is to get Pell regardless of the evidence.

          The so called “victim” was no able to prove that he was victimized in the manner and circumstances he claimed.

          You are blinded by your hatred of Pell. Which is why your post is irrational and does not address the issue at hand.

          And here’s the thing: Pell was found guilty even of abuse of the boy who claims he was not even abused at all.

          If you were in Pell’s shoes, being found guilty by a jury at the absence of evidence against you, you would be screaming to high heavens crying foul!

    • You didn’t refute one item of Mr. Weigel’s article . Tell me Chris how do you disrobe to the degree necessary to perform the acts Cardinal Pell is accused of wearing all those garments in a span of six minutes in a Cathedral sacristy after mass on Sunday ?

      • The robes Cardinal Pell wore during the offending were brought into the court and tendered as an exhibit. The inner sheath and cream and purple outer layer were held up, and jurors were able to examine and hold these robes in their jury room during deliberations.

        Monsignor Charles Portelli, who was Pell’s master of ceremonies at the time of the offending, demonstrated to jurors how the cincture was tied around the waist. Prosecutors pointed out that having a cincture around the waist did not restrict movement from the waist down. The defence gave evidence that the robes would be too heavy to lift and that Pell would not have been able to move the robes aside to expose his penis because they did not have slits.

        The jurors saw the robes, were able to hold them, and heard the evidence from both parties as to their manoeuvrability.

        It is worth noting the defence team was the best money could buy with many working behind the scenes and The Cardinal was convicted.
        All the arguments in Mr Weigel’s article where dissected and addressed during the legal proceedings.

        The above article is not an analysis, but a defensive opinion piece of little real weight or credibility. I would expect more from a highly educated and esteemed ethicist.

        • @Chris Hallam, I normally appreciate zeal against predatory clerics and those who cover-up their crimes, but I must say that you do remind me of individuals I’ve known whose zeal is so overwhelming that they are happy to hang the first person under suspicion and then turn molehills of evidence into mountains by dint of desire. I am not certain of Cardinal Pell’s innocence or guilt; however, what is clear by your various remarks that you are not above scape-goating. If only you could reflect on your justification of anti-Catholicism in Australia! What you described per the vestment maneuverability issue is unconvincing. It’s a pity that the defense attorneys did not think to make each and every juror wear those robes and then try to use a bathroom fully vested. It is a matter of volume as much as it is a matter of weight. Said jurors would have discovered what every cleric already knows from experience: It’s insane not to take everything off, except for _maybe_ the tunic, if one does not want to risk making a smelly mess. And that’s without having to control another body besides one’s own. You are less objective than you think and George Weigel is more of a Christian gentleman than your blind rage will allow, and he is much less of an emotional reasoner than you are. But who cares about friendly fire as long as the Catholic Church gets the humiliation coming to it, and some prelate, any prelate goes to jail, eh?

        • Chris Hallam,

          You need to look at the claims of the so called “victim”.
          His first claim was that Pell parted his robes to expose himself.
          Then later on he said that Pell push aside his robes.

          Well have a look at the robe. It is a one piece rob. You can neither part it or nor push it to the side.

          If you really want to molest someone, you have to raise it along with the other layers and then take off your trousers.

          This matter of “parting” or “putting” aside is not something you would forget if this is really what happened. If Pell raised his robs you will remember that he did.

          But because he was concocting his claims, he was not aware that the rob is a one piece robe. Once he found out his booboo, he decided to go for “put aside” which does not work either.

          All these he is supposed to have done in a matter of minutes in a very open area where people could see him commit the act. Only a lunatic, someone so stupid would do that knowing that he he could be scene doing this heinous crime.

          Then there’s the fact that none of the other choir members recall any one leaving the post mass procession.

          Everything that this fake victim claims happened could not possibly have happened.

          As I have asked before: who was behind the police, who was behind the victim and who was behind the jury.

          The tangled web we weave when we venture to deceive.
          This false victim will answer to God for his lies. The jury and the police will answer to God for their part in this persecution of Pell.

    • I have to disagree here. I also live in Victoria and many Melbourne citizens in and out of the legal profession have serious doubts about this case .The media in Australia has been focusing negatively on Cardinal Pell for many years. It would be difficult to find someone not influenced by this relentless attack.

  3. March 13, 2019: I find it strange that Pope Francis defends and protects those who have been credibly accused of being involved in the sex abuse crisis but leaves Cardinal Pell to hang. It just doesn’t make sense!! Perhaps Pope Francis feels that if he says anything to defend Cdl. Pell it could make matters worse. So be it. But he didn’t have to praise a judicial system so obviously corrupt. It is incredibly sad that Cdl. Pell is not even permitted to celebrate Mass in his solitary confinement – this shows clearly the bias against him and Catholicism. We must pray fervently for Cdl. Pell – he is a martyr like St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.

    • The Sanhedrin has been resurrected and function well in Rome. We have caiaphas bishops in position of prominence running rampant. The sheep have been scattered. What a travesty of justice. And Rome does speak, saying “Ecco homo”. To those who say the live in Melborne and defend the media, so what, I live in a diocese that was once full of corruption, just because everyone believed media garbage and the media’ I’ll begotten lie’s the Church was set back 50 years.

      • Cd Pell’s case is funded entirely from his own pocket. No part of the Catholic Church or any of its agencies have contributed anything. They SHPULD, and I can understand why you assume that they would, but they haven’t.

  4. Mr Weigel,
    Central to your article criticising the conviction of Cardinal Pell is your notion of a virulent anti-Catholic atmosphere. Yet you fail to acknowledge the history of clergy abuse and cover up that is widely known. May I suggest that the hostility is not towards Catholicism, rather hypocrisy In the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Ballarat.
    A church that preaches one set of values while practicing a contradictory set of values defines itself as a hypocritical organisation. It has been left to the Laity Lawyers and investigative Journalists, to bring criminal priests in both Archdiocese to accountability. The level of abuse in some geografical areas is stagering. Back when the school occupied two sites, students at the St Alipius Boys School were subjected to the most horrific abuse. From a Melbourne Age article in 2016 it was stated” The royal commission has heard that in 1971 every male teacher at St Alipius Boys’ School was molesting children. So was the chaplain. The old boys’ school closed in 1976 and is now used as a community hall and a kindergarten. Please read the article
    https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/henrietta-cook-ballarat-catholic-school-abuse–supporting-victims-owning-the-history-20160215-gmu9m1.html
    and:
    https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/church-knew-pell-was-at-centre-of-decades-old-lurid-sex-claims-20190307-p512ci.html

    • Neither Dr. (not Mr.) Weigel nor I nor any other Catholic needs virtue-signaling lectures from Christopher Hallam or anybody else about sex abuse by priests. As it happens, I am, to the best of my knowledge, the first Australian ever to have publicly denounced what I called “the priesthood’s recruitment of active pederasts.”

      I did so (well before I became a Catholic) in the January-February 1991 issue of Sydney’s Quadrant magazine, which Hallam will find at any decent-sized Australian library. And I am delighted to say that in doing so, I gravely offended the late therapist Ronald Conway (1927-2009), who calumniated me in the following edition, no doubt fearful that his own record of molesting male patients would be publicly exposed. Insults from Conway were, and are, a faithful Catholic’s badge of honor.

      What Hallam fails to mention to American readers, few if any among whom could be expected to know about Australia’s media pornocracy, is that The Age (whatever intellectual respectability it possessed in a long-distant past) has been for years an anti-Catholic, pro-perversion, cultural-Marxist rag even by the dismal criteria of its rival newspapers. In short, to adapt the words that Mary McCarthy wrote about another Marxist: everything The Age now writes is a lie, including “and” and “the.”

      As for Australia’s long and pathological history of militant anti-Catholicism – the most notorious exemplar of which, before the anti-Pell lynch-mob, was the 1950s’ communist stooge Herbert Vere Evatt – American readers who Google the words “Joseph Furphy”, “John Douglas Pringle”, “Dyson Heydon”, and “anti-Catholicism” will find it easy enough to locate details of it. I should add that though Dyson Heydon is a Catholic, Joseph Furphy was a Protestant and John Douglas Pringle not, apparently, a Christian at all.

    • Christopher Hallam: The issue at hand is not the totality of clerical crimes in Australia or the damage done to actual victims. It is also not whether Cardinal Pell may have committed crimes other than those tried in court. The issue being discussed here is whether in the case presented at trial there was enough reasonable doubt to demand acquittal. According to everything I’ve read, there was more than enough. Did you witness the trial? If so, you’d be doing us a favor if you would explain what you feel Mr. Weigel and other commentators have left out; providing you stick to the subject, that being the case brought against him.

      • Larry, thanks for seeking clarification. Dr Weigel’s article is as you say, about whether or not in the case presented at trial there was enough reasonable doubt to demand acquittal.
        It has been my intention to respond to the article written not whether Cardinal Pell is Guilty or Innocent . I hope i can make this distinction clear to you and other readers as you read on.
        According to everything you have read, there was more than enough. Dr Weigel also outlined his reasons for thinking the same.
        Now here is my point….
        Did I witness the trial? No. Neither did you or Dr Weigel or any one else commenting. I will now make it clear that I have deliberately not directly discussed Cardinal Pell’s guilt or innocence of the charges he has been convicted of. This was a deliberate choice As you no doubt know there is an appeal pending.
        Now i am certain of this. No one here commenting knows the truth of the matter and Dr Weigel equally does not know the truth of the matter despite every thing he has written here and every where else he has commented. This statement of mine is the truth. I don’t know either. Only the young man and Cardinal Pell know. They are the only ones who know the truth of the matter. The Rule of Law is what we are left with to respect and uphold.
        This fact was the starting point to my response to the article.
        You ask a favor. If I would explain what I feel Mr. Weigel and other commentators have left out? That has been the context of my responses. The fact that Mr Weigel has spoken to a mainly American readership about the conviction of his close personal friend while deriding the legal process, without any thorough analysis of the complex issues at play is cause for concern.
        A simple observation.
        Dr Weigel made this statement which betrays either his ignorance of basic aspects of the trial or a deliberate misrepresentation:
        “The media gag order placed on both trials, although likely intended to dampen the circus atmosphere surrounding the case, in fact relieved the prosecution of having to defend its weird and salacious charges in public.”
        It has been clearly stated that the gag order was made because Cardinal Pell was due to face trial later in the year on other accusations of abuse dating from the 1970’s. The gag order was made so as not to prejudice these later trials. As soon as the Prosecutors dropped the case, the gag order was lifted. Why did Dr Weigel misrepresent this detail? Ignorance or willfull and misleading inuendo ?

        Dr Weigel makes a big deal of what he calls “a public atmosphere of hysterical anti-Catholicism — a fetid climate that had a devastating impact on the possibility of his receiving a fair trial.” as if this public atmosphere exists in what would otherwise be a vacuum of nothingness! I maintain that again this is a simplistic shallow presentation of complex issue. Yes there is Anti Catholic sentiment but there is also a cry for accountability, truth and justice and that is coming from the Catholic community as well as others who know of this history of abuse by priests. There is anger at the cover up the moving of offending priests from parish to parish. The lies, and the strident measures taken to protect church finanses eg The Ellis Defence, instigated by Cardinal Pell: https://www.gerardmaloufpartners.com.au/Publication-2647-What-is-the-Ellis-defence-in-child-abuse-claims.aspx

        All this is part of the community sentiment yet Dr Weigel paints a picture of simplistic and unreasonable anti Catholic hatred to the extent that a fair trial is impossible. You could argue that with any Priest accused of abuse. The Judge and legal process is not as stupid as Dr Weigel would have us all believe. The Police prosecutors know how hard it is to get a conviction and how easy a case can fall apart. Cardinal Pell had the best legal team at his disposal and every detail of the accusations where examined in a robust and legitimate legal process. There is an appeal pending. This is the Rule Of Law. There is no other way of bringing accountability to the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Ballarat. There is no other way on earth of seeking justice for the children abused. The Catholic Churches response to the pastoral needs of these people has been a dismal negation of their value as human beings and a betrayal of the Priestly calling of the Bishops who are responsible.
        There have been several accusations involving Cardinal Pell. One has made it to court.

        For these reason i made an attempt at addressing some of the issues at play in Melbourne and Victoria for the American readers, who I assume are largely unaware of the history of Abuse here where I live work and worship.
        I had never heard of Dr Weigel until I read of his defence of Cardinal Pell, a quick search brought me here. It became obvious to me that he is a man of great influence in the Catholic Church in America. It is my firm conviction that this article is an example of gross irresponsibility in the position he holds.

        • Christopher Hallam wrote, “Dr Weigel made this statement which betrays either his ignorance of basic aspects of the trial or a deliberate misrepresentation: ‘The media gag order placed on both trials, although likely intended to dampen the circus atmosphere surrounding the case, in fact relieved the prosecution of having to defend its weird and salacious charges in public.’

          “It has been clearly stated that the gag order was made because Cardinal Pell was due to face trial later in the year on other accusations of abuse dating from the 1970’s. The gag order was made so as not to prejudice these later trials. As soon as the Prosecutors dropped the case, the gag order was lifted. Why did Dr Weigel misrepresent this detail? Ignorance or willfull and misleading inuendo ?”

          Dr. Wiegel did not say that the reason for the gag order was to relieve the prosecution of defending its charges in public; he said that a result of the gag order was to relieve the prosecution of defending its charges in public. There is a difference. Why did you ignore that difference? Ignorance, or willful and misleading innuendo?

          Christopher Hallam also wrote, “Yes there is Anti Catholic sentiment but there is also a cry for accountability, truth and justice and that is coming from the Catholic community as well as others who know of this history of abuse by priests. There is anger at the cover up the moving of offending priests from parish to parish. The lies, and the strident measures taken to protect church finanses”

          None of which has anything to do with whether Cardinal Pell in fact committed the crimes of which he is accused.

          Mr. Hallam also wrote, “There is no other way of bringing accountability to the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Ballarat. There is no other way on earth of seeking justice for the children abused. The Catholic Churches response to the pastoral needs of these people has been a dismal negation of their value as human beings and a betrayal of the Priestly calling of the Bishops who are responsible.”

          This trial was about a particular crime alleged to have been committed by a particular person. What you wrote indicates that what you want is a scapegoat, convicting a man not for a crime that he committed but because you want accountability for two entire archdioceses and all of their actions and inactions. If that is the mindset of the jurors, it is obvious why they convicted Cardinal Pell and it is obvious that it is a travesty of justice.

          Mr. Hallam wrote, “There have been several accusations involving Cardinal Pell. One has made it to court.”

          And if even the prosecutors who went ahead with a case as flimsy as this one didn’t think the other accusations had enough evidence to bring them to trial, I think we can safely dismiss them from consideration.

        • “No one here commenting knows the truth of the matter and Dr Weigel equally does not know the truth of the matter…” If you are referring to the truth of the allegation, it is obvious that no one does and no one ever will. “The Rule of Law is what we are left with to respect and uphold.” That is exactly the point, and the rule of law includes the presumption of innocence until guilt is proved beyond any reasonable doubt. If it is indeed true that Cdl. Pell was convicted on the testimony of a single accuser, that the alleged (and late) co-victim denied there had been a crime and that numerous witnesses testified as to the extreme unlikelihood of the allegation being true, then that is undeniably reasonable doubt and should have produced an acquittal. That it did not is proof that either the jury was motivated by prejudice (which overthrows the rule of law) or there was additional testimony and evidence offered which commentators are omitting. I had asked you if the latter were the case. You respond that you don’t know, so I am left back where I started: Pell should have been acquitted. You say that the charge that there was a lynch-mob atmosphere in Australia is “a simplistic shallow presentation of complex issue,” but since you cannot assure us that the accuser was indeed corroborated at trial, the lynch-mob charge is validated, for how else could he have been convicted? May I remind you that higher courts in Australia have already reversed the conviction of another Catholic prelate. I am aware there were other charges made against the Cardinal, but I remind you that if prosecutors believed this was their strongest case, then that says a great deal about those other charges, meaning that they are probably without substance or foundation. If many groundless charges were made against the Cardinal, and if the jury convicted despite there being reasonable doubt, then the rule of law in Australia has indeed been subverted by mob rule. There is no getting around that. That is why I need somebody to explain to me if the trial jury did indeed see more convincing evidence than has been reported here. We need no further lectures here about the crimes of Catholic churchmen in Australia, because we have the same problem in the United States.

    • Thank you for the article. It was indeed enlightening, but unfortunately for your point of view, it corroborates Weigel’s article point for point, right down to what you might call a lynch-mob atmosphere in the country. Reading the article to which you referred me, one must conclude that the prosecution’s case was flimsy in the extreme and that Pell should have been acquitted after five minutes’ deliberation.

    • Indeed he is – just as, 70 years ago, Cardinal Joszef Mindszenty was in Hungary and Cardinal Franjo Stepinac was in Czechoslovakia.

      • One small point in the interests of historical accuracy. The martyred Cardinal Stepinac’s principal given name was not Franjo but Aloysius (or, to give the Croatian version, Alojzije).

  5. agreed Maria. Our hearts got out to His Eminence who returned home putting his faith in a justice system which was greatly flawed. We will pray that he will be exonerated at the appeal which will undoubtedly bring the behaviour of the Australian police and judicial system into question. If the immediate whereabouts of the Cardinal is public knowledge perhaps one of our Catholic websites would put it into print so we can send letters of encouragement , if not, perhaps George Weigel would assure His Eminence that there are people all over the world thinking of him and praying for him.

  6. As Pell’s choirboy-accuser remains anonymous, how could the defence/court ever take measures to confirm that he was, in fact, present on the day of the alleged crime? Or that he was ever a member of the choir, for that matter? Or that he was ever a Church goer, for that matter? I don’t know the details of this matter but it seems never to have been aired to the public.

    Thanks to George Weigel for an excellent article!

  7. To be charitable one could understand Mr Gisotti’s statement as saying that the Holy See has the maximum respect possible under the circumstances for the Australian judicial authorities, that is to say not much respect at all. And to be fair, the apparent bigoted persecution is being done bot by the actual judicial authorities (judges) who have generally dealt fairly with what was before them, but by the police, the public prosecutor, and the jury in the second trial. Justice Kidd’s statements in court seem to subtly imply that he was astonished at the jury’s verdict but had no choice but to pretend that it’s the truth. However I do puzzle why, considering the weakness of the case, the defence did not call for the case to be dismissed, or alternatively why didn’t the judge direct the jury to acquit. Maybe there is some technical legal reason for this.

    • Yes Mr Peter K: I listened attentively to the whole of the judge’s careful summation and sentencing, and thought I discerned more than a slight degree of subtextual ‘amazement’ on His Honour’s part that the Cardinal was convicted at all. Justice Kidd is a man of great, indeed worldwide experience, and of course he knew that the whole world would be listening closely; therefore, it was a ‘bravura’ performance in detail and apparent accuracy, each matter expressed in relentless order, and each given its heading and subheadings. And yet, and yet … I too thought I heard in the judge’s words a subcutaneous disbelief that the man was actually convicted. As to the rest: His Honour of course had no choice but to take the verdict seriously and at face-value and deliver the appropriate sentences. For what it is worth, I attend the Solemn Mass at 11.00 am each Sunday at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, and as I have written elsewhere, find it quite frankly unbelievable that an admittedly large sacristy accommodating some sixty choristers, two MCs, concelebrating priests, a flotilla of servers (to say nothing of all those so-called Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist), could have been the venue for such a gross and brazen exercise in sexual arrogance. No, no, it just beggars belief.

  8. This case of Cardinal Pell is very simply a travesty of justice.
    He will be exonerated. There is a God and He does not sleep.

  9. I am a criminal lawyer of long experience. I did not hear the evidence given by the sole complainant but it must have seemed very convincing to the jury. Therein lies a real danger. False allegations often sound very convincing and the jury haven’t the experience to know that. They probably reasoned that the complainant could not have made up such a story. I do not know whether the Cardinal is guilty or not but the evidence plainly fell well short of proof of guilt to the requisite standard. Some of your contributors supporting the verdict seem to rely in part on the fact that other Catholic priests have abused children. I hope that nobody on the jury was guilty of that kind of reasoning. I await with interest the decision of the Appeal Court.

  10. Peter, I was present in East Melbourne at Cardinal Pell’s launch of The Melbourne Response. That information is mentioned in my other comments here. Please read them and the two links I provided. The second link details some of the experiences of Helen Last, the counsellor hired by the Catholic Church in Melbourne to assist victims of clerical abuse at the time of the launch of the Melbourne Response. Your statement regarding The Melbourne Response being “A system which has been praised by victims’ advocates as superior to the system introduced 18 months later by the rest of Australia’s bishops.” is inaccurate. The Melbourne Response was problematic in many respects.

  11. For those who need a break from standard of guilt considerations with regards to Pell…feel free to Google “aboriginal child sexual abuse and the abuse of women in indigenous communities in Australia…”

    This is no justification of clergy abuse…

  12. I am a lawyer who has practised in Australia and overseas for over 40 years. I resent the suggestion, now being made (especially by Americans and Europeans) that George Pell’s conviction was a travesty of justice that somehow reflects badly on the Australian judicial system. I am not surprized by the ignorance of those who criticise our system of justice, and Mr Weigel is a prime exemplar of that ignorance (but what can you expect of an American). I am the first to concede that our justice system may need overhaul, especially in cases concerning child sexual abuse, but changes should be based on fact and not ill informed slogans.

    Is there evidence to suggest that Victorian Police had embarked on a tawdry fishing expedition to get Pell? I find it instructive that Dr Weigel uses the expression: “fishing expedition. “It’s such a hackneyed court room expression that I wonder if lurking inside Dr Weigel is a lawyer in waiting just wishing to emerge, bewigged and gowned, ready to do battle. But putting to one side my snide remarks there is concern that the Victorian Police opened an investigation on George Pell at least 12 months prior to any complaint being received. In other words they were inviting people to come forward to make allegations against him.

    Dr Weigel refers to the findings of a Magistrate who determination was that were she a juror, she would not have convicted Pell on several of the charges (Dr Weigel inaccurately calls them crimes but they are charges).

    What Dr Weigel is referring to, is a procedure known as a Committal Hearing, somewhat similar to your Grand Jury. A Magistrate hears the evidence of the Prosecution and determines whether the Defendant has a case to answer to each charge. What was instructive about the George Pell Committal Hearing was the sheer number of allegations that were made against him. The bar to commit to trial is very low. In other words, most charges go to trial. The fact that most allegations against Pell were tossed out at Committal was unusual. I would not have committed Pell on the charges that the Magistrate allowed to go forward to trial. The fact that Pell was convicted on the first set of charges vindicates the Magistrates’ decision at Committal (so on this point I am ready to concede I was wrong). The test for committal is different in each state but it boils down to whether the Magistrate is satisfied, that a reasonable jury, properly instructed, could convict the defendant of the charge. Thus, the Magistrate’s determination that on many charges neither she, nor a reasonable jury, could convict.

    Dr Weigel refers to George Pell’s willingness to go back to Australia as somehow significant. He does not say why . Dr Weigel would know that in other cases of sexual abuse, the Vatican, under the current pontificate of Pope Francis, has threatened to revoke Vatican immunity to force alleged perpetrators to return to their homeland to face trial. Thus, I do not think George Pell can claim any virtue by his coming back to Australia to face trial. What I do think significant, however, was that he allowed himself to be questioned by Victorian Police in the Vatican Wearing my lawyers hat, I think this was a mistake. It allowed the Victorian Police to shore up evidence in the prosecution case based on the answers George Pell gave them when they interviewed him.

    Dr Weigel completely misses the point about the non-publication order made by the Chief Judge in the County Court. Pell was committed to stand trial on two different sets of charges. The first set of charges alleged that Pell had performed various sexual acts on two choir boys at the end of High Mass in Melbourne’s’ Cathedral. The second set of charges related to 3 incidents in a public swimming pool where Pell was alleged to have manipulated the genitals of 3 boys whilst they engaged in horseplay.

    Multiple charges are a major dilemma for Defence Counsel. Do you run the two sets of charges together? Does that not run the risk that if the same jury hear all the evidence in both cases are they are more likely to convict in both cases if they believe that the sexual assault occurred in at least one case. If you try the 2 cases separately, what happens if the jury convict the Defendant in the first case. If the jury in the second case hears about the conviction in the first case will they not be more likely to convict in the second case?. In New South Wales (Australia’s most populated State) they solve this problem by starting the second trial, with a new jury, immediately after the end of the first trial. Back-to-back trials can be very hard on everyone. In Melbourne, to avoid back-to-back trials they make non-publication orders to avoid the second jury learning about what happened in the first trial.

    The judges in Victoria, have been criticised for thinking non-publication orders in the Pell case would work, when the trials had international interest. Dr Weigel seems to suggest, however, that the non-publication order had the purpose of relieving the prosecution of having to justify its weird and salacious charges. On this point Dr Weigel is guilty of arrant sophistry. The non-publication order was for George Pell’s benefit and was sought by Pell’s eminent Barrister. For that matter, most cases of child sexual abuse involve the salacious and I do not know how the charges are weird (perhaps this is just a piece of Americanism that we ignorant foreigners cannot understand having not been born in the land of the free and the home of the brave)

    Dr Weigel has also been very naughty. He refers to the first trial of George Pell on the first set of charges (the choir boy case) and asserts that whilst the jury was hung (that is: they could not reach an unanimous verdict) that jury was overwhelmingly pro-acquittal. Please be advised, no one knows how the first jury voted and it would be illegal to disclose the deliberations of the jury. So any reportage about the first jury decision cannot be verified and is merely scuttlebutt.

    The main thesis of Dr Weigel’s article is that Pell could only have been convicted because of hysterical anti-Catholicism in Australia. This proposition verges on the ridiculous. Perhaps it reflects Dr Weigel’s myopic parochialism. The point is, however, Australia can rightly be said the be a Catholic country in the way the USA is not By the 1980s the Church had become the richest, most powerful institution in the land. We can debate this point for hours, but it is amazing how many Protestants in Australia agree with me. I give just one example. Of the current and last 5 prime ministers: 1 was Catholic, 1 was raised as a Catholic and attended Catholic schools but became a practising Anglican, 1 had been a Catholic monk and is a practising Catholic, 1 became a Catholic convert and the latest is a member of an evangelical church. Catholics dominant the judiciary, medicine, various Federal and State government departments and business. To suggest that there is hysterical anti-Catholic movement in Australia is sheer fantasy.

    So why were the Victorian Police out to get Pell (as appears to have been the case). Who were the lynch mod outside the Melbourne Court. It may surprize Dr Weigel to know that most were Catholics

    I think that 3 factors explain the current atmosphere. After 5 years of investigation and the expenditure of over 300 million the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse shocked most Catholics in Australia. The Royal Commission did not add much to what we did not already know or could find out. But its analysis of the extent of clerical abuse and the cover-up of that abuse by the hierarchy was staggering. 6% of priests, 40% of brothers in some teaching orders had been convicted of serious sexual abuse of children. Where was Pell in all this. Initially when the Royal Commission was appointed George Pell’s comment was to the effect that he hoped this was not an exercise to get Catholics (it is instructive that Dr Weigel adopts the same view about the trial of George Pell). Pell’s response shook many Catholics because the Royal Commission had been appointed by a Catholic Prime Minister, supported by a cabinet dominated by Catholics and was called only after allegations had been made about the suppression of evidence by the Church in the Diocese of Newcastle. So Catholics asked how could the Royal Commission be an attack on the Church at the instigation of anti-Catholics?

    The 2nd factor is George Pell himself. This is not the place to canvass the personality and failings of the man. Suffice it say, George Pell has probably been the most divisive and loathed Cardinal that has ever been imposed by Rome on the Australian Church. Pell was seen by most Catholics in Sydney as a cross they had to bear. When he went to Rome a common joke in Sydney was that Rome’s loss was our gain.

    The 3rd factor is a problem for the judicial system to address. Pell is likely to acquitted on Appeal on the basis that the jury verdict was unsafe. Since the trial of George Pell there have been a number of other cases in which defendants have been convicted of child sexual abuse in circumstances where the jury appear to have ignored the evidence. Perhaps we are seeing a new phenomenon where juries cannot bring an independent mind to bear on the evidence. One alternative is to allow judges sitting as judge and jury to hear child sexual offence cases.

    There are two matters that also deserve response. George Pell is not in solitary confinement. It does not exist in Australia. It is banned under international covenants on human rights but Dr Weigel can be forgiven this error because living in the land of the free, his government refuses to abide by these international conventions and can therefore continue its disgusting mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. As for George Pell not being able to say Mass. This applies to all the other priests in prison who are incarnated with Pell and let me tell you they are in the thousands. So the rules apply to George the same as they do to any other priest on the inside.

    • “Suffice it say, George Pell has probably been the most divisive and loathed Cardinal that has ever been imposed by Rome on the Australian Church. Pell was seen by most Catholics in Sydney as a cross they had to bear.”

      It would appear that you, and “most Catholics in Sydney” are the kind of people who get all het up and hysterical when the actual teachings of the Church are upheld, instead of Liberal Lite Catholicism. You’d rather have one of those happy-clappy, hippy-dippy refugees from the ’60’s.

    • “Suffice it say, George Pell has probably been the most divisive and loathed Cardinal that has ever been imposed by Rome on the Australian Church. Pell was seen by most Catholics in Sydney as a cross they had to bear.”
      *************

      With respect, how does that not further the argument that such prejudice may have influenced his trial?

    • I don’t know what says Mr. Weigel, but I say that Titus Oates would be smirking with satisfaction.

      I really need to visit Australia and sell the jury and those two judges on the appeals court some lovely oceanfront property in, say, Alice Springs, and of course the Brooklyn Bridge.

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