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What’s next for Cardinal Pell?

Although the Vatican has announced that a canonical process will examine the charges against Pell, writes Ed Condon, those looking to McCarrick’s case as an example are likely to find it a false comparison.

Australian Cardinal George Pell is seen at the Vatican In this 2015 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Melbourne, Australia, Mar 13, 2019 / 01:11 pm (CNA).- On Wednesday, Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in prison following his conviction on five charges of sexual abuse of minors. He will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months.

While the passing of sentence normally marks the end of a case, Pell’s situation is far from resolved. Although he remains in prison, his appeal is expected to be heard in June. Meanwhile in Rome, a canonical process is due to be held to examine the same charges against him.

For the time being, Pell remains a prisoner of the state and a sitting cardinal – a combination unprecedented in modern times.

Commentators, both Catholic and secular, continue to question how the jury reached their unanimous verdict on the evidence. At the same time, victims’ advocates are demanding that Pell be removed from the college of cardinals, and even the clerical state, with the same speed used to deal with Theodore McCarrick.

In the middle of this situation, many have been left asking: what is next for Cardinal Pell?

Although the Vatican has announced that a canonical process will examine the charges against Pell, those looking to McCarrick’s case as an example are likely to find it a false comparison.

McCarrick faced a litany of accusations and accusers – minors and adults –  stretching back decades. Cardinal Pell is facing a single accuser in criminal court. While it looks likely he will also face a lawsuit over allegations dating back to the 1970s and his time as a priest in Ballarat, prosecutors have already dropped plans for a criminal trial on these grounds.

McCarrick, of course, never faced a day in civil court. Consequently, there were no court documents or witness transcripts to consider during the canonical process. Given the strength and volume of the accusations he faced, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with McCarrick using a stream-lined administrative process.

Pell’s canon lawyers are likely to argue for, even insist on, a full trial in Rome – itself a far lengthier process which could take at least as long as Pell’s civil trial.

Before this can even begin, the initial stages of the canonical process involve a preliminary investigation charged with gathering readily-available information on the charges. This will almost certainly include the evidence used in court to convict Pell in Victoria, but Vatican investigators and Pell’s own canonists will be equally interested in any new material which becomes available during his appeal.

In all likelihood, while a canonical process against Pell may well be officially underway in Rome, it is highly unlikely to begin in earnest until he is either vindicated by an Australian court or exhausts his appeal options.

Back in Victoria, Pell’s legal team are basing their appeal to the Supreme Court in Victoria on the “unreasonableness” of the jury’s finding.

“The verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone,” his lawyers wrote in their filing.

At the center of much of the criticism of the decision against Pell is the apparent lack of corroborating evidence or testimony. Pell’s lawyers were not permitted to question the wider reliability of his accuser, despite the supposed second victim having died in 2014 after repeatedly denying he had been abused.

While the eight men and four women were satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of Pell’s guilt, a previous jury returned a split decision of 10-2 in favor of acquitting Pell, resulting in a mistrial. Many have openly wondered if the second verdict was a condemnation of the Catholic Church in Australia, rather than Pell in particular.

Others have noted the decades of media focus and vilification directed personally at Pell, but having nothing to do with the charges he faced. During the hour-long televised reading of the sentence, Judge Peter Kidd noted “it is fair to say that in some sections of the community [Pell is] a publicly vilified figure.”

“We have witnessed, outside of this court and within our community, examples of a witch-hunt or a lynch mob mentality in relation to you, Cardinal Pell. I utterly condemn such behavior,” Kidd said.

The extent to which this mob mentality might have played a role inside the court will likely feature in Pell’s appeal. Such a mentality was crucial in overturning the conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson last year, when a judge found that the conviction was aimed at the Church as an institution and did not reflect the evidence against Wilson.

With the threat of a second trial lifted, it also seems unlikely the appeal process could be subjected to the same draconian media restrictions that covered the first hearing of the case, allowing the evidence against him to receive the same scrutiny and criticism to which Pell has been subjected for decades.

In the interim, despite calls from advocates and victims’ groups, Rome seems unlikely to take any further action regarding Pell in the near-term. While the official Vatican response has remained scrupulously respectful of the Australian courts, privately many in Rome have expressed horror at the verdict, including many of those relieved to see Pell removed from his work reforming the Vatican finances.

Pope Francis will have no desire or incentive to pre-empt Pell’s appeal or appear to vindicate a contentious verdict by removing him from the college of cardinals, still less run the risk of having been seen to hang him out to dry if the appeal should prove successful.

Before his incarceration, Pell was under precautionary measures not to engage in public ministry or have contact with minors during his trial. Now, with Pell reportedly in solitary confinement for most of the day, these measures are somewhat redundant.

According to Australian prison authorities, prisoners are not permitted to lead religious services or have wine, meaning that Pell cannot say Mass, even privately, under his current conditions.

With no definitive result in either the civil or canonical courts, and no further limits on Pell’s freedom possible, what follows now for his critics and supporters, both in Rome and Australia – and for Pell himself – is likely to be a long wait until June.


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15 Comments

  1. That Tethering Operation from 2013 and a little research about the state of Victoria in Australia and you start to understand the quest to find a crime to bring down a Catholic prelate.

    The anti-Catholic atmosphere is palpable there and to look at the evidence finally made public makes one wonder how this is possible. The appeal should be interesting but they are dead set on his guilt regardless. And to think he went to Australia voluntarily to clear his name.

  2. 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.

  3. I cannot believe that Cardinal Pell an intelligent, gentle man is guilty of this crime. Shocked at the vindictive public reaction. If this faceless man is lying, as I believe, we must pray for him. I believe that payouts are not the answer and cannot heal; provision of good counselling support should be funded and all support for healing. In this money hungry world we have lost our integrity. God Bless George Pell

  4. This quote is an insult to all the “witches” that were tortured and killed, and probably raped in the process, and in the most sadist ways by the Church for centuries.

    “We have witnessed, outside of this court and within our community, examples of a witch-hunt or a lynch mob mentality in relation to you, Cardinal Pell. I utterly condemn such behavior,” Kidd said.”

    The Church has no more right to preach morality to anyone, and the outrageous efforts made to shield the rapists, endangering additional victims has made ALL priest, bishops and cardinal rightfully suspect as perpetrators or facilitators of the same kind of crimes as Pell has been found guilty of, and by a unanimous jury, 12 to zero.

    Nothing in the article or in the comments above gives one whit of concern or prayer for the 1000’s of children sexualy assaulted by clerics. Shame on you!

    • “This quote is an insult to all the “witches” that were tortured and killed, and probably raped in the process, and in the most sadist ways by the Church for centuries. ”

      You don’t seem to grasp what people mean when they call something a “witch-hunt.”

      From Wikipedia:
      “the word ‘witch-hunt’ is used as a metaphor to illustrate the brutal and ruthless way in which political opponents are denigrated and persecuted.”

      And from Wiktionary”
      “An attempt to find and publicly punish a group of people perceived as a threat, usually on ideological or political grounds. A public smear-campaign against an individual.”

      The definitions are tied in with the understanding that witch-hunts are unjust; which is in turn a product of the realization that the historical witch-hunts were unjust attacks on innocent people. That hardly constitutes an insult to the victims of the historic witch-hunts. In addition to which, the person you quoted was the judge presiding over what I don’t hesitate to call the kangaroo court, so take it up with him.

      As for the Church’s role, try this:
      http://www.catholicbridge.com/catholic/burning-times-inquisition-witches.php

      “The Church has no more right to preach morality to anyone,”

      The Church has every right to preach morality, and the fact that some of Her shepherds have sinned grievously by disobeying the teachings of the Church and of God doesn’t change that.

      “and the outrageous efforts made to shield the rapists, endangering additional victims has made ALL priest, bishops and cardinal rightfully suspect as perpetrators or facilitators of the same kind of crimes”

      Your grasp of justice is pretty bad if you accept guilt by association as a sound practice.

      “as Pell has been found guilty of and by a unanimous jury, 12 to zero.”

      It was 10-2 for acquittal in the first trial.

      “Nothing in the article or in the comments above gives one whit of concern or prayer for the 1000’s of children sexualy assaulted by clerics. Shame on you!”

      That’s because this article is about Cardinal Pell. There have been plenty of articles showing concern for the victims of abuse, and many prayers said for them. You are quite the little bigot, aren’t you.

    • “as Pell has been found guilty of and by a unanimous jury, 12 to zero.”

      It’s meaningless. Christ was found guilty by hundreds to zero.

      “Nothing in the article or in the comments above gives one whit of concern or prayer for the 1000’s of children sexualy assaulted by clerics. Shame on you!”

      After seeing how easy it was to railroad Cardinal Pell based on an obviously false accusation I’m starting to doubt validity of every other so called “abuse victim”
      claim. You clearly are not concerned about justice for possibly thousands of falsely accused Catholic priests, rather you want to believe the liars instead. Shame on you!

  5. They are nothing but a bunch of Witch-hunters!
    I am so upset over the injustice done to Cardinal Pell. There has to be something we can do to help him??

    This is pure evil from a wicked justice system
    He’s being used as an example. They will not allow him to celebrate Mass, have his bravery, etc., He’s in solitary confinement. If this isn’t extreme what is???

    There was NO SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE!

    Woe to them on judgement day if they don’t repent!

    • “There was NO SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE!”

      I agree, but there rarely is ANY substantial evidence in most of these types of cases
      against the priests. It’s all based on “testimonies” from events that supposedly happened 30-50 years ago. No witnesses, no proof of ANY sort. WE just have to believe all these accusers. There is obviously some evil group that’s recruiting and manipulating all these independent liars. I think this is one giant conspiracy against the Catholic church

      “Woe to them on judgement day if they don’t repent!”

      Most likely they won’t repent.

  6. All the failing of our Cardinals, Bishops, Priest and Deacons will matter most at their final breath and will answer to the ultimate authority. No penalty man can inflict on them, no discussion by the clerics, laity or non believes will matter at all, if guilty, they will burn in Hell for eternity unless they have a full and complete confession with sincerity in their hearts.

  7. In modern societies with no focal point of morality outwith personal notions — no perception of sinning against God — we can be sure that indulgent sexual perversion in all its forms has found its way into every nook and crannie, not just the Catholic Church.
    That Church, once widely regarded as the ultimate arbiter and exemplar of good behavior, has now perhaps become something of a salvific whipping-boy for the inescapable feelings of personal guilt coming out of this rampant social moral disorder.
    I’ve hardly doubted most of the accusations against our prelates and others, but feel convinced that Cardinal Pell is an exceptionally fine man, good and holy, and agree very much with other contributers herewith that we should all pray hard through our Blessed Lady that the incontrovertible truth will soon be laid bare in this matter (I believe, given the evidence, that it already has) — and that meantime his Faith will sustain him in some good spirit during his present incarceration.

      • Dear sceptic, there are rarely any witnesses to the abuse of by an authority figure to a minor. The perpetrator acts alone and the victim is alone in the company of the perpetrator. Comments like yours are simply evidence of a closed mind and an insult to all those who have suffered from abuse by the sick priests who have betrayed The Body of Christ in such a devastating manner. Nearly every parish in the western districts of Victoria where I am from has had a pedophile priest at one time during the past 30 years. The number of young boys who have had their childhood stolen is directly due to the criminal leadership of the Bishops and others who clearly knew what was going on. It is so very sad to see comments like yours, devoid of compassion in a forum where compassion should be the hallmark.

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