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The Pell case: Developments down under

What is the relationship between the local Get Pell gang and those with much to lose from his efforts to clean up the Vatican’s finances?

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

In three weeks, a panel of senior judges will hear Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unjust verdict rendered against him at his retrial in March, when he was convicted of “historical sexual abuse.” That conviction did not come close to meeting the criterion of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is fundamental to criminal law in any rightly-ordered society. The prosecution offered no corroborating evidence sustaining the complainant’s charge. The defense demolished the prosecution’s case, as witness after witness testified that the alleged abuse simply could not have happened under the circumstances charged — in a busy cathedral after Mass, in a secured space.

Yet the jury, which may have ignored instructions from the trial judge as to how evidence should be construed, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty. At the cardinal’s sentencing, the trial judge never once said that he agreed with the jury’s verdict; he did say, multiple times, that he was simply doing what the law required him to do. Cardinal Pell’s appeal will be just as devastating to the prosecution’s case as was his defense at both his first trial (which ended with a hung jury, believed to have favored acquittal) and the retrial. What friends of the cardinal, friends of Australia, and friends of justice must hope is that the appellate judges will get right what the retrial jury manifestly got wrong.

That will not be easy, for the appellate judges will have been subjected to the same public and media hysteria over Cardinal Pell that was indisputably a factor in his conviction on charges demonstrated to be, literally, incredible. Those appellate judges will also know, however, that the reputation of the Australian criminal justice system is at stake in this appeal. And it may be hoped that those judges will display the courage and grit in the face of incoming fire that the rest of the Anglosphere has associated with “Australia” since the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

In jail for two months now, the cardinal has displayed a remarkable equanimity and good cheer that can only come from a clear conscience. The Melbourne Assessment Prison allows its distinguished prisoner few visitors, beyond his legal team; but those who have gone to the prison intending to cheer up a friend have, in correspondence with me, testified to having found themselves cheered and consoled by Cardinal Pell — a man whose spiritual life was deeply influenced by the examples of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More during Henry VIII’s persecution of the Church in 16th-century England. The impact of over a half-century of reflection on those epic figures is now being displayed to Cardinal Pell’s visitors and jailers, during what he describes as his extended “retreat.”

Around the world, and in Australia itself, calmer spirits than those baying for George Pell’s blood (and behaving precisely like the deranged French bigots who cheered when the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus was condemned to a living death on Devil’s Island) have surfaced new oddities — to put it gently — surrounding the Pell Case.

How is it, for example, that the complainant’s description of the sexual assault he alleges Cardinal Pell committed bears a striking resemblance — to put it gently, again — to an incident of clerical sexual abuse described in Rolling Stone in 2011? How is it that edited transcripts of a post-conviction phone conversation between the cardinal and his cathedral master of ceremonies (who had testified to the sheer physical impossibility of the charges against Pell being true) got into the hands (and thence into the newspaper writing) of a reporter with a history of anti-Pell bias and polemic? What is the web of relationships among the virulently anti-Pell sectors of the Australian media, the police in the state of Victoria, and senior Australian political figures with longstanding grievances against the politically incorrect George Pell? What is the relationship between the local Get Pell gang and those with much to lose from his efforts to clean up the Vatican’s finances?

And what is the state of serious investigative journalism in Australia, when these matters are only investigated by small-circulation journals and independent researchers?

An “unsafe” verdict in Australia is one a jury could not rationally have reached. Friends of truth must hope that the appellate judges, tuning out the mob, will begin to restore safety and rationality to public life Down Under in June.

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About George Weigel 468 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 Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


    • Have their been any public calls for prayer from Pope Francis for Cardinal Pell?
      Exactly! Pell has been left on his own with Francis and the Vatican saying they have confidence in the Australian judicial system. Why is Francis afraid to stand by Pell! Is this just like bishops who abandon priests? Guilty or not.

      I am not a “conspiratist” however, we must follow the money. Pell obviously has enemies in the secular world of Australia; fuethermore, sadly, he has been abandoned by those prelates who are in bed with that secular world.

  1. From the article — “…the cardinal has displayed a remarkable equanimity and good cheer that can only come from a clear conscience.”

    That seems to be a conclusion rooted in opinion rather than in fact. Such ‘equanimity and cheer’ could also be from an amoral or immoral character trait that denies the wrongness of the act rather than the act itself.

    • Or such equanimity could come from the fact that he knows he is guiltless and must suffer this for the sake of Christ.

      The ones who deny the wrongness of the act, the ones who pervert the truth are the ones in hegemony now in society – the LGBT and its Marxist cohorts

    • Jake: You would have a marginally legitimate point if not for the actual evidence (facts) of the case which demonstrates to all rational minded people that the immoral act/s could not have been committed by Cardinal Pell as alleged.

      And if you truly favor facts, you must favor a complete exoneration of Cardinal Pell based on the objective facts alone. If you wish to persecute Cardinal Pell without the objective facts, not only is that merely opinion on your part, it is purposely uninformed opinion in order to pursue a great injustice.

    • Fully agree with you Jake. In outside life his arrogance was clear for all to see and his contempt for the little man was barely concealed. Any religious person who has witnessed a boy being sodomized by another and refuses to do anything about it, is as guilty as the perpetrator. Why was his diocese paying fees for private boarding school tuition for a number of students? This man was never got for purpose.

  2. Unlike Hollywood justice in too many instances comes after the accused has past on. I have zero faith in the Victoria legal system.

  3. This man is innocent and MUST be freed! So many guilty are free yet this good man is behind bars? This is insanity! Where’s the proof of his wrong doing? There is none! Christ was condemned by lies and Cardinal Pell suffers the same kind of condemnation with no proof of wrong doing!

    • The prejudice and undisguised glee at the Cardinal’s conviction shown by the media after their relentless and biased coverage, together with the vitriol and hatred shown by victims groups and members of the public have forever ruined this good priest’s reputation, after a long and faithful life of service in the church . Even if his appeal is successful, many will remain convinced of his guilt. Even most of his brother priests have failed him, there have been no calls for prayer support from any pulpit that I’ve heard of -too afraid of public criticism. I hope those bearing false witness against the Lord’s anointed receive what is their due.

  4. Cardinal Pell is a Prelate of great integrity and great humility who views his incarceration whilst awaiting trial as a prolonged Retreat. God bless you your Eminence so innocent of such vicious attack. St John Fisher and St Thomas More please accompany this servant of God in his trials.

  5. The wierdness of the trial goes beyond what George Weigel has said. Close study of paragraph 26 of the judge’s sentencing remarks, freely available on the web, will show that Charges 3 and 4 of the five charges on which Cardinal Pell has been ‘convicted’ require him to have three hands. Charge 3 involves Pell’s supposedly doing something to the so-called victim with his hands, plural. The next sentence opens ‘While you were doing this’ (i.e. with the hands, plural’), you (Pell) began to do something to yourself with ‘your other hand’! Kafka meets Monty Python? If that is the best the Victorian justice (or should that be ‘justice’?) system can do, the case should be laughed out of court.

  6. The legal saga will continue as the apex court, the High Court of Australia – the same lot who forced opened the unconstitutional redefinition of marriage in Australia in an act of constitutional treason and, sadly, supported by a numb skull parliament and negligent Governor General (whose primary duty is to protect the Constitution and keep it safe when the other arms of the tripartite system the Parliament and Judiciary run amok) has – by virtue of a protagonist Victorian State Director Of Public Prosecutions, a supportive or lazy Attorney General(?) who has bee running appeals against their own State judiciary and the HCA has recently been over turning similar appeals decisions from the apex State Appeals Courts.

    That all said, the HCA has called out the same Victorian Police and DPP on their legal practices –

    Law in Victoria make the US Wild West model practitioners of Magna Carta principles…

  7. I ask myself who is George Weigel with respect to the following thoughts i have recently written:

    The Church, the people of God, the followers of Jesus,
    need to follow Jesus before, above and beyond
    any social and political construct.
    Therefore we must continually ask ourselves these questions:
    Who is Jesus?
    What is his character?
    What are his priorities, principals and values?
    How would he do life?
    Then we must endeavour to apply the answers to these questions
    in all aspects of our daily lives.

    Our primary task as The Church, the people of God, the followers of Jesus,
    is not to tell those who do not believe,
    how they should live
    and under what laws they should live.
    Rather it is for us to live first and foremost in the
    character and example of Jesus.

    If we live primarily in a manner contrary
    then despite the labels and names we use for our selfs,
    our organisations and our Churches
    We can not be authentically following Jesus
    Instead we are misrepresenting
    who he is…
    what his character is…
    and what his priorities, principals and values are.

    Chris Hallam.

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