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People who joined Cardinal Pell ‘pile-on’ guilty of ‘intellectual cowardice,’ says speaker

March 8, 2022 Catholic News Agency 13
March 17, 2016. Cardinal George Pell speaks with CNA at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on March 17, 2016. / null

Sydney, Australia, Mar 8, 2022 / 06:05 am (CNA).

People who took part in a “pile-on” against Cardinal George Pell are refusing to reconsider the case almost two years after the Australian Church leader’s acquittal, a speaker said on Tuesday.

Gerard Henderson, the author of “Cardinal Pell, The Media Pile-on and Collective Guilt,” told an audience in Sydney, Australia, on March 8 that this amounted to “intellectual cowardice” and, in some cases, “censorship.”

He argued that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia’s national broadcaster, and many of the country’s newspapers had overlooked critical accounts of the Pell trial and its coverage by the media.

“In short, members of the Pell pile-on will not engage in any reconsideration of the Pell case. In my view, that’s intellectual cowardice. In certain circumstances, it’s censorship,” he said.

Henderson was one of three speakers at the event “Lessons From the Pell Case – Two Years After the High Court Decision,” organized by the Sydney Institute, a current affairs forum.

Australia’s High Court unanimously overturned Pell’s conviction for five counts of alleged sexual abuse on April 7, 2020. The cardinal was released after more than 13 months of imprisonment and returned to Rome, where he had served as the Vatican’s economy czar.

Monica Doumit, the director of public affairs and engagement of the Archdiocese of Sydney, recalled that she was working for the archdiocese’s communications team when allegations against the cardinal were aired on an Australian television program.

Doumit, a columnist with The Catholic Weekly, a national Catholic newspaper, said that after the broadcast, she spoke over the phone to the cardinal, who was in Rome. As she returned home in the early hours, she received a call from a colleague at Pell’s behest. The caller explained that the cardinal was “really worried” about Doumit and wanted someone to check that she was OK.

“That’s the measure of the man we’re speaking about tonight,” she said. “And the reason I want to tell it is because when I look back on this, that’s actually the most important aspect of this for me, that first and foremost we’re talking about a man who cares deeply about other people.”

Doumit said that, two years on, many questions about the case remain unanswered. But she expressed hope that an ongoing Vatican finance trial would reveal why the Vatican sent more than $2 million to Australia during the Pell trial.

She said that Cardinal Angelo Becciu, one of the defendants, was connected to the transfer of funds from the Vatican to the tech company Neustar in Melbourne.

“So far witnesses at the trial have insisted that the money was sent to the Catholic bishops in Australia for the cardinal’s defense, but it’s demonstrably untrue,” she said. “We know the money went to Neustar.”

She noted that in a recent interview Pell challenged Becciu, who rejects all allegations of wrongdoing, to explain why the funds were transferred.

“Becciu has said he will not answer because to do so would be beneath the dignity of cardinals,” she said.

The third speaker, Father Frank Brennan, S.J., the author of “Observations on The Pell Proceedings,” described the proceedings against Pell as a “farce.”

Brennan, a human rights lawyer, said: “When we go with the mob with the highest level of judiciary, we forfeit the rule of law. That’s why the High Court majority, seven to nil, was so essential to restore the rule of law, for the good of bonafide complainants, for the good of victims, and for the good of citizens including those like Citizen Pell.”

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