Cardinal Pell – acquitted but many want him to be guilty

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Cardinal George Pell in 2012. Credit: Kerry Myers

Cardinal George Pell was released from jail on Tuesday 7th of April after the High Court in Australia acquitted him on five historical child sexual abuse charges. Pell, 78, spent more than 400 days in jail after being convicted by a jury in December 2018.

Upon his release, he said: “What I am really looking forward to is celebrating a private Mass. It has been a very long time, so that is a great blessing. Prayer has been the great source of strength to me throughout these times, including the prayers of others, and I am incredibly grateful to all those people who have prayed for me and helped me during this really challenging time.”

Pell was the most senior Catholic in the world to have been found guilty of historical child sexual abuse. He no longer holds that title. He is, again, in the eyes of the law, an innocent man. As the High Court said on releasing him immediately there was ‘a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted’. Cardinal Pell lost his job. He lost his savings. He lost his good name. He lost his freedom.

He will never get back the 400 days that were mostly spend in solitary confinement. He will not get his job back as he is nearly 80 years old. He may get his good name back on paper, but it is unlikely he will get it back in the public consciousness. That much was clear upon his release, with many who had celebrated his imprisonment, claiming he had not been found innocent, but released on a technicality. That of course is not the case.

The background to the case is one of a witch-hunt. Pell had and has many enemies who dislike him and revile the Church in Australia. For years, Pell has been the face of the Church that has suffered significantly for the child sex abuse scandals that have been of its own making. Pell, as the most senior Australian cleric, has been blamed for much that went wrong even though he was not near the top of the hierarchy at the time.

A week after his release, Cardinal Pell was interviewed by Andrew Bolt on Sky News Australia in an extraordinary discussion which covered the travesty of injustice that was meted out to the Cardinal on the basis of impossible evidence. Many had expressed dismay at how

Credit must be given to Andrew Bolt for his willingness to interview Cardinal Pell and allow him the opportunity to discuss and to share his story. Bolt had previously, repeatedly, questioned the jailing of Pell, to the extent that Sky News, a year ago, removed all advertising from a show where Bolt planned to express his misgivings as they feared a backlash from activists who could not countenance anything other than guilt. “I just can’t accept it, based on what I consider is the overwhelming evidence of this trial,” Bolt said. “And I base that opinion also on how many times Pell has been accused of crimes and sins he clearly did not do. Pell could well be an innocent man who is being made to pay for the sins of his church and made to pay after an astonishing campaign of media vilification.”

Bolt has been one of the few outspoken defenders in the media in Australia, and globally, willing to robustly call the stitch-up what it was – a grotesque miscarriage of justice. Bolt has been proven right while others chose to look the other way but also to target Bolt, himself a non-Christian he says, accused of being a Pell ‘acolyte’ despite only every having met Pell a dozen times. For many, it was a feeding frenzy, where it was not possible to countenance that a cleric could be innocent, or that false accusations against a Catholic could be possible such was the extent of the frenzy whipped up in Australia against the Church.

For Bolt, the Victoria Police and ABC News, who he singles out for engaging in a witch-hunt, all need to be held to account for their role in manipulating the justice system. 26 charges that were brought by the police all collapsed. Many of them ludicrous and more outlandish that the one that was finally quashed. Many came forward based on advertisements placed in newspapers looking for complaints against Pell. As the Cardinal said after Bolt asked him whether the police had an agenda against him himself says, it seems ‘extraordinary’.

Most interesting was how Bolt, after the interview, told how he found the Cardinal to be more at peace than he had ever found him. He referred to the Book of Job, where Job has his faith in the Lord tested, as Pell never wavered in his faith and defends his God throughout the interview.

The equanimity of the Cardinal throughout the interview is clear to all. He bears, as he said on his release “no ill will to my accuser. I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough. The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.”

Even since his release, the Police have had to deal with death threats against the Cardinal. Many still want to believe the worst of George Pell. They want him to be guilty; to be found guilty. Their logic and frame of reference for the world cannot contain the reality of the situation. Their mindset cannot cope. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard took to twitter to comment, not on the verdict she claimed, but to ask ‘Is it worth survivors coming forward to seek justice?’ – with the obvious implication that goes with such a question. Whether guilty or not, it seems that only a guilty verdict is wanted, rather than justice and truth, when a Catholic cleric is in the stand.