Australian George Cardinal Pell has been found guilty in a Melbourne court of sexual abuse of two boys under the age of 16, including oral sex, and is now in prison awaiting sentencing: probably a term of several years. An appeal is being lodged by his legal team.
But is he guilty? Most of the media are certain he is, with some notable exceptions. I believe he is innocent and that the jury should certainly have brought in a verdict of not guilty. There has been a gross miscarriage of justice.
First let us look at the background. Cardinal Pell is one of the most orthodox bishops in the Church and has never hesitated to uphold orthodoxy and denounce error. As Archbishop of Melbourne and later Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney he took firm action against attempts to water down the Faith, as well as upholding the truth about abortion, contraception and homosexual behaviour.
As a result he made numerous enemies, both within the Church and outside. Most of the media dislike him, many people hate him. His enemies have been out to get him for decades, making charges that have been clearly shown to be false.
For example, he was accused of abusing someone at the screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1978 in the Victorian city of Ballarat – six months before the film came there! Also in Ballarat, he was accused of ignoring a complaint made to him about an abusive priest – but his passport showed that he was overseas at the time!
He was initially charged with a large number of sexual offences in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, but these, with two exceptions, were thrown out. The other two matters went to the County Court, and one of these was dismissed for lack of evidence. So after years of investigation by the police, who seemed determined to find something that would stick, what remained for the jury was charges of sexual assault against two choirboys In St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne in 1996.
One of those boys is now dead from an overdose, and apparently never claimed he was assaulted, and the whole case against the Cardinal is the claim by the other former choirboy, now about 35 years old, that they were sexually assaulted.
He claims they were assaulted in the sacristy by the then Archbishop Pell immediately after High Mass celebrated by the Archbishop. The offences continued for several minutes. He says they had left the choir without leave and returned there after the assault.
This scenario seems incredible. In the court proceedings no one could recall the boys either being absent from the choir or returning there afterwards.
It is also hard to believe that no one would have witnessed the offences, because the sacristy would have been a hive of activity at that time. I have been in that sacristy, which is an open area affording no privacy. (I live within a short distance of the Cathedral, and know it well.)
Even if no one had been there or entered while the offences were taking place, it would have been sheer madness on the Cardinal's part to indulge in that behavior for up to ten minutes with the likelihood, to say the least, that someone would enter and see what was going on.
Also, Pell's practice was to leave the Cathedral after Mass and greet people outside; whereas if the complainant's account is true Pell must have entered the sacristy alone. But the master of ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, testified that he was with the Archbishop the whole time.
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