Cardinal Pell’s Appeal

LAST WEEK THE DUE DATE PASSED for the last submissions to the High Court of Australia with regard to Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction for sexual assault. Next month the High Court, the Commonwealth’s highest court which can hear appeals from state supreme courts as in Pell’s case, will hear his appeal.

No one doubts the fact that clerical sexual abuse and misconduct has been more widespread than had been previously assumed, insofar as it was even envisaged at all. What has aggravated the matter has been the number of cases in which ecclesiastical authorities have mishandled cases when they have become known. Some bishops and religious superiors in earlier days acted in a combination of ignorance of the effect that sexual abuse has on minors, whose youth magnifies the trauma not least because they have precious little of the psycho-emotional equipment needed to deal with it healthily, and a naive optimism that either a change of scene or professional therapy would set things to right. We know better now.

Other bishops and religious superiors have acted far more cynically. Revelations of such cynicism and duplicity are emerging most clearly from the United States. While the more egregious examples have led to the downfall of the prelates concerned, that is certainly not universally so. Some prelates seem teflon coated, others seems able to ride out the storms of revelations with gritted teeth but little more than that.

None of this justifies or excuses injustice. Not every complainant is telling the truth. Carl Beech, who made widespread accusations against British establishment figures, is the most glaring and obvious example. There are others. There is a sound and laudable desire to ensure that the process for securing justice is as little traumatic as possible for victims. The legal process can be daunting, as can the adversarial style of criminal trials, and many authentic victims could easily be cowed by this process. Nevertheless, the process—its imperfections not denied—is designed to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Thus the burden of proof is to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The principle once invoked was that it were better the guilty go free than the innocent be condemned. Justice is a two-way street, and the traffic flow can be complex and difficult to manage.

All that said, no reasonable person I have spoken to and who is sufficiently familiar with the case, as also many non-Catholic commentators in print, can be satisfied that Cardinal Pell’s guilt was established beyond reasonable doubt. No comment is here being made about the complainant; it is the judicial process in question here. It has been seen to be glaringly deficient in the state of Victoria. Pell has been a combative cleric, standing against the tide of secular fashions to assert traditional Catholic teaching. In a highly, often militantly, secular country like Australia such a stance made him enemies. It should be no surprise that many were happy to believe the worst of Pell when, finally, some mud was thrown at him. It is easy for us to accept easily as true anything said against those we abhor. It is very telling that the Victorian Police began actively investigating Pell in 2013, before any complaint had been received by them. They went fishing. Some would argue that fish were subsequently added to the pond to ensure a catch.

So, I am not writing really as an advocate of Cardinal Pell personally, whose virtues and courage I respect and whose less winning qualities I acknowledge. However, if he is a victim of injustice, as the evidence as presented demonstrates clearly enough to me, then he deserves justice, however late it is in coming. Yet this about more than Pell. The successful prosecution of a cardinal constitutes a blow against the Church and its mission, all the stronger because it is unjust. Time may reveal a silver lining to this cloud; the Church has always prospered spiritually under persecution. That is the macro level; on the micro level there are individuals who have a right to justice, not just for their own sake but for the rest of the flock. If they can get a cardinal on such glaringly inadequate evidence, no cleric is safe.

Complainants deserve justice too, naturally. However, a deficient judicial system might gain them a victory but it will fail to retain the lustre of justice under scrutiny. I would have thought that an authentic victim would want the perpetrator convicted without any taint attaching to the process. They deserve impeccable justice, not victory by any means. Victory and justice are not synonymous, as history is witness.

So do read two articles pushing no Catholic barrow which will prepare you well for the High Court’s deliberations, revealing the issues involved and the grave doubts surrounding the conviction of Cardinal Pell. The verdict will not please everyone; that, alas, is inevitable. But it must be just; and we would argue, it must please God, the final and supreme judge whose justice no one will avoid.

The first article is an excellent, dispassionate analysis of the conviction and the issues arising from it. It is by RJ Smith, a young Paris-based academic writing at Quillette. His own website, Polite, is a refreshing find; I might not necessarily always agree with him but he argues soundly and is, as his website title suggests, non-polemical.

The second article is by Chris Friel, a mathematician in Cardiff, who has made forensic and damning investigations not only of Pell’s trial and appeal, but of issues in the background to it, on his Academia page. The article I am proposing to you, at Big News Network, offers some interesting links and references at the end if you feel so inclined to follow them.

I cannot help thinking that the verdict of the High Court will be a watershed moment for Australia whichever way it goes.

Pax.

6 thoughts on “Cardinal Pell’s Appeal

  1. A fine commentary Fr Hugh, fair and objective at the same time recognising the atrocious crimes that have been committed and covered up to this day…especially in the USA. We can only hope and pray Cardinal Pell will finally receive a fair trial and the grievous errors of the first two trials corrected.

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  2. Please God our Cardinal will be exonerated soon without any of the vindictiveness which we witnessed previously. The Holy See is fully occupied dealing with current issues and any hidden animosity from that department should hardly be a concern this time.

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  3. Reverend and Dear Father, The article ultimately gets to a sound conclusion. However, the endless repetition of the recital of the way things have happened generally and how one does not approve, and how victims have suffered has become grossly overdone. Everyone knows that the level of abuse rose to equal that of the general community -which the Governments do NOT wish to investigate – they will not even investigate Government-owned Institutions and Schools – THE UNIONS WOULD NOT HAVE IT! It is not necessary for someone of your standing to repeat the tiresome mantras demonstrating purity of heart. The time for the Church to stand up, having apologised for o’er and o’er, and objectively show the late Gillard Royal Commission as the political hit job it was intended to be and was guaranteed to be by its staffing and methodology. The great Archbishop Chaput stood in strength backed by a top Legal Firm’s analysis of the PennsylvaniiaAttornety General’s similar hit job. He showed it up for the fraud it was. To slavishly accept the attacks of our enemies because we are in part at fault is to support A SERIES OF LIES – supporting the image in the public mind that every Catholic Priest is a pedophile. We Catholics MUST fight back to do justice to the Church and to God. This can be done without giving justifiable “offence” to real victims. We are facing an industry of Lawyers and Advocacy groups growing fat on the contributions of Catholics of generations past.

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    1. I’m not going to enter into a debate on this point to which you object. But a statement of intent is not out of place.

      Like you, I’m no fan of the constant need to be apologizing. However, of the failure to do so merely gives critics bearing ill-will, poor knowledge of the issues or an uncritical acceptance of the prevailing animus towards the Church, a stick with which to beat the author and so ignore or undermine his argument, then add a matter of sheer rhetorical necessity, one must accommodate to some degree. I want my argument to be heard not to be quickly dismissed as being from “another, like the rest, who is downplaying the gravity of clerical abuse”, or similar.

      Moreover, when you write you do so as a private individual. When I do so, inevitably I will be read as representing in some official capacity, however limited, the Catholic Church. I must not undermine her attempts to deal with the crisis by a petulant and unnecessary refusal to speak the language of those I would like to hear me, and the hear the Church.

      One only need look at the revelations about the US bishops in recent months to see that the crisis has not passed, and had not been resolved at every level. The presbyterate has been through the purgatorial fire; now it seems to be the turn of the episcopate.

      Pax.

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