Pell—For the Record

A COUPLE OF COMMENTS have not made it through the combox moderation process. They take me to task for defending such a “vile creature”, for serving to “perpetuate the silence”, asking “why does the church at least try to stop it [sic]”, as well as “blind support of a convicted pedophile” and asserting that “the suffering of the victims seems to be of little interest to the Church.”

I give such comments little time as they exhibit such profound ignorance that it seems reasonable to conclude these are people who want only to sound off, not to listen, and certainly not to try to learn the facts. You would have to be in a coma not to know that the Catholic Church has been so obsessed with safeguarding that it often errs on the side of the complainant and priestly ministries have been destroyed on the flimsiest of evidence on some occasions. The Church is not as centrally run as the uninformed seem to think, so some parts of the Church differ from others, to be sure. But even secular observers now conclude that a Catholic church is, statistically, a safer place for children than the family home.

Silence about child abuse? It is impossible to take such a charge seriously.

Blind support of a convicted pedophile? Well, if he had read the blogs and articles and the vast array of coverage even in secular media, the charge of ‘blind’ support would be found absurd. Convictions are not infallible acts; many innocent people have been convicted of crimes they did not commit. It should be obvious that I, among many others even outside the Church, do not believe Pell committed these crimes. Therefore I do not see him as vile. Since I believe he is innocent I feel obliged to support his cause. You may disagree with me, think me even a fool, but it is itself vile to accuse me and other believers of Pell’s innocence of being party to a cover-up, of not taking the abuse crisis seriously or any other form of bad faith. It is ignorant.

As to the alleged victim, there is a grey area here. Since I do not believe Pell abused him (and since the other alleged victim for whom Pell was charged asserted that he had not been abused by Pell) then I do not believe this person was a victim of Pell. Archbishop Comensoli has allowed that the complainant may be have been abused by someone else whom the complainant has mistaken for Pell. If that is the case then he deserves full support and the real justice of the actual offender being identified and prosecuted.

However, given the evidence as presented, there is no way that Cardinal Pell could have committed the offences of which he has been convicted in the way he is alleged to have committed them. It does not add up. What does add up is that the toxic atmosphere that built up against Pell, especially with the Victoria Police fishing for anything they could get on Pell even without a single complaint or allegation being made, and especially with Louis Milligan’s poisonous book—all this made it almost impossible that Pell could get a fair trial in Victoria. As has been shown, in fact.

Those who blindly assert that Pell must be guilty simply because a jury has said so and because the media say so would do well to read around and beyond their own small radius of news and information. They would do well to read Justice Weinberg’s dissenting judgment. (Is he, too, blindly supporting a vile predator?) Those who are convinced of Pell’s guilt, for sound reasons or for poor ones, should have no fear of an appeal to the High Court. If his conviction is safe then the High Court would hardly overturn the decision. If his conviction is unsafe, then everybody wins if it is overturned. When justice fails so blatantly for one, then it could more easily fail for those who have no profile and no wide support—the little guy, who always gets trodden on when things go awry.

The Church continually prays for victims of abuse as well as paying compensation and providing other support, is highly active in ensuring people with such tendencies are not admitted to seminaries or religious orders, and deals robustly with even the merest hint of suspicion. There will be failures since no system is perfect, but the Church’s systems in the areas where I have lived and worked are very robust indeed and the risk of such failures is vastly reduced. But of course, if one is informed only by a biased press, limited reading and the content of headlines or 30-second items on news’ bulletins, then one would never know this.

Besides it is much easier to bash the Church. Hypocrisy found in it makes it easier to ignore the hypocrisy often found in state institutions, and in the family home indeed. Or even more disturbingly, in ourselves.

Victims are best served by true justice not the injustice meted out by lynch mobs, real and metaphorical. So let’s pray and work for justice, even when it hurts.

Pell and the Failure to Testify

I write this in haste, on a train using a phone. Not ideal. But here goes…

A number of people are raising the reasonable question of why Cardinal Pell did not take the stand at his trial to testify in his own defence. Some, not all, suspect that his failure to do so implies he might be guilty, or that it makes him look guilty.

A few considerations might guide our assessment of the failure of Cardinal Pell to testify.

The trial was essentially one man’s word against another’s. A good defence barrister would want to focus on other evidence.

If Pell had taken the stand, it might have looked as if it were a contest between a powerful man of high reputation against a small victim. It would not be a good look in the current climate.

Moreover, it is known that before the trial the defence team thought it would not even reach the stage of jury deliberation; the evidence should collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.

Given that view, why put the defendant on the stand, especially given the fact that a good prosecutor could possibly get the defendant to say something that could be construed in a way damaging to his defence? One false step, once made, cannot be taken back nor can the impression made on the jury. For example, occasionally a judge will direct a jury to ignore a piece of evidence or a segment of testimony. That is, psychologically speaking, almost impossible. While the jury may not use such evidence to inform their verdict, they cannot easily banish the impression that evidence may have made on them. Thus, it is better to avoid the risk if possible.

Some argue that Pell should have insisted, that an innocent man would want to declare his innocence. Yet, his innocence is technically, supposedly, presumed. It did not need to be asserted. It is the datum that must be disproved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution, not a claim to be proved by the defence.

Moreover, due to the kind donations of others, a professional of high repute, a Queen’s Counsel no less, was retained to conduct the cardinal’s defence. In light of the above, he clearly would have advised Pell not to risk taking the stand and being bamboozled by a clever prosecutor. It would have been brave, even arrogant, to disregard the advice of the professional for whose services others were paying.

Mr Richter QC made a correct assessment of the objective worth of the evidence against Pell. He made a serious mistake in disregarding the subjective effect of the jury having heard only the complainant’s testimony. Perhaps he was too sure of himself. But this is 20/20 hindsight, and rather too late now.

Mr Justice Weinberg QC provides considerable grounds for considering Pell’s conviction unsafe. The cardinal must appeal to the High Court in Canberra. He busy do this not only for his own sake, but for the sake of all clergy. If this conviction stands, no priest is safe.

#prayersforpell

#prayersforpell

IN A LITTLE OVER 24 HOURS we should know the outcome of Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction for child abuse by a jury in the Victorian County Court. It need hardly be said to anyone who has followed the course of the legal action against him that the evidence adduced against him seemed entirely incapable of sustaining a conviction. Yet it did, but only after an earlier trial was unable to convict him on the same charges. A second trial covering separate allegations collapsed. This is neither the time nor the place to examine the extent and the causes of the toxic atmosphere that had been created prior to the trial and which arguably made it impossible for an unprejudiced jury to be empanelled.

His tenures as archbishop in both Melbourne and Sydney were controversial and a significant section of the Church in Australia found him doctrinally too robust and heavy-handed in authority. Even so many of those who have held such an opinion of him are incredulous at the jury’s verdict, as are many secular commentators. Pell earned widespread respect for his attempts to reform the complex financial webs of the Vatican curia; all of his reforms have been undone or undermined.

For now we can only pray for him; he endures a particularly harsh form of imprisonment in remand—in solitary confinement, restricted access to visitors, denied the consolation of offering Mass.

All who support him and all who do not—all who think him innocent and all who do not—should surely be able to unite in a common prayer: that justice be done on Wednesday. If this conviction stands on such grossly inadequate evidence then, quite apart from the cardinal’s personal suffering and cross, there is another ugly corollary with an effect beyond his own person: if one of the most powerful cardinals in the Church can brought down by false allegations, no priest is safe.

May the Lord be gracious in his justice to those who are falsely accused, and merciful to those whose mouths utter lies. May he be swift to vindicate the innocent, and slow to punish those by whom the innocent fall.

**update here**

Lenten Almsgiving: an Option

THE THREE ANCIENT mainstays of Lenten observance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Needless to say there is a dizzying array of worthy objects of your almsgiving attention. Some are more obvious than others; some suffer for their lack of, for want of a better phrase, instant gratification.

One of the less obvious objects for almsgiving is a religious house or order. It used not to be so. Monasteries and convents used to be a standard target for benefactions, often to support a liturgical devotion for which monasteries were particularly well suited. The Reformation struck a grievous blow to that wholesome, if occasionally abused, tradition. Secularisation of western society has landed a second blow. Benefactions, legacies and donations are just not as common as they used to be.

In the midst of the gloom the monastic life is giving off small and tender new shoots. New foundations are springing up that seek to reinvigorate the monastic vine. The Benedictine life is far from dead. Some will fail; this is an historical reality. Some others will prosper: taking the right approach at the right time in the right place. Continue reading “Lenten Almsgiving: an Option”

A worthy cause

Most monasteries feel short of money. Mine has been running at an annual deficit for some years but life is far from desperate. That said, there are things we need to be doing or fixing that we cannot now do due to the limitations on our funds. One huge advantage we have is that our property is an asset that can secure us loans when we need them.

So when a monastery is both short of money and living in a house not its own, the danger is compounded. It is hard to practise the Benedictine vow of stability when it is quite possible to be evicted from the place in which one’s stability is rooted.

So please spare a thought for the brethren at the recently-founded monastery of Silverstream, in County Meath in Ireland. Fr Mark maintains the edifying and insightful blog Vultus Christi, and the brethren focus on the worthy celebration of the liturgy in its monastic integrity, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and providing hospitality particularly to priests in a country which largely holds its clergy in low esteem at present. Silverstream has a flourishing community of external oblates, but more imnportantly it has new recruits who need to be formed and housed in security.

Silverstream Priory

The brethren at Silverstream do not own their monastery, but they would like to buy it. Every year that they cannot make the purchase sees 12.5% added to the asking price of the monastery. So in the last few days Fr Mark and his brethren have appealed for help to buy their house. Amazingly, in short time someone stumped up €100,000. That is about 15% of what they need to make an outright purchase.

If you have some money that cries out to be directed to the glory of God, or you know someone else who has, please consider a donation to Silverstream. Fr Mark gives guidance on how to donate in a tax-effective way for those in the UK, the EU and the USA.

Just st St Joseph provided for our Lord and our Lady, so too should the Church provide for those who serve it in the least economically-profitable but most spiritually-profitable way. Such monks are the heart of the Church which prays without ceasing for a world that so much needs God’s grace, and yet is so oblivious to it. Please help them in even a small way, if you can.

Pax.

The brethren on a community walk