Assigned by The Catholic League's Bill Donohue to assist with its research as his case unfolded, this writer became convinced that Australian Cardinal George Pell, who died Jan. 10 at age 81, was the target of multiple scandalous injustices.
Now, reading Pell's extraordinary three volume "Prison Journal," one cannot help but be deeply touched by his Christ-like humility and steadfast resolve in the face of unrelenting attacks, false accusations of the most heinous sort, wrongful conviction and imprisonment, before he was finally exonerated completely.
Observations on Cardinal Pell’s legal ordeal: the charges against him, the conduct of Australia’s legal authorities, and the venom of his attackers help to shed light on what he endured.
Accusations That He Sexually Abused Minors Lacked Credibility
Most were dropped before trial, and those retained — alleged abuse of two teen-age choir boys in the sacristy of Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral immediately following a jam-packed Sunday Mass in 1996 — were rendered implausible by the setting, the lack of privacy, and the testimony of numerous witnesses as to the Cardinal’s very public whereabouts at the time in question.
One of the choir boys had told his mother, years before he died in 2014, that no such abuse had taken place. And the lone accuser altered details as his original narrative began to unravel.
'Prosecutors' in the Court of Public Opinion Were Flat Out Wrong
Cardinal Pell was the face of the Catholic Church in Australia, and the Catholic Church —while culpable but hardly alone — was being made the face of Australia’s sexual abuse scandal.
That Pell, as Melbourne’s Archbishop in 1996, established one of the earliest and most aggressive responses to clergy sexual abuse, was of no import to those whose agenda was less the protection of children than the discrediting of a man whose "unflinching defense of Catholic teaching on issues like marriage and human sexuality," made him a target of "secularists and social progressives," as Catholic news site The Pillar observes.
'Kangaroo Court' of the Legal Process Was Redefined
The police, without any complaints against Pell, initiated an investigation in 2013; then extended it, with additional funding, two years later, still absent any complaints against Pell.
Why such an open-ended fishing expedition?
According to Catholic News Agency, emails exchanged between senior police officers in Victoria discussed how the Pell investigation could be used to generate headlines that would distract media and public attention away from a major breaking scandal about to engulf the police force.
Here again, it appears another agenda, not the pursuit of justice, was at work.
Pell’s first trial ended in a hung jury, reportedly with a vote of 10-2 for acquittal.
A second trial, convened almost immediately (although Pell’s accuser reportedly did not want it), delivered up the conviction desired by Pell’s persecutors.
Pell’s defense team was not allowed to offer any evidence to impugn the accuser’s credibility, though there was much in his background to sow doubts about his truthfulness.
A Victoria Court of Appeals panel upheld Pell’s conviction by a 2-1 vote. However, in a detailed, 200 page dissent, Justice Mark Weinberg, identified by commentator Andrew Bolt as Australia’s "greatest authority on criminal law," found the guilty verdict "impossible to accept."
"There were inconsistencies, and discrepancies, and a number of his answers simply made no sense," Weinberg wrote of the accuser’s testimony.
Moreover, he noted, the prosecution offered no evidence to corroborate that testimony, nor any refutation of the more than 20 defense witnesses who testified to the implausibility of the accusations.
Australia's High Court Did the Right Thing
Australia’s highest court overturned Pell’s conviction by a unanimous 7-0 vote, stating that any jury "acting rationally" would not have convicted the Cardinal.
Likewise, a public and media "acting rationally" would not have presumed His Eminence guilty solely on the basis of the weak, and easily contradicted, claims of the accuser; the apparently corrupt motives of the Victoria (Australia) police; and the anti-Catholic motives and personal animosity toward Pell of so many of his persecutors.
Following his conviction, media delighted in referring to "the disgraced Cardinal Pell." Do they now refer to "the disgraced Victoria legal system," "the disgraced Victoria police," "the disgraced secular media"?
Of course not; even though all of them were indeed disgraced when the high court thoroughly debunked Pell’s unjust conviction.
His persecutors still do not acknowledge Cardinal Pell’s innocence, because the truth has never been their goal. Destroying this man, the Church he served, and the moral values he defended, was always their real agenda.
(Editor's note: a related Newsmax story may be found here.)
For three decades, Rick Hinshaw has given voice to faith values in the public square, as a columnist, then editor of The Long Island Catholic; communications director for the Catholic League and the New York State Catholic Conference; co-host of "The Catholic Forum," on cable. He is now editor of his own blog, "Reading the Signs." Visit Rick’s home page at rickhinshaw.com. Read Rick Hinshaw's Reports — More Here.
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