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.