Cardinal George Pell is a convicted child abuser. He is facing additional court cases for other allegations of abusing minors. And there are many other accusations with probably will never be tried. So it is unconscionable for Catholics who are concerned about the abuse of children to rush to Pell’s defense.
After so many years of discussion about the Church’s abuse crisis, so many Catholic clergy and laity speaking out, saying change is needed, so many persons complaining that McCarrick should have been removed sooner, despite being a Cardinal, here is where we are at: many conservative Catholics are defending Cardinal Pell, despite many different accusations against him spanning decades. Is it only liberal who abuse children? Ever heard of The Legion of Christ? The leader of that very conservative organization was a child abuser. It is entirely possible that the conservative Cardinal Pell abused children, especially when he was younger. See these articles:
* Church knew Pell was at centre of decades-old lurid sex claims
* George Pell, Catholic cardinal, charged with historical sexual assault offences
Maybe, at some point in his service to the Church, he repented of this behavior. But then again, he is also accused of covering for abusing priests as a Bishop. Even if he repented as some point, he must still be held accountable for past behavior.
Before a trial is held, it is reasonable to say that an accused person might be innocent. Though there are some exceptional cases, like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, where the amount of publicly known evidence is overwhelming. But Pell has a conviction, and other accusations have yet to be tried in a court.
Conservatives should not be defending Pell just because he is conservative. We can’t each stand in judgment over every case. We have not sat on that jury. We have not heard the testimony. We should trust the legal system, and if someone is convicted, then they need to do jail time. There are more than just two alleged victims of Pell’s sins. Many accusations have been made against him. But child abuse from many years ago is difficult to prove. So it is also not fair to use the accusations that have been unproven, as if they prove innocence in other cases. There was no trial that determined positively that those other accusations were false.
Pell seems to be a faithful servant of Christ and his Church in recent years. But it is possible that, early in his ministry, he was not so faithful. Therefore, we cannot draw the conclusion that he must be innocent of past accusations, due to current behavior. So it is disturbing to me to see so many conservative Catholics defending Pell, as if conservatives cannot be guilty of this type of grave sin and crime.
Claims in his defense
They say that, in a previous trial, the jury voted 10-2 in his favor. There’s no evidence of that. The jury was hung. The sources saying 10 voted to acquit are anonymous. No one knows what the vote was, except the jury and the judge. And jurors are instructed to keep deliberations strictly secret. They are not permitted to say that 10 voted to acquit. So this trumpeting of a 10-2 not guilty vote is not evidence.
What if the initial vote had been 10-2 to convict Pell. And what if the second trial found him not guilty. Would Pell’s defenders say, he must be guilty due to the 10-2 earlier decision? No, they would be proclaiming his innocence. So this is the result of a bias in Pell’s favor, to rely on anonymous sources claiming a 10-2 not guilty vote, against a conviction in a second trial.
Also, a guilty verdict means the evidence shows guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas a non-guilty verdict only means the charges were not proven beyond that doubt. So a 10-2 vote of not proven beyond doubt should not be treated as proof of his innocence.
They say that the chain of events leading to Pell being alone with choir boys is improbable. For a priest or Bishop who says innumerable Masses, things that are improbable will happen. Priests say thousands of Masses. And children do tend to wander into places where they are not supposed to be, without adults noticing. Also, regarding the alleged events that would need to have occurred, other circumstances could also result in Pell being alone with choir boys. It is easy for the victim to remember being abused, and more difficult for others to remember all the circumstances. I believe the victim.
Pell was initially charged with multiple offenses against multiple complainants. But historical cases of child abuse are difficult to prove, so many of the initial charges were dropped. That does not prove his innocence on those incidents. Just the opposite. Having many different accusers, across many alleged incidents, weighs against Pell.
Suppose that a man is accused of raping a woman. It is often a case of he-said, she-said. Whom should be believe? But when there are multiple accusations of the same type of behavior, this is corroborating evidence. Such is the case with Pell.
“An ex-seminarian known as ‘Joe’ came forward alleging that Pell and several other priests had, 10 to 15 years earlier, been having sex with Mannix College trainee clerics at ‘parties … involving young men’.” [TheAge.com.au]
This is the same type of behavior of which McCarrick was accused. It is a non-uncommon approach used by Cardinals and Bishops who abuse young men — using their authority over seminarians and clerics with less authority than them.
“Helen Last, the counsellor hired by the Catholic Church in Melbourne to assist victims of clerical abuse….”
“Ms. Last says she developed suspicions about Pell very early during her work with the Archdiocese of Melbourne. She heard many stories from victims of clergy sexual abuse in different parishes, especially that Pell knew what was happening and was protecting priests who were abusing children.
” ‘It was alleged to me early that Pell was among a group of offenders from Ballarat to Melbourne. They were part of the Ballarat organised clerical offending, which extended down to Laverton and around Melbourne.’ ” [Ibid.]
The number of accusations against Pell is disturbing. It weighs in support of the court case where he was convicted. A false accusation is usually an isolated accusation. Someone with an impeccable reputation is accused; that would seem to be a false claim. But in Pell’s case, there are many accusations, stretching over decades.
“One of the three men who have claimed Pell touched them improperly in Ballarat swimming pools in the 1970s intends to sue the cardinal for damages, and the other two are expected to give evidence in that case.
The ‘‘swimming pool’’ trial did not go ahead after the judge ruled certain evidence was inadmissible.
Then there is the allegation that Pell fondled a boy at a camp at Phillip Island in 1961. In his 2002 investigation on behalf of the Sydney archdiocese, retired Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell found both the boy, Phil Scott, and Pell to be credible witnesses. He also found the complaint could not be established.
In 2016 Torquay resident Les Tyack went public with allegations he submitted to the royal commission and to the police that he saw Pell expose himself for many minutes to three boys at the local surf lifesaving club in the 1980s.” [Ibid.]
Proving an accusation in court, after many years have passed, is difficult. But from our point of view as Catholics considering whether or not to defend Pell, it does matter. The number of accusations against him, the range of dates when the alleged events occurred, and the repeated findings that the witnesses were credible all weigh against Pell.
“In the pre-trial hearing for the second Pell trial, which was eventually abandoned, the prosecutors outlined claims from a Victorian man who told police that in 1975 or 1976, when he was 10, he slipped off Pell’s shoulders while playing in a lake near Swan Hill and made accidental contact with the priest’s erect penis. Pell was alleged to have told the boy: ‘‘Don’t worry, it’s only natural.’’
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have been told other allegations have been made to the royal commission, but the commission will not release its own findings about Pell until the appeal against his conviction has been heard.” [Ibid.]
Cardinal George Pell is a convicted child molester, one with a large number of other accusations and cases in addition to that conviction. Catholics who are concerned about the child abuse crisis, who have criticized the Pope for not acting sooner against McCarrick, who have specifically called for more action to be taken against “other McCarricks” in the Church, are speaking with severe hypocrisy in defensing Pell. Why defend him with so much evidence, and a conviction, against him? It’s not their evaluation of the evidence in the case. It’s that he is conservative. And that is a foolish reason to support him. Where is the concern for the children? Where is the outrage that a prelate of the Church would abuse his power?
Pope Francis has done more against the child abuse crisis than any Pope in recent history, yet he continues to endure harsh criticism from conservatives for not doing enough. And then they turn around and defend a convicted child molester, claiming that their judgment of the evidence is better than that of the jury in a court of law. Hypocrites!
We cannot substitute our judgment for that of a court of law. Clergy exonerated by due process should be returned to their ministry, and those convicted should be removed and be given whatever other penalty is decided.
And then there are calls for the laity to intervene, and get involved in overseeing the Bishops in their handling of abuse cases. Well, the Pell case is an example of what will happen with excessive involvement of the laity. A priest who is accused and is a favorite of the laity will be given a biased treatment in his favor, just like Pell. That is no solution. The laity are not better at handling these types of cases than the courts or the Bishops.
I worked with abused children for two years, many years ago. We saw over 200 cases of sexual abuse of children and teens. Very seldom are these types of accusations false. And when you have many different accusations of abuse against the same offender, it makes it even less likely that the accusation is false.
I’ve seen this situation before, persons defending a child abuser, who has much evidence against him. One girl disclosed sexual abuse to us, on the child psych unit. The treatment team of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses, and child care workers believed her. But her own psychiatrist did not believe her. He told me that he knows the man whom she accused, and he just didn’t think he was capable of such an act. This happens all the time. The mother of the victim can’t believe it when her own child tells her that the father or stepfather or maternal uncle is the abuser. It is a difficult accusation to believe about someone whom you formerly held in esteem. But child abusers are almost always proficient at living a double life, of abusing children in secret, and then pretending to be good and moral in front of others. Such is the case with all clerics who abuse. They present themselves as believing the teaching of the Church, but they don’t follow that teaching in private.
So I believe the many accusations against Pell. I think the evidence, across many different claims over the course of decades, are believable. They are much like the accusations against McCarrick. Except for one thing, Pell is conservative and McCarrick is liberal.
Cardinal Pell is another McCarrick, and conservatives are defending him.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
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