Image source : Telegraph
By Samantha Loomes
The case of Cardinal George Pell has finally reached its end, after two trials, one hung jury and many months of tirelessly waiting – the outcome of this long trial has finally become public.
On December 11th, 2018, a unanimous decision was reached by the jury to convict Pell. He was found guilty of multiple accounts of sexual abuse including “four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.” The crimes were committed in December 1996 and early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, in Australia, shortly after he was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne.
The jury reached the decision after testimony was given by one of the boys, who is now a grown man well into his 30’s, the witness testimonies saw two people take the stand, one of the victims and the other victims father who testified on behalf of his deceased son. He passed away several years after the attack from a drug overdose.
The victim, who cannot be named due to Australia’s laws around sexual abuse victims, testified that Pell had forced him and his companion into heinous sexual acts in the priest’s sacristy after being caught drinking communion wine at the back of the cathedral after the mass that had occurred that Sunday.
Neither of the statements were released to the media and both witnesses have asked that their privacy be respected. The outcome of the trial was subject to a suppression order and therefore details could not be released to the public until February 26.
He is due to be sentenced next week, March 13 but he was been taken into custody during his plea hearing on February 27 due to the unexpected withdrawal of his bail application by his defence team.
The 77-year-old had been recovering from knee surgery and had been out on bail since the verdict was reached. When Pell arrived at the court for his plea hearing he was immediately dogged by reporters questions and protestors who yelled insults and repeatedly told him to “go to hell”.
Many victims of sexual abuse, particularly ones that had been molested by Catholic church officials listened in on the proceedings, the courtroom was so crowded that people were forced to stand, or take a seat in another room where the hearing was projected onto a screen.
The hearing started off with submissions from the crown prosecutor, Mark Gibson, who labelled the attack on the boys “humiliating and degrading.” He went on to say that it was a “breach of trust” and a complete “abuse of power” by someone who had the duty of caring for the children singing in the choir.
Robert Richter, Pell’s lawyer, argued against these statements vehemently denying them.
However, Judge Kidd told the court that he disagreed with Richter and said at, “The relationship of trust has occurred the minute the boys were dropped off at the church. Every senior member of that church had the responsibility, including Cardinal Pell.”
Richter also faced heavy backlash for his uncouth descriptions of the assault. The statements made enraged protestors and Chrissie Foster, the mother of two daughters raped and molested by a priest, said that the claims made by Richter were “outrageous” and “insulting.”
Pell has been relieved from his position as Vatican treasurer, which is the third most senior position within the Vatican church. The Vatican church also announced that it would launch an internal investigation into the disgraced cardinal.
It is common that an investigation would usually lead to a canonical trial, but due to the evidence and nature of the crime the investigators have the option of forgoing a trial and asking the Pope to defrock Pell immediately if they feel the evidence is compelling enough, the public has already called for Pell to be defrocked. Any decision reached by the Pope is final, and not subject to appeal.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has released a statement saying the conviction had “shocked many across Australia and around the world”, restating its vow to make the Church “a safe place for all”.
The news of Pell’s conviction has not only rocked Australia but the worldwide Catholic community as a whole, due to the fact that just days before the conviction was made public Pope Francis hosted an unprecedented summit in Rome of senior bishops and church figures from around the world, called Protection of Minors in the Church, to discuss the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
Pope Francis repeatedly promised change with talk of zero tolerance, going as far to say that Clergy guilty of abuse were “tools of Satan”. He said victims would now be the priority and promised an end to cover-ups, saying all abusers would be brought to justice.
Pope Francis is under tremendous pressure to eradicate the disease that is sexual abuse as the member of the church slowly start to lose faith in its leaders due to the corrupt nature in which it is ruled.
Upon his election in 2013 he called for “decisive action” on the issue, but the public says he has not done enough to hold to account bishops who allegedly covered up abuse, after all he has previously praised Pell on his honesty about sexual misconduct in the Catholic church, and the friendship between the two is well documented.
The nature of sexual abuse in the Catholic church only came to light in the 1980s, but since then according to a Church-commissioned report, that was released in 2004 over 4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had faced sexual abuse allegations, in cases involving more than 10,000 children – mostly boys.
A five-year Australian inquiry in 2017 found that “tens of thousands of children” were sexually abused in Australia. More recently we have George Pell, and ten days before his conviction Theodore McCarrick, a former Roman Catholic cardinal in the US, was defrocked over claims he sexually assaulted a teenager.
Before them? Thousands and thousands of horror stories have emerged about the Catholic institution.
It is mind-boggling to see how Pope Francis can possibly avoid an immense backlash over the global disaster that is the recurring theme of high ranking church officials being charged with sexual abuse claims. His promises made at the summit have already been weakened and criticized due to recent incidents and the vague nature in which he promised to tackle the issue.
Changing a culture so corrupt and so dominant at all levels of the church is essential but incredibly difficult, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will meet powerful resistance from the people who revel in the toxic nature of the abuse of power in the Church. One can only hope he will make good on his promise and that all evil will be rooted out and destroyed.