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 Steve Jalsevac / LifeSite

MELBOURNE, Australia, July 14, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — We wish we could tell you in detail about the charges Cardinal Pell will answer when he appears in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 26, but we can’t. We don’t know what they are. We don’t even know who knows what they are. We read that they involve “multiple historic sex offenses” in the Australian state of Victoria, but against whom? And when? And where in Victoria?   

The very prominent Australian Cardinal has vehemently denied that he is guilty of any wrong doing and stated that he is looking forward to his day in court to finally clear his name. 

Cardinal Pell has faced opposition in Australia for decades, both for his handling of child sex-abuse cases and for his defense of the Catholic faith. Once upon a time, he was hailed as a national treasure: He received Australia’s Centenary Medal and made a Companion of the Order of Australia. But as increasing numbers of Catholic Australians have ceased to practice their faith, Pell has become a scapegoat, a symbol of the supposed hard-heartedness of those who still teach the doctrine of the Church on life issues, sexuality, and marriage. Now, as Julia Yost wryly observes in First Things, “his critics strain to establish his responsibility for crimes in which he played no part.”

Take, for example, crimes that took place in the city of Ballarat, Australia, in the 1970s and the early 1980s. Pell has been criticized both for not having done anything about, and for not having known enough about, clerical sexual abuse in Ballarat at that time. However, in the 1970s, Pell had no authority over clergy in Ballarat or anywhere else. Until 1981, he served only as an assistant parish priest. He did not become a bishop until 1987, and even then he had a difficult relationship with the man in charge, the very liberal Archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little. In 1993, within four months of becoming the decidedly conservative Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell green-lighted an independent investigation of clerical sex misconduct claims. In short, as soon as Pell was in charge, something was done and knowledge was sought.

The first allegation that Pell was himself an abuser was made in 2002 by a career criminal who alleged that, as a seminarian, Pell had abused him at an altar boys’ camp in 1961. Phil Scott claimed that Pell had touched him inappropriately but always in the presence of other boys “seemingly oblivious” to the alleged groping. After an inquiry, a judge dismissed the complaint.

Phil John Scott had amassed 39 criminal convictions from about 20 court appearance. Most of his convictions between 1969 and 1975 involved drunk-driving or assaults. In 1982 he was convicted twice for dishonest practices in gambling, for which he was again convicted in 1986. In 1984 he was fined twice for refusing to cooperate with officials investigating his profits from illegal bookmaking activities. In 1995 he pleaded guilty to three counts of trafficking in amphetamines and was sentenced to 3 years and nine months in jail. In addition to this, he had been charged with evading taxes. It is perhaps safe to conclude that he was not an honest man.

A second allegation was made in 2015 by two lifelong friends, Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan. Monument and Dignan are also convicted criminals. Media-accountability site notes that Lyndon Monument is a drug user who served almost a year for a violent assault on a man and a woman “over a drug debt.” Damian Dignan is an alcoholic with criminal convictions for assault and drunk-driving.

Monument and Dignan claim that Pell abused them at a busy public swimming pool at Ballarat in the Australian summer of 1978-79. Pell allegedly did this while playing a game in which he put his hands under their feet to propel them out of the water. Monument has told interviewers that Pell put his hand (or hands) down the boys’ bathing suits during this game. In her blistering critique, Yost observes that Monument’s and Dignan’s descriptions of the alleged abuse seem very unlikely if not physically impossible.

Nevertheless, these and other allegations are the subject of a book by Australian journalist Louise Milligan. An ex-Catholic, Milligan laces Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell with her own sad feelings about Catholicism, including being hit with a shoe by her Catholic mother. “Whenever she can,” notes Yost, “Milligan associates Catholicism with the victimization of children.”

Milligan’s book was released May 14 and removed from Melbourne shelves when Cardinal Pell was charged June 29. It seems unlikely, though, that this measure was insufficient to secure Pell a fair trial. After 15 years of mud-slinging, it may be a case of too little, too late. One thing for certain: If Cardinal Pell is put on trial, the Australian judicial system will be on trial with him.

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Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and has contributed to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.