Facing sex-abuse charges voluntarily adds more weight to Cdl. Pell’s claim of innocence
August 21, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Australian Cardinal George Pell, as a Vatican official who would have retained diplomatic immunity, did not have to face trial in Australia for sexual abuse of minors but chose to do so to clear his name. The fact that he went on his own free will in an attempt to clear his name adds weight to his constant claim that he is innocent of all charges.
Pell voluntarily returned to Australia in 2017 to defend himself against charges that many consider wrongful prosecution based on anti-Catholic bias, scapegoating, and other personal or political animus.
Two of the three judges of the State Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, ruled against Pell on appeal Wednesday, and the cardinal was returned to prison, where has been held in solitary confinement for more than 170 days - and where he is not allowed to celebrate Mass.
“As a Vatican official possessing diplomatic immunity, Pell could have lived out his final years in Rome, at perfect liberty,” Julia Yost, senior editor of First Things, wrote in June. “He instead returned to Australia to stand trial, like a man confident of his innocence and the integrity of the courts.”
Pell was accused in 2017 of sexually abusing two choirboys after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.
A September 2018 trial ended with a hung jury, and Pell was found guilty of sexual assault in a second trial in December 2018.
In March, he was sentenced from the first trial to six years in prison, with no chance of parole for three years, eight months.
“He is the most prominent Catholic cleric ever to be convicted of such a crime,” Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a statement on the dismissal of Pell’s appeal. “He is also the most unfairly treated Catholic cleric in recent history.”
The case against Pell depended largely on the testimony of one of the two choirboys, Donohue explained. Police investigated the charge and found nothing to support it.
One of the boys died later of a drug overdose, but before he died, he told his mother twice that he was never abused by Pell, Donohue pointed out, questioning why this wasn’t enough to exculpate Pell and enough cause for reasonable doubt.
“In his dissent, (State Supreme Court of Victoria) Justice Mark Weinberg noted that ‘the complainant was inclined to embellish aspects of his account,’" Donohue wrote. “Apparently, his observation got by the other two judges.”
“Make no mistake about it — Cardinal Pell is no Theodore McCarrick,” Donohue stated. “In fact, he is a decent man who has been repeatedly victimized by the courts. The environment in Victoria for Catholics has long been poisoned. Today’s ruling is one more example of it.”
In March 2013, Victoria police set up “Operation Tethering,” the National Catholic Register reported, an investigation targeting Pell before any formal allegations of historical sexual offenses had been made. The investigation turned into an “operation” in April 2015 based upon allegations of “inappropriate behavior” against Pell, but with no accusations of criminal conduct.
In February 2014, Pope Francis appointed Pell the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, the head of Vatican finances, which also made Pell the third highest-ranked figure in the Church.
In December 2014, Pell said his department had found millions of euros in Vatican dicasteries “tucked away,” off balance sheets, including 94 million euros in the Secretariat for State, later followed by the discovery of nearly 1 billion euros in various other dicasteries.
Pell faced significant opposition in his work there and there is speculation that his getting to close to exposing financial scandals within the Holy See totaling millions of euros may have played a part in his being targeted.
Pell took a leave of absence from the Secretariat for the Economy when he went to Australia in mid-2017 to face the charges against him.
Catholic World Report editor Carl Olson wrote in 2017 when the charges first emerged that one of his correspondents had said of Pell:
“The Australian leftist establishment hates him, the gay lobby hate him, the atheists, liberal Catholics and feminist ideologues hold him in contempt and he has taken on the Italian mafia in trying to reform the Vatican’s finances. There is also the issue of freemasonic influence in the Victorian police force.”
In Olson’s report, he also cited a Mercatornet.com article listing additional reasons Pell was reviled by some, including Pell’s blunt leadership style, the fact he was theological conservative, a supporter of the pope -- both Francis and JPII, Pell’s opposition to homosexual activism and same-sex “marriage,” his efforts toward reform in the Australian Church’s sex abuse scandal, other political concerns in Australia, and Pell’s work for Vatican financial reform.
In September 2017, an international financier brought in by Pope Francis to oversee the reforms with Pell claimed he was forced to resign in June 2017 as part of a “frame job” by insiders hostile to the reform.
Former Auditor General Libero Milone also alluded that his ouster was connected to Pell’s departure, indicating it may not have been a coincidence that Pell’s abuse charges, which dated back decades, hadn’t surfaced until the last few years, around the time his efforts at major financial reform inside the Vatican were beginning to create waves.
Milone also attributed his own departure to an attempt to block his investigations into Vatican finances.
In a July 2018 interview with Crux, Milone recollected a discussion he had with Pell before Pell’s departure to Australia to face trial, asking the cardinal why he had not taken advantage of his Vatican immunity.
Milone said Pell had answered, “Libero, you should know that my honor comes before everything else.”
The Vatican announced last December that Francis decided not to renew Pell’s appointment as a member of his advisory council due to “advanced age,” and Pell’s five-year appointment at the Secretariat for the Economy expired in February 2019 and was not renewed.
He remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals.
A Vatican press statement released after Pell’s appeal was rejected Wednesday said the cardinal “has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.”
Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, told reporters Wednesday that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process before taking up Pell’s case.
It is uncertain whether Pell will appeal to the High Court of Australia, and if he does, what chances he would have of prevailing.
Pell’s lawyers have said he will not petition for a shorter sentence.