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Cdl. George Pell.CBS News / YouTube

September 3, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — As I have written before, the conviction of Cardinal Georgy Pell, despite being upheld on appeal, is difficult to understand. On the one hand, as Pell’s legal team painstakingly explained, it was essentially impossible for Pell to have abused two choristers (as alleged) in a sacristy, while still vested, without anyone noticing, at a time when he would actually have been outside the front of the cathedral talking to Mass-goers. On the other hand, the only evidence against him is the word of one accuser; the other alleged victim denied that the abuse took place.

However the jury and two court of appeal came to their decisions, doubts will continue to be voiced, especially in light of the carefully argued dissenting opinion by one of the appeal-court judges.

In England we have been through the whole range of emotions about the credibility of alleged victims of sexual abuse, particularly in the context of the alleged ‘VIP pedophile ring’. The accuser, whose testimony was prematurely described by the police as ‘credible and true’, is now beginning a prison sentence of 18 years for perverting the course of justice. (He has appealed.)

A parallel case arose in the context of the late George Bell, an Anglican Bishop of Chichester. Bell’s posthumous reputation was destroyed by a single accuser who was paid compensation by the Church of England. Bell’s supporters demanded an investigation into the matter, and reports commissioned by the Church of England have cast doubt on the credibility of the accusations.

‘Believing the victim’ sounds attractive, until you realize that until matters are investigated, and ideally tested in court, it is impossible to say who the victim is. It is facile to talk of ‘striking a balance’ between accusers and the accused. What is needed, instead, is a degree of moral seriousness about these cases, which has not always been on display.

Terrible cases of abuse have not been promptly or properly investigated because of concerns about damaging race relations. Again, the local prominence of an abuser has stifled investigations. In the cases noted earlier, it was political or public relations concerns which led to accusations being investigated, and even individuals condemned, without sufficient scrutiny. The problem in all cases is that a concern for justice is being brushed aside by a concern about human respect, public opinion, and emotions. Past failures in one direction lead to new failures in the opposite direction, because instead of coming to see the moral seriousness of these cases, those in authority were too concerned about looking good in the newspapers.

It is not a question of being harsh or lenient. It is a question of being genuinely open to the truth, however painful that might prove to be.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.