MELBOURNE, Australia, February 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A number of commentators have denounced Cardinal George Pell’s prosecution and conviction of sexual assault as an anti-Catholic witch hunt instigated by media and police.
Pell was taken to a maximum security prison Wednesday and will be held there under protective custody until his March 13 sentencing on five convictions of sexually abusing minors, reported the Guardian.
The 77-year-old prelate was found guilty by a jury in December of sexual abusing two 13-year-old choir boys some 22 years ago, and could face up to 50 years in jail. His lawyers have filed an appeal they will pursue once Pell is sentenced.
Pell’s first trial ended in a hung jury with 10 of 12 jurors supporting his acquittal.
The Holy See announced Wednesday it will open an investigation into allegations against Pell, who in his former role as Vatican treasurer tasked with cleaning up corruption was regarded as the third most powerful man in the Vatican.
But criticism that Pell was wrongfully convicted has been mounting since Judge Peter Kidd lifted a publication ban Tuesday on the trial.
It’s now revealed Pell was convicted on the testimony of one complainant who alleged Pell, then archbishop of Melbourne, discovered him and another choirboy in the cathedral sacristy drinking sacramental wine after they snuck away from the procession following High Mass on Sunday.
The complainant alleged Pell then orally raped him and sexually molested him and the other chorister, who could not corroborate the story because he died of a heroin overdose in 2014, but not before telling his mother he had never been sexually abused, according to media reports.
The defense argued the story was “fantasy”: the sacristy would have been a “beehive of activity” after High Mass, Pell would never have been alone at any time, nor would he to have been able to manoeuver his cumbersome robes to expose himself as the complainant alleges.
Frank Brennan, an Australian Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer was “surprised” and “devastated” by the verdict.
“The proposition that the offences charged were committed immediately after Mass by a fully robed archbishop in the sacristy with an open door and in full view from the corridor seemed incredible to my mind,” Brennan wrote in The Australian.
Moreover, “witnesses familiar with liturgical vestments had been called who gave compelling evidence that it was impossible to produce an erect penis through a seamless alb,” he noted.
The complainant also changed his story, first claiming Pell “had parted his vestments” then alleging Pell “moved the vestments to the side. An alb secured with a cincture cannot be moved to the side,” wrote Brennan.
Cathedral Master of Ceremonies Monsignor Charles Portelli testified that he remembered accompanying Pell and helping the archbishop robe and disrobe after the Sunday Masses during the time the events allegedly took place, ABC reported.
Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine, Australian columnists for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, denounced the verdict, reported the Guardian.
“I am not a Catholic or even a Christian,” wrote Bolt, but the “overwhelming evidence” is that Pell is innocent. “He is a scapegoat, not a child abuser. In my opinion.”
Devine, a Catholic, says Pell was the fall guy for the “rotten Vatican” and echoes Brennan’s objections, according to the Guardian.
“I don’t believe that Pell, who I know slightly and admire greatly, could be guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys in a busy cathedral after Sunday mass when he was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996,” she wrote.
The Guardian also noted that Greg Craven, vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, likewise decried the verdict in one of two front-page critiques run in Murdoch’s The Australian.
Craven blasted media and police for targeting Pell, pointing particularly to ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s whose 2107 award-winning book on Pell cast the cardinal as a villain.
“They seemed to want him in the dock as an ogre, not a defendant,” wrote Craven.
Pell’s conviction has laid bare the continent’s anti-Catholic bigotry, observed Catholic author George Weigel.
“Anti-Catholicism has been a staple of Australia’s culture for decades. Local media long misrepresented Pell, a Church reformer, as a power-hungry ecclesiastical politician, “ wrote Weigel in the New York Post in December.
Pell “set up Australia’s first process for investigating and compensating claims of clerical sexual abuse” when he was Archbishop of Melbourne, Weigel noted.
“And as archbishop of Sydney, he applied strict protocols to himself, stepping aside until previous spurious abuse charges against him were thoroughly investigated — and dismissed — by a former Australian supreme court justice.”
Weigel also blasted Australia’s justice system.
“How can a crime alleged to have been committed 22 years ago be prosecuted without any corroborating evidence that it occurred?”
EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo also weighed in, tweeting: “Card. Pell is being treated worse than McCarrick ever was. And unlike McCarrick, the case against him is flimsy and the allegations suspicious.”
Card. Pell is being treated worse than McCarrick ever was. And unlike McCarrick, the case against him is flimsy and the allegations suspicious. https://t.co/qpybzrwlgb
— Raymond Arroyo (@RaymondArroyo) February 27, 2019
That Pell was intent on cleaning up alleged corruption in the Vatican when he was charged in July 2017 has not gone unnoticed.
“There is this constant suspicion that the timing (of the charges) was not coincidental and there were some backroom dealings to get him out,” the National Catholic Register’s Vatican reporter Edward Pentin told The Age.
“Most people here don’t believe the verdict,” he said. “Most here believe Pell is innocent, certainly those who worked with him.”
Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter said Wednesday that Pell, who recently had knee replacement surgery, will be “extremely vulnerable” in jail, the Daily Mail reported.
Pell would be vulnerable “not just as a convicted child sex offender” but because he “has also been portrayed in the media and everywhere else as the incarnation of evil in the Catholic Church,” Richter said.
Pell, known for his orthodoxy, defended Catholic moral teaching at the 2014 Synod on the Family.
He has steadfastly maintained his innocence.