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 Steve Jalsevac / LifeSite

August 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― A Catholic priest columnist has responded to the surprise decision of a Court of Appeal not to acquit Cardinal George Pell by highlighting the lengths to which police went to find accusations against him.

Writing in the National Catholic Register yesterday, Fr. Raymond De Souza suggested that the man who accused Cardinal Pell of twice sexually assaulting him in Melbourne in the 1990s might have had a motive for making up the story: police coercion.

“The motive of the complainant to lie — or ‘concoct’ part of his story, in the words of the dissenting justice — might be the same as the motive of the Victoria police who brought the charges against Cardinal Pell,” he wrote.

De Souza noted that the Victoria police department had set up an operation in March 2013 to “solicit allegations against Cardinal Pell two years before any complaints had been made.”

“For two years the Victoria police were investigating — actually, desperately pleading for victims to come forward, including with newspaper ads — with no results,” he continued.

“They were not investigating a crime and looking for the responsible man; they had their man and were looking to hang upon him a plausible crime.”

De Souza stated that they failed and had only an “implausible” one

“What did they do in those two years before they finally produced the complainant in this case?” he asked. “Why did the other alleged victim not come forward to Operation Tethering in the year before died? Why did the complainant only come forward after his fellow alleged victim was dead and no longer able to contradict his story?” he continued.

“What, if any, inducements or threats did the Victoria police employ with the complainant?”

De Souza believes that “in normal circumstances,” it would have been very difficult for a jury to unanimously convict beyond a reasonable doubt in Cardinal Pell’s case, the accusations resting on no evidence save the word of the accuser, let alone for the conviction to survive an appeal. However, he indicated that this case is something special.

“These are not normal circumstances,” he declared, “for nothing is impossible for the Victoria police and courts, not least the conviction of an innocent man.”

In contrast to De Souza’s view, Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter suggested that the story of a complainant alleging sexual abuse is sufficient evidence to convict.

After underscoring that the judges had found the accuser “credible”, Winters wrote that “the other fact that was obvious in the judges’ statements was that these cases of sexual abuse rarely have a corroborating witness. That is not how sex abuse works: the perpetrator always tries to conceal the crime. The jury is almost always faced with a ‘he said/he said’ situation. Rarely is there a blue dress offering forensic evidence.”

Winters admitted that he is among those who are “no great fans” of Pell and suggested that those who are Pell fans believe in his innocence merely because he shares their theological outlook.

“I hope Pell never did the things he was accused of, but the incredulity of his friends is rooted in their belief that the primary cause of clergy sexual abuse is a lack of fidelity,” he wrote.

“Surely it has dawned on Pell's defenders that many of the characteristics they admire in Pell — his ostentatious orthodoxy, his undoubted vigor, his commitment to the ecclesial vision of Pope St. John Paul II, his willingness to publicly dismiss critics and those who are less enamored of muscular Catholicism than he is — all of those traits were evident in the life of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, too,” he added.

Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, was discovered, near the end of his life, to have been a serial sexual abuser of boys and young men, including his own sons.

He wondered why the same Catholics who are appalled by ex-cardinal McCarrick’s crimes are so sure that Pell is innocent and made no secret of his own belief that Pell is guilty.

“My heart goes out to Pell’s friends, but they must come to terms with reality: It is virtually impossible, now, to believe that Pell was entirely innocent of the allegations leveled against him,” he wrote.

“That is not an indictment of his ecclesiology. It takes away nothing of his accomplishments. But, the same could be said of McCarrick. The hypocrisy of treating these two men differently must stop.”

In his essay, Winters did not reflect on either the fact that one of the Court of Appeal judges firmly believed that Pell should be acquitted or the fact that McCarrick, unlike Pell, left a long trail of evidence.

In an article he wrote for Crux, John Allen, Jr. noted that the Pell case has been very divisive.

He compared the Australian cardinal to Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jewish artillery officer whose trial for treason exacerbated tensions between Catholic traditionalists and anti-Catholic secularists in France for over a decade. 

“Opinions about Pell today often reveal far more about the prejudices of the observer than about the actual reality of what happened,” Allen suggested.

Allen observed that “those most outraged by the clerical abuse crisis, generally convinced that the Church is corrupt and eager to see senior officials such as Pell held accountable, have assumed Pell’s guilt from the beginning and are celebrating Wednesday’s outcome.”

At the same time, he notes there are people “at the grassroots level” worldwide who believe that Pell is innocent.

“Yet there’s a sizeable share of Catholic opinion, which isn’t restricted to the Vatican or the Australian bishops but which has a significant footprint at the grassroots level all around the world, which has been equally convinced from the beginning that Pell is innocent, and which will remain so today,” Allen wrote.

“This group believes that the evidence in Pell’s case is basically incredible,” he continued. 

“They find the idea that an archbishop during a high Sunday Mass in his own cathedral could break away alone from a procession, enter a highly trafficked sacristy and abuse two young choir members without being seen by anyone and despite wearing liturgical vestments that would render the physical acts involved almost impossible, then reemerge and greet worshippers outside as if nothing had happened, so unbelievable as to be almost surreal.”

Allen believes that the statement issued by the Vatican speaking of respect for the Australian legal process but also underscoring Pell’s protestations of innocence suggests that there are people in the Vatican who believe the cardinal.

“What the statement didn’t say, but is very much part of the subtext, is that there are important people on the pope’s team who may have little use for George Pell politically or personally, but they don’t believe he’s guilty of these charges either,” he concluded.