Cardinal George Pell has finally been found guilty of child sexual abuse after a rollercoaster of trials over the past year.
The verdict has left Australia with a sense of justice against his horrific actions but also leaves us with questions about the future of the Catholic church.
Cardinal George Pell was convicted last year of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 and four counts of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of, a child.
A five-week trial occurred last December to determine whether Pell was guilty of the alleged assaults. The trial resulted in a hung jury, and thus we continued to wait for justice to be served for his horrific actions. Now, Pell waits in prison for his sentencing hearing in March.
Pell was once one of the three most powerful men in the Vatican and was Australia’s most senior Catholic. Therefore his conviction is a huge scandal, causing reverberations throughout the Catholic church.
Australian media was unable to report on the case until Tuesday due to a court requested suppression order. The suppression order was set in place following the hung jury of the last trial, but now the order has been lifted and the Australian public can finally understand the nuances of the case.
The verdict relates specifically to two different incidents that occurred whilst Pell was the archbishop of Melbourne.
Victims of the abuses were two choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, following one a regular Sunday Mass.
One of the boys was abused a second time, only two months later.
Pell has always adamantly denied the allegations, and he didn’t give evidence during the trial.
Robert Richter, his lawyer, controversially described one of Pell’s offences as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating.”
This alone demonstrates the lack of sensitivity to the case and also a lack of respect from his defence team towards the victims.
Even John Howard, Australia’s former Prime Minister, advocated for Cardinal Pell. Howard provided a character reference for the accused in an attempt to help his legal team receive a lower time sentence for his convictions.
Howard’s character reference stated the following:
“Cardinal Pell is a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character. Strength and sincerity have always been features of his personality. I have always found him to be lacking hypocrisy and cant.”
“In his chosen vocation he has frequently displayed much courage and held to his values and beliefs, irrespective of the prevailing wisdom of the time. It is my view that he has dedicated his life to his nation and his church.”
How can anyone defend a man who sexually abused children? It is unfathomable that character references can be provided following the evidence given against Pell.
The conviction is clearly uncharted territory for the Vatican, so what happens now?
Each conviction carries a maximum jail term of 10 years. We now must wait for Pell’s sentencing hearing in late March, where County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd will deliver a sentence.
Pell’s bail application has been withdrawn by his lawyers. He was jailed on Wednesday, leaving a small sense of victory in the fight for justice against institutional child abuse.
Pell has been warned that a jail term is likely. Following the withdrawal of his bail application, it looks like he won’t be getting off again.
Pell’s five-year position as economy minister at the Vatican expired in February and he is no longer serving the role. He is still one of the church’s cardinals, but in 2018 he was dropped from the Pope’s influential inner circle.
Each of these steps demonstrate that Pell has lost his position amongst the Vatican, but only time will tell how the church responds to the outcome of the case.
The man’s horrific actions have truly shaken the Catholic church and brought about questions of incidence and the possibility of institutional roots to child abuse. To the victims of Pell’s abuse, this is merely a small sliver of justice in a lifetime of trauma.
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