Today, legal justice has been thankfully, belatedly, served.
Cardinal George Pell’s conviction on all counts was quashed unanimously by the High Court. It’s a decision that has highlighted not only the flaws in the Crown’s case against Pell, the way it was prosecuted, raised questions of jury and – sadly – judicial bias, and the failure of a criminal jury to fund reasonable doubt on the evidence before it and, on the face of it, reversing the onus of guilt. Pell’s legal case was a miscarriage of justice from even before charges were laid against him.
In his statement on the High Court’s verdict, Pell stressed he bore no ill will to his accuser. But he also said this: “(My) trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church.”
That’s true, but as a parish priest, diocesan bishop, archbishop and head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Pell’s moral failure to lead, to act swiftly and decisively to ensure paedophile clergy were tried and punished rather than moved and covered up, and its failure to purge those parts of the Church under his care of their evil stain, cannot be quashed.
Pell answered his accusers before the law, and showed great fortitude in facing his own personal trial and false imprisonment. He is now cleared of the monstrous crimes of which he was accused as an individual, and we can have comfort our justice system works to protect the innocent.
But he must not become a martyr.
On his watch, the Catholic Church failed to protect the most innocent of all. The most dangerous jobs in the Church in Ballarat, Melbourne or Australia should never have been being a choirboy or an altar server. Children should never have attended Catholic schools in mortal fear of abusive priests and brothers or any other religious. Pell and other Catholic leaders have a moral case to answer in a higher court still.
Christ said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me”. But he didn’t expect little children to suffer so horribly for doing so.
George Pell the man rightfully has been acquitted under the law. But now George Pell the priest, bishop and Cardinal must answer to God and account for, as the Mass’s penitential rite states, “what I have done and what I have failed to do.”
If moral justice has anything to do with it, Pell one day will have a case to answer in St Peter’s court.
Terry Barnes is no longer a practising Catholic and refused to have his daughter baptised into the Catholic church in light of the Church’s failures on paedophile clergy.
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