CNS photo/Erik Anderson, AAP images via Reuters

Tuesday, February 26, 2019, #2

Discussion of the Pell Verdict

Earlier today I sent an email with the news that Australian Cardinal George Pell, 77, had been found guilty by a unanimous jury vote of 12-0 in an Australian court on charges that he sexually abused two 13-year-old choir boys (one now deceased) 22 years ago, in December of 1996, in a Melbourne cathedral church corridor, where Pell had just become archbishop, after a Sunday Mass, and in another incident in February of 1997. (See also: link to BBC story and link.)

I am saddened, of course, by the entire story. Like so much concerning the Vatican and the Church these days, it is profoundly disappointing and difficult to “process.” And polls around the world are now showing that the Catholic faith itself is increasingly seen, not as a force for good in the world, but as, rather, a force for evil. This is where we are now.

Yet we have so many examples of goodness and sanctity — for example, of Mother Teresa of Calcutta collecting the dying on the crowded streets of Calcutta, bringing them to a safe place, providing a bed with clean sheets for them to lie on, so that they might die with a certain dignity.

So many people in our world, and so many who have been born and raised and formed in the Catholic Church, do their level best to defend and promote the human person, human dignity, to follow the moral law, to act with mercy and to do justice: teachers who try to infuse their students with self-confidence, and form them to be kind, thoughtful and wise; mothers who hold their families and communities together; fathers who hold their families and communities together; priests and nuns who offer their entire lives to their people, preaching, teaching, urging, exhorting, comforting, marrying, burying, working out their salvation in great dignity.

And it would be my hope to write about such things, that we all be reminded that there is much good in this world, and that a high price is paid by many, that much is sacrificed, to defend and promote what is good, and true, and beautiful.

And yet, for months and years and decades, it seems, we have been focused on ugliness, on disordered passions, abuses, betrayals, horrible acts of infidelity to God, to others, and, often, to one’s deepest self. There is the smell of sulfur in all of this. And the abandonment of the way indicated by Christ.

That way must be found again.

I wrote in my previous letter:

One of Pell’s victims issued a statement through his lawyers. “Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon on my life,” he said as quoted by The Washington Post. “At some point we realize that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust.”

And the companion of this unnamed man, one of the two 13-year-old altar boys whom Pell has now been judged guilty of sexually assaulting, later fell into drug addiction, and he died some time ago of suicide, a suicide brought on, his family members have said, by the shattering impact of Pell’s abuse.

So abuse — like all sin, it needs to be said — has its consequences, consequences which shatter souls and ripple out to hell itself, creating little hells in so many souls and communities on this green earth.

And yet, there is another side to this story.

And that is Cardinal Pell’s side.

I wrote in my previous letter:

But Pell denied the charges from the outset, entered a plea of “not guilty,” and he still maintains his innocence. He was arrested in June of 2017, at which time he held a news conference and said: “There’s been relentless character assassination. I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court. I’m innocent of these charges. They are false.” His lawyer has said the charges were “just nonsense” and “ultimately based on some kind of fantasy, or a fiction, or an invention,” adding that Pell would appeal the conviction.

And there are so many factors, and facts, that must be taken into consideration, in order to look on this judgment, and these events, in a fair and honest way.

For example, this trial took four weeks, followed by three days of jury deliberations, and ended with a unanimous “Guilty” judgment on December 11, 2018.

But it was not the only trial on these charges.

As the article below states, “The trial was in fact a re-run. At the first trial, the jury could not agree.”

That first trial ended in a “hung jury.”

In fact, at that first trial, the 12 jurors voted 10-2 to acquit Pell.

And, in some parts of Australia, that vote would have been sufficient to end the matter. Pell would have been judged “Not guilty.”

The case would have been over.

But in Melbourne, the law allowed a re-trial. Which was held, and which ended in Pell’s conviction.

So, as others have noted, and as is noted in the article below, 24 jurors have heard the evidence in two trials, with 14 judging Pell “Guilty” and 10 judging him “Not guilty.”

Then there is the social, societal context.

Pell has been for years been attacked by the secular and often anti-Catholic press in Australia, which has depicted him as an aloof, intransigent, “by-the-book” Church leader.

This has created a general climate of public opinion negatively disposed toward Pell.

So the question does arise: did Pell receive a fair trial, and a fair judgement?

The article published below was written by a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, who attended the trial, and who listened to the evidence presented. He raises a number of questions about the trial.

And the comments of readers, included below the article, consider many of the “pros” and “cons” of his argument in an almost dizzying way.

The pain and sorrow of innocent victims of sexual abuse is profound, horrific.

The pain and sorrow of a false charge against an innocent man is also profound and horrific.

Our various national and ecclesial justice systems require continual vigilance to ensure that they function equitably, and issue in just judgments.

The article and comments below are published in the hope of contributing to this effort.


(1) Truth and Justice after the Pell Verdict (link)

By Frank Brennan, published today on the website in Australia:

26 February 2019


The suppression order in relation to Cardinal George Pell has been lifted. In December, a jury of 12 of his fellow citizens found him guilty of five offences of child sexual abuse. No other charges are to proceed. Cardinal Pell has appealed the convictions. The verdict was unanimous. The jury took three days to deliberate after a four-week trial. The trial was in fact a re-run. At the first trial, the jury could not agree. The trial related to two alleged victims, one of whom had died.

Members of the public could attend those proceedings if they knew where to go in the Melbourne County Court. Members of the public could hear all the evidence except a recording of the complainant’s evidence from the first trial. The complainant, who cannot be identified, did not give evidence at the retrial; the recording from the first trial was admitted as the complainant’s evidence. The recording was available to the public only insofar as it was quoted by the barristers in their examination of other witnesses or in their final addresses to the jury, and by the judge in his charge to the jury. So, no member of the public has a complete picture of the evidence and no member of the public is able to make an assessment of the complainant’s demeanour.

The complainant’s evidence at the first trial lasted two and a half days. He had been cross-examined for more than a day by Pell’s defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, who has a reputation for being one of the best and one of the toughest cross-examiners in the legal profession. Pell did not give evidence, but a record of his police interview, denying the allegations, was in evidence.

The complainant’s evidence related to events that occurred back in 1996 or 1997 when he was a 13-year-old choir boy at St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne. Most other witnesses had been choir boys, altar servers or Cathedral officials in 1996 when Pell first became archbishop of Melbourne. The complainant claimed that the first event, involving four charges, occurred after a solemn Sunday Mass celebrated by Pell in the second half of 1996. It was common ground between the prosecution and the defence that the dates to which these four charges must be attributed were 15 December 1996 or 22 December 1996. These were the dates on which the first and second solemn Sunday Masses were celebrated by Pell in the Cathedral after he had become archbishop in August 1996. The Cathedral had been undergoing renovations and thus was not used for Sunday Masses during earlier months of 1996.

The complainant said that he and another choir boy left the liturgical procession at the end of one Sunday Mass and went fossicking in the off-limits sacristy where they started swilling altar wine. The archbishop arrived unaccompanied, castigated them, and then, while fully robed in his copious liturgical vestments, proceeded to commit three vile sexual acts including oral penetration of the complainant. The complainant said that the sacristy door was wide open and altar servers were passing along the corridor. The complainant said that he and the other boy then returned to choir practice. The choir was making a Christmas recording at that time.

These two choir boys stayed in the choir another year but, the complainant said, they never spoke about the matter to each other, even though they sometimes had sleepovers at each other’s homes. The second boy was once asked by his mother if he had ever been abused by anybody and he said he had not.

The complainant claimed that a month or so later, after a Sunday Mass when the archbishop was presiding (but not celebrating the Mass), Pell came along the corridor outside the sacristy where many choristers and others were milling about. He claimed that Pell grabbed him briefly, put him against the wall, and firmly grasped his genitalia. This was the subject of the fifth charge. Pell knew neither boy and had no contact with either of them thereafter.

Testimony: “Anyone familiar with the conduct of a solemn Cathedral Mass with full choir would find it most unlikely that a bishop would, without grave reason, leave a recessional procession and retreat to the sacristy unaccompanied.”

The prosecution case was that Pell at his first or second solemn Sunday Mass as archbishop decided for some unknown reason to abandon the procession and his liturgical assistants and hasten from the Cathedral entrance to the sacristy unaccompanied by his Master of Ceremonies Monsignor Charles Portelli while the liturgical procession was still concluding. Portelli and the long time sacristan Max Potter described how the archbishop would be invariably accompanied after a solemn Mass with procession until one of them had assisted the archbishop to divest in the sacristy. There was ample evidence that the Archbishop was a stickler for liturgical form and that he developed strict protocols in his time as archbishop, stopping at the entrance to the Cathedral after Mass to greet parishioners usually for 10 to 20 minutes, before returning to the sacristy to disrobe in company with his Master of Ceremonies. The prosecution suggested that these procedures might not have been in place when Pell first became archbishop. The suggestion was that other liturgical arrangements might have been under consideration.

In his final address, Richter criticised inherent contradictions and improbabilities of many of the details of this narrative. I heard some of the publicly available evidence and have read most of the transcript. I found many of Richter’s criticisms of the narrative very compelling. Anyone familiar with the conduct of a solemn Cathedral Mass with full choir would find it most unlikely that a bishop would, without grave reason, leave a recessional procession and retreat to the sacristy unaccompanied.

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. An alb is a long robe, worn under a heavier chasuble. It is secured and set in place by a cincture which is like a tightly drawn belt. An alb cannot be unbuttoned or unzipped, the only openings being small slits on the side to allow access to trouser pockets underneath. The complainant’s initial claim to police was that Pell had parted his vestments, but an alb cannot be parted; it is like a seamless dress. Later the complainant said that Pell moved the vestments to the side. An alb secured with a cincture cannot be moved to the side. The police never inspected the vestments during their investigations, nor did the prosecution show that the vestments could be parted or moved to the side as the complainant had alleged. 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.

I was very surprised by the verdict. In fact, I was devastated. My only conclusion is that the jury must have disregarded many of the criticisms so tellingly made by Richter of the complainant’s evidence and that, despite the complainant being confused about all manner of things, the jury must nevertheless have thought — as the recent royal commission discussed — that children who are sexually violated do not always remember details of time, place, dress and posture. Although the complainant got all sorts of facts wrong, the jury must have believed that Pell did something dreadful to him. The jurors must have judged the complainant to be honest and reliable even though many of the details he gave were improbable if not impossible.

Pell has been in the public spotlight for a very long time. There are some who would convict him of all manner of things in the court of public opinion no matter what the evidence. There are others who would never convict him of anything, holding him in the highest regard. The criminal justice system is intended to withstand these preconceptions. The system is under serious strain, however, when it comes to Cardinal Pell.

The events of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry, the federal royal commission, the publication of Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal and Tim Minchin’s song Come Home (Cardinal Pell) were followed, just two weeks before the trial commenced, by the parliamentary apology to the victims of child sexual abuse. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, ‘Not just as a father, but as a prime minister, I am angry too at the calculating destruction of lives and the abuse of trust, including those who have abused the shield of faith and religion to hide their crimes, a shield that is supposed to protect the innocent, not the guilty. They stand condemned … on behalf of the Australian people, this Parliament and our government … I simply say I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you.’ Such things tend to shift not the legal, but the reputational, burden upon an accused person to prove innocence rather than the prosecution to prove guilt.

Would the verdict have been different if Pell had given evidence? Who can tell? All one can say is that, although the defence seemed to be on strong ground in submitting that the circumstances made the narrative advanced by the prosecution manifestly improbable, that failed to secure the acquittal.

Was the verdict unreasonable? Can it be supported having regard to the evidence? Those are questions for the appeal court. I can only hope and pray that the complainant can find some peace, able to get on with his life, whichever way the appeal goes. Should the appeal fail, I hope and pray that Cardinal Pell, heading for prison, is not the unwitting victim of a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat. Should the appeal succeed, the Victoria Police should review the adequacy of the police investigation of these serious criminal charges.

When the committal proceedings against Pell first commenced in July 2017, Fran Kelly asked me on ABC Radio National Breakfast: ‘Do you have concerns about this case, regardless of the outcome, and how it’s going to affect the Church?’ I answered: ‘Fran, I think this case will be a test of all individuals and all institutions involved. And all we can do is hope that the outcome will be marked by truth, justice, healing, reconciliation and transparency. A huge challenge for my church, and yes a lot will ride on this case. But what is absolutely essential is that the law be allowed to do its work. And let’s wait and see the evidence, and let’s wait and see how it plays out. And let’s hope there can be truth and justice for all individuals involved in these proceedings.’ And that is still my hope.

—Frank Brennan is a Jesuit priest who attended some of the Pell proceedings. This article was first published in The Australian.

[Note: These comments below were written on the internet in response to the above article. They are reproduced as they were written.]


I have no time for Pell. But I find the whole story quite improbable. It is a shame that the circumstances were not reenacted. The jury would have seen how improbable it is.

Malcolm McPherson | 26 February 2019

Such a sad story, but thank you for your informative article. I hope the truth comes out, whatever it may be. I hope all involved act honestly and find peace.

Catherine Wallace | 26 February 2019

Cardinal Pell has become the national scapegoat for all who seek to annihilate the Catholic Church. The media has orchestrated this campaign. Why is the complainant not identified. The unequal treatment and baying community have ridden roughshod over natural justice

Rosemary Sheehan | 26 February 2019

Forgive me Frank, but are you trying to cast doubt in everyone’s minds about the verdict? You’ve certainly made me doubt by presenting all the reasons why the accusations may be a hoax – and I have to say, they are convincing. I did not want to believe Pell, as much as I dislike him, would be counted among the abusers. But, you see, I am still haunted by Fr Searson’s boast that he did not worry about what the bishops might do to him because of what he knew about the bishops. Could this be exactly what’s been happening here. And then, when you connect this to the still much ignored-because-frightening, Sipe’s 11-point thesis (see ) well, we have such a serious problem that is still being ignored. The recent summit put fairy lights around that. Which ever way you look at it, this is a disastrous and very sad day for the Church which I want to see cleansed not killed.

Stephen de Weger | 26 February 2019

This being the case. Why didn’t he defence show how a full robed cardinal couldn’t have done it. Dress a jury member in all the robes and try and get them to part them or shift them to the side?

Nigel | 26 February 2019

Even before the trial began – even before formal charges were laid – the media behaved abominably. I watched in horror as popular television personalities made it clear that they knew Pell was guilty, and ‘weren’t afraid’ to challenge the corrupt might of the Church that was defending him. Tim Minchin, indeed, was regarded as a corsage oud hero for his song, which apparently proved his courage in standing alone against ….well, everyone. Except that he was well-supported and indeed feted by ‘everyone’ in publicly attacking a man who had not yet been formally accused. I believe that Pell received a fair trial insofar as the law could make it so. I believe the verdict was incorrect, due to our willingness to ignore basic principles of justice when we don’t like the accused. (I’m sure the jury did their honest best). I still feel some anger about the responses of some of my friends when I made these points last year. ‘I’m sorry, but I think child abuse is a terrible crime’. And now I’m full of self-righteousness myself. This whole affair seems to have brought out the worst in so many of us. Thank you, Frank, for your rational and balanced account, especially your final paragraph.

Joan Seymour | 26 February 2019

Mate, this is a very disappointing article. Found guilty in an Australian court of law and you still give him the benefit of the doubt. I feel sorry for you and the religion that you represent. You continue to miss the point. He is guilty and needs to be held accountable for his crimes. Please don’t perpetuate these issues by casting doubt. Call it for what it is and demand more of your religious leaders. Denial diminishes the respect that good people have for you and your religion.

M. | 26 February 2019

When I studied criminal law we were taught that it was a disadvantage to the case for the accused if the accused did not give evidence. The jury always wonders why.

Helen Roberts | 26 February 2019

While sharing your wish that justice be done, Frank, I am not convinced that the complainants’ evidence is as improbable as you suggest. As a fully vested priest, I was occasionally subject to a call of nature. I had little difficulty in moving aside my chasuble and raising my alb to enable me to answer such calls. Moreover, if Pell needed a plausible excuse for abruptly departing the procession or abbreviating his greetings of parishioners after Mass, a call of nature would be the obvious one. It is also difficult to understand why complainants would expose themselves to an ordeal similar to, or indeed worse than, Pell’s if there was no substance to their complaint. This consideration too must carry due weight in any appeal about the weight of the evidence. It gives me no pleasure to see a former colleague and friend brought so low, but if we are to be a truly just society we can no longer persist in the heartless practice of dismissing the tragic stories of victims on the grounds of legal technicalities. To so persist would give the lie to our avowed commitment to put the victims first.

MICHAEL LEAHY | 26 February 2019

Why didn’t the defence tender the robes worn and demonstrate the improbability or impossibility?

Georgie | 26 February 2019

The case against Cardinal Pell seemed incredibly weak and improbable from the outset but he has been convicted by the jury and I have the greatest respect for juries. I understand the robes were in court so the jury would have been familiar with them. It is interesting that Cardinal Pell exercised his right to silence rather than venturing into the witness box. All in all this is an utter tragedy for all concerned.

Paul | 26 February 2019

Frank, you write: ‘So, no member of the public has a complete picture of the evidence and no member of the public is able to make an assessment of the complainant’s demeanour.’ From the details published in The Australian it seems Pell’s abuse was a vicious and predatory attack on two young people. As you say Pell was defended by one of the best defence lawyers in the country. Richter couldn’t persuade the jury that it was all fantasy as he alleged. You weren’t there to hear this evidence. How can you call it into question.? What about some real sympathy for the victims.

Garry Eastman | 26 February 2019

In effect, Frank, what you are saying is the boys were so calm whilst they were being molested and raped they should have been able to observe calmly and accurately, so they could recollect all minute details twenty plus years later, how Pell managed to manipulate his clothing to gain access to them. Personally, I suspect the shock and horror of what was happening to them probably overrode their observatory powers. If what you say regarding the bishop’s vestments is true, and it was impossible for Pell to have removed them or placed them so as to allow him to commit these atrocious acts, why didn’t his defence lawyer simply dress a juror in such attire and demonstrate the fact practically in court? Such an emphatic demonstration would surely have led to the charges being dropped? There is obviously more to this evidence than you have chosen to mention above. Quite frankly, all you have done is perpetuate the Catholic’s inclination to deny guilt. It is this attitude that led to these abuses globally being swept under the carpet for centuries, and why so many of us have lost faith in the church.

Martin Killips | 26 February 2019

It’s difficult to think of a more problematic outcome in this case. The conviction of the Cardinal will be widely welcomed and celebrated as a victory for those (victims, advocates, media) who have long fought to have the sexual abusers in the Church, and their enablers, brought to justice. But the physical improbability of what Pell has been convinced of will leave many in the Catholic community, even those who strongly disagreed with his approach to religious matters, doubting the rightness of his conviction. It is an outcome that will split public opinion, at least within the church. Already there is talk that the Vatican will need to defrock Pell as it did Theodore McCarrick, but, presumably, that would require the Vatican to hold its own trial of the case. If it came to a different conclusion regarding Pell’s guilt on this matter, how will that look to the wider world?

Kevin Mark | 26 February 2019

The man has been found guilty by a jury. Unanimously. Whilst I appreciate your concerns about the justice system, I really think this day should be reserved for the victims. Listening to a Catholic Priest comment on this issue is a bit like asking a football coach if he agreed with the referee’s decision to penalise his team. Biased. You have given your life to an institution that has proven to be littered with paedophiles. I can’t imagine how that must feel for the honest and true Catholic clergy. But the way to heal is by denouncing, apologising and making amends– not by casting aspersions on the legal system. It just feels like the Catholic Church is still in denial It will perish unless people like you start getting fair dinkum.

Pedroh | 26 February 2019

For years the abused have been told that they got it wrong; now Frank you want to persuade us, With your account of the trial, that the jury also got it wrong? Is there no limit to the fallibility of anyone outside the ordained? This was not the verdict of a single magistrate but the verdict of a jury of twelve persons who actually sat through the trial, heard the raw evidence, deliberated for three days, and came to a unanimous decision. And it’s not as if the accused was denied access to legal representation at the highest level. There will no doubt be an appeal and that’s where the entrails of this case will and should be picked over. In the meantime, why not get behind Mark Coleridge who, having apparently now seen the light, wants to actually do something about it ?

Ginger Meggs | 26 February 2019

In this time of turmoil and distrust, it appeared from a distance that emotion could impair clarity. Why not allow a trial by judge alone? A verdict could include the judge’s summation of evidence and draw conclusions. As it stands, doubts will remain. A most unsatisfactory and unfair outcome.

Peter Matters | 26 February 2019

This is a fair article. Today, former NSW Labor resources minister Ian Macdonald and ex-union boss John Maitland walked out of jail after their convictions were quashed on appeal. Let’s wait for the result of Pell’s appeal before rushing to judgement.

Ross Howard | 26 February 2019

Thank you, Fr. Frank, for your careful, detailed consideration of this matter. One would never read this sort of detail in the mainstream press and it most certainly serves to inform.

BPLF | 26 February 2019

If there is one thing the Royal Commission made clear, it’s that perpetrators of these horrendous crimes kept committing them until they were caught. In too many cases after they were caught, they were simply moved on and allowed to molest children elsewhere. I too have little time for Pell, particularly his role in moving on perpetrators under his charge. But I don’t believe he’s guilty of this crime for the simple reason that we are asked to believe it is an isolated occurrence. This doesn’t ring true. Surely somebody who can behave in this way and get away with it would have been a repeat offender who harmed many more poor, unfortunate victims.

Jim | 26 February 2019

On re-reading, I see this article *was* published in the mainstream. The Australian gives us some perspective on issues that we might otherwise not get. The victims of child abuse are often in my prayers. To be wrongly accused would be an unimaginable horror. Therein lies the compassion conundrum with which such situations as this beset all of us who simply weren’t there.

BPLF | 26 February 2019

It seems to me that Trial by Jury is on trial here. Jurors are selected because they represent the ordinary person in the street – the sort of person with whom you might discuss the news in the pub or at at a school fete. And that’s because in a democracy like ours the verdict is more likely “to pass the pub test” and be acceptable to the general population. Efforts are made to ensure that the jurors are reasonable and free of bias, able to assess evidence on its merits. and without knowledge that might be prejudicial to either the prosecuted or the complainant. In this age of 24/7 news coverage it is is very difficult to find people who are 100% ignorant of the case being disputed and the actors involved. I agree with the decision not to put Cardinal Pell in the witness box. He is the sort of tall poppy Australians, whatever their religion or of no religion like to cut down. He can’t help acting like a Prince of the Church – although I am told that he is good company and easy to talk too. But on the rostrum or in the pulpit or on TV a different persona emerges. However, as several commentators have mentioned, I can’t understand why the jurors didn’t ask to be taken to the scene of the alleged crime. Or why they were not shown the liturgical procession that follows a Solemn High Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral. Or why the police do not appear to have tested the complainant’s evidence by a re-enactment in loco. The fact that I and others are asking these questions shows how important the right of appeal is in our legal system.

Uncle Pat | 26 February 2019

A useful corrective to the ABC’ s typically biased coverage. What nobody has noticed so far is that the first, discharged jury’s deliberations, which all accounts suggest ran 10-2 not guilty, would have sufficed for an acquittal in most other states. Can anyone in Victoria confirm suggestions I have heard that the 11-1 majority rule and the abolition of bench trials in Victoria were introduced to forestall prosecution of certain union or ALP figures? So also, I assume, was the appointment of John Cain III to a crucial role in the OPP.

P | 26 February 2019

So another priest is found guilty of child sexual abuse, and a Catholic leader writes about why the verdict is wrong. Will they never learn?

dave | 26 February 2019

Michael Leahy thank you so much for being human. ‘Before I leave’ (enough is enough for this elderly convert) a thought for “youse all”, even the erudite Fr Brennan. Once, just once in all of this appalling and ongoing tragedy (for all concerned) I should have liked to have seen an accused perpetrator who remembered the crucifix on which they had so often looked and simply… accepted. What’s the point of reverencing a scapegoat if we learn nothing from Him?

Margaret | 26 February 2019

Dear editorial team Disappointing this should be your first response to the conviction … Just as we gave Cardinal Pell the presumption of innocence until proven guilty we should assume he is guilty after being convicted by a jury. Please focus on how the church can give a rigorous response to the child abuse crisis and examining the causes such as clericalism, Irish Catholic Jansenism and a culture of secrecy.

Michael O’Hanlon | 26 February 2019

If I were on a jury I, too, would invariably have an issue with a defendant who refuses to defend themselves in what I would consider the most natural way to do so: by taking the witness stand.

roger | 26 February 2019

Frank, your response epitomises what’s wrong with the Church and why it is rapidly diminishing in size and influence. It thinks it is above the law and represents the truth.

Ian Morison | 26 February 2019

I am disappointed that you are perpetuating the Church’s denial of child abuse. You say that Pell had one of the best QC’s in the country defending him, yet twelve jurors unanimously delivered a guilty verdict. Pell also chose not to give evidence – I wonder if under 2.5 days of cross examination, some of his evidence would have been “improbable or impossible too”

J | 26 February 2019

Thank you Frank for offering – as others have said – a reasoned account that we might be unlikely to read in the mainstream press. I do not read into your commentary any sense of an attempt to undermine our legal system in general or the outcome of this trial in particular; rather, I read it as an assessment of the possible inadequacy of the evidence against which this conviction has been made. It seems to me entirely appropriate that you would bring to our attention now, while the matter is ‘live’, observations that can only assist our understanding later when the case is brought to appeal (as surely it must).

Richard Jupp | 26 February 2019

Unlike Frank Brennan, I am unqualified to comment on what went down in this trial. Totally like Frank, however, I was not privy to the deliberations of the jury over the three days it took to reach its verdict. I also can’t draw conclusions about what the jury considered were compelling parts of the evidence and what the jury gave lesser weight to. To speculate on the jury is an exercise in ignorance. Frank Brennan questions the evidence and the verdict. Clearly he thinks the jury got it wrong. Fair enough, he can do that, but it is his opinion and he did not have all the evidence available to the jury. I would prefer to respect the jury system we have in Australia. Mr Pell had his trial and will have his appeal. He has resources available for his defence that the average person does not have, for Mr Pell is not the average person. Another correspondent called the verdict “a most unsatisfactory and unfair outcome”. But other people face trial by jury every day and the process works well enough. Justice is not based on whether we like or dislike the accused. The appeal will tell us if the outcome was legally correct. It can’t tell is if it was morally just.

Brett | 26 February 2019

As one of the few survivors who has a formal apology and a court settlement from a Catholic religious order, I find your article shocking. Up to now you have always respected the law process but now you question it. You were one of the good guys, my Church is now a darker place than before and I truly despair when enlightened leaders like yourself write articles like this one. All I can say is that God knows the truth and I pray that the Cardinal might one day speak it too.

Carol | 26 February 2019

MICHAEL LEAHY writes, “As a fully vested priest, I was occasionally subject to a call of nature. I had little difficulty in moving aside my chasuble and raising my alb to enable me to answer such calls.” So I think Michael debunks a good part of your argument, Frank! The jury believed the complainant and I’m satisfied with that. I would also be satisfied if George Pell wins his appeal. Let’s leave it to the courts and accept their decisions. Looking at the bigger picture, I do wonder how many Catholic bishops are guilty of covering up for paedophile priests. Very few ever seem to be brought to justice, which to my mind doesn’t seem to tally with e.g. the numerous allegations of child sexual abuse made at Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The more our clergy close ranks and protect one another’s crimes, the more they diminish the credibility of the Catholic Church in the eyes of the public. I may die waiting, but I’m still waiting for the many Catholic clergy guilty of crimes against children to own up, plead guilty and accept their punishment.

Grant Allen | 26 February 2019

Your story is compelling because i too know of these vestments and proceedures. It seems the defence did not argue strongly enough and test the police out. I too am devastated – cannot believe it but have to at this stage. the Catholic Church is failed by this decision and most likely because of its own (non) actions. let us hope that an appeal succeeds while the press has a field day. it is coming up to Lent and the STATIONS OF THE CROSS are now being strung out this time over a longer period. let’s hope there is a resurrection for GP. Let’s also remember that only two people really know what happened and in the end God will be his judge.

PHILLIP ROWAN | 26 February 2019

“A wounded nation looking for a scapegoat.” You hit the nail on the head Frank and thanks for that insightful analysis. Pell as an Australian citizen was entitled to fair and just treatment from the court and God only knows how often innocent people are strung up by a jury baying for blood on behalf of the community. How ironic that on the same day comes news of that other “public enemy no 1” Ian MacDonald walking free from jail. If Pell is eventually found to be a victim of a miscarriage of justice, there is a strong case for members of the jury to be selected according to a defined and codified set of criteria foremost among which should be the ability to analyse complex information and scenarios, an awareness of one’s own biases and an ability to act impartially. But turning to Pell as Archbishop, it has to be said that true shepherds and pastoral leaders who care sincerely for their flock don’t have these things happen to them. Ask a Bishop what percentage of first names of his flock does he even know and the answer will surprise them and us.

James | 26 February 2019

Eureka Street should never have published this apologism that stands for reflection on ‘truth and justice after Pell’. Shameful. I am a long-standing reader of many a social justice writing in this magazine, but I do not think I will see your imprint for a long time to come.

Jasmina Brankovich | 26 February 2019

The accumulation of two jury verdicts: 10 say innocent, 14 say guilty. Hardly a ringing “unanimous” verdict from 24 ordinary citizens. And 12 found guilty in the retrial, when the complainant was not available for cross examination. I also agree with P’s observation above – Pell would have been found not guilty on the first verdict in some other Australian jurisdictions. He’s guilty in the state of Victoria, but in N.S.W. or Queensland he would have been declared not guilty on the first trial. And few short years back he would have walked free in EVERY Australian and common law jurisdiction! “Ah, but things have changed … the law evolves, HH!” Sure. In some jurisdictions and not others, at different rates. For better or worse? Are innocent people more likely to be found guilty in majority verdicts rather than unanimous verdicts, all things considered? Of course. So much for evolution. Apparently the finger pointers at the Cardinal on the accidental circumstance that, like St Paul was “born out of time” and allegedly committed the offence in the wrong place. I’ll be praying for him and his alleged victim. Thanks, Fr F.

HH | 26 February 2019

Responses like this from the church to victims of pedophilia seeking justice are why there are so empty pews on Sunday.

Double D | 26 February 2019

Whatever the final outcome, there is obviously something horribly wrong with our justice system in this country. With the dumbed-down culture that prevails today, who ever would choose a jury?

Margaret | 26 February 2019

Frank, thank you for your fair, balanced and reasoned article. I too hope the appeal process will deliver justice to all involved. Like you, I attended court on a number of days and I found it difficult to accept the unanimous verdict of the jury that the Cardinal was guilty beyond reasonable doubt . To my mind there was much circumstantial evidence which tended to support a verdict of not guilty. It seems there can be a real danger of a miscarriage of justice if a verdict can be based on the uncorroborated testimony of the victim concerning events which happened 22 years ago. My faith in the jury system to deliver a fair, impartial verdict has been shaken.

Len Tosolini | 26 February 2019

With all respect Fr Leahy, and without going into further graphic detail, taking a whizz and doing what the Cardinal is accused of doing is quite a different thing. To say the least. Not to mention the fact that a half serious bishop, on top of the alb, cincture, stole and chasuble, also has a dalmatic and a pallium to contend with, and a buttoned up cassock. Only then one might get to the fly on the trousers and then the briefs. Most priests can barely manage to get to the switch on their lapel mic. Whole thing is preposterous.

Joel | 26 February 2019

Margaret says it beautifully -“What’s the point in referencing a scapegoat if we learn nothing from him?”. Until the Howard years, government ministers were expected to fall on their sword if their departments failed in their ministry. If the church is incapable of ministerial responsibility, how can we expect it of government? The clergy presume to call themselves “father”. They have no right to this title if they are unprepared to protect their “children”, and take responsibility for their safety. At the very least, George Pell, and all the bishops, failed to do this.

Beth Rees | 26 February 2019

As one who has kept a close eye on his career for many years, I am appalled by Cardinal Pell for countless different reasons. But like you, Frank, I find this verdict extremely troubling. People’s desire to see an accused paedophile burned at the stake seems to be trumping their desire to have a functioning justice system. Oh well, enjoy the vengeance-fest while it lasts, people. It will be interesting to see how the appeal turns out.

Sue Melmont | 26 February 2019

Frank, I have admired your contribution to public discourse over many years however on this occasion I am profoundly disappointed by what you have written. You dismiss the victims and support the perpetrator, like George Pell accompanying Gerald Ridsdale to court many years ago.

a person without institutional power | 26 February 2019

Next week heralds the beginning of Lent. A time for Christians to prepare for the suffering of Jesus who died on the Cross in ‘reparation’ for our sins! Maybe this Lent calls for more than giving up our daily wine for dinner, chocolates and other creature comforts. This news which has broken in the media today calls for a much deeper sacrifice on our part to help us cope with these sexual, and evil atrocities coming to light in our Church. Truly, it seems there is a huge for communities to come together in collective prayer. Maybe ‘sackcloth and ashes’ may be considered extreme. But surely it is time for all good Catholics/Christians ‘to come to the aid of our Church’ in united prayer, inspiration, hope and trust that the evil of not only clerical but all sexual abuse will be brought to accountability.. This problem is not going to go away – this is my belief despite the huge response to Frank Brennan’s timely article – we are all pretty much still at sea.

Peggy Spencer | 26 February 2019

For a person who promotes the homosexual movement including SSM and defends Pell when a book comes out saying 80% of the Vatican priests are homosexual and two US Cardinals say homosexuality promotes sexual assault of children, surely your credibility is zero

Graham | 26 February 2019

Let’s not forget those who suffered by the actions and inactions of George Pell over many decades. And the jury obviously believed the person who gave evidence that he was abused by Pell. This being said, I am surprised that Pell did not give defence evidence when it was down to his word against the living accuser’s (he relied instead on his lawyer damaging the credibility of the prosecution evidence). It can be very difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything happened between two people when it is the word of one against the other, especially (as here) when the alleged events were historical and there were other logistical factors pointing against conviction. This decision not to give evidence may have come across to the jury as arrogance (or guilt), which would not have helped Pell, given his public persona, no matter what the judge said in directions to the jury (cf s41 of the Jury Directions Act 2015 (Vic)). It doesn’t make an appeal against conviction easier either, when defence evidence is not led in the trial. As an aside, Pell probably drew the short straw when he was charged in Victoria (where, unlike in other States, jury trials are mandated and ‘majority verdict’ means 11:1 instead of 10:2). Perhaps it was over confidence or complacency on Pell’s part, but whatever the reasons for his actions and decisions in the trial the outcome must surely send yet another signal to the Australian bishops that there is no place for complacency in the environment into which they are purporting to lead the church. Whether we like it or not, or whether it is right and just or not, when elements of society set themselves up as unaccountable civilly, then sometimes the only way is the ‘nuclear way’, witness the unprecedented wave of prosecutorial actions against bishops and dioceses underway around the democratic world.

Andrew Phelan | 26 February 2019

The bizarre nature and circumstances of the evidence presented against Cardinal Pell is matched by the lack of rigour in the police effectively discounting the relevance of the defendant’s liturgical vestments. I hope that the appeal process will vindicate the claim to innocence the Cardinal has maintained since the charges were first brought against him.

John | 26 February 2019

I have had enough of this culture of denial. These damaged victims have been through hell by the best lawyers in then land. Yet these sexual crimes are only the tip of the iceberg. Children over many decades have been subject to psychological abuse, and physical violence on a daily basis. Their parents have been threatened will Hell if they did not obey their Parish Priests and any non-catholic parent has been excluded from their children education and spiritual upbringing. There has been no public acknowledgement of these evil abuses of power and no apology. Any we are expected to doubt the accusers. One Christian Brother at my school bashed shit out of us for most of a school year before putting the hard word on several of the boys. He disappeared overnight. As for the sanctify of confession, the Parish Priest in my wife’s home town used to tell the secrets of the confession to his friends at the local pub, while also keeping a defect wife. In short, the church as an institution has shown itself to be corrupt and should be shut down. Along the way the Vatican should lose its diplomatic status and its treasures handed to the Italian State.

Lee Boldeman | 26 February 2019

I have been to Solemn Masses at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on a Sunday and there was always lots of people milling about the Church long after mass had been celebrated. There was a constant stream of Tourists looking around as well. Cardinal Pell would have spent at least 15 minutes outside the Cathedral meeting and greeting people after mass. I imagine it was the same at St Patrick’s Cathedral. I find it hard to believe that anybody would take such a risk in such a busy place on a Sunday, with an open door, to commit these crimes. There is a lot of anti catholic feelings out there but the Church has been through worse times. They tried to wipe it out during the reformation but it survived. It has a antipopes recorded in its history but despite them it survived. It is what it is because it is made up of human beings and human beings do evil. Even Jesus didn’t get it right – He picked 12 men and 2 of them turned against him. I won’t be giving up my catholic faith because of paedophiles. I draw so much strength and comfort from it.

Jan McTiernan | 26 February 2019

Thank you Frank Brennan for your thoughtful and disquieting article, which raises further issues and questions. Like most Australians, I abhor the epidemic of previously unacknowledged child sexual abuse that ravages our culture, but my questions below address our fallible institutions entrusted with seeking truth and justice. The first jury presumably having been exposed to the same evidence as the second jury, failed to agree on a verdict. What makes the verdict of a second jury more accurate or more just that an equivocal unable to agree outcome of a first jury? Would there be judicial pressure on the second jury to reach a unequivocal verdict ? In the eyes of the mainstream media, Pell was guilty before the trials, and would not some jurors have been influenced by media representation made about Pell, and about the child abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in this country and overseas in recent years ? To what extent might a jury reach an unjustified decision based on the available and contested evidence allowed by the rules of the Court and by the competing lawyer team jostling and competing to demonstrate the ultimate epistemological truth in a case ? To what extent does the possibility exist that George Pell may well become the Lindy Chamberlain of this present epoch ?

Michael Faulkner | 26 February 2019

As a long-term peer supporter and secretary of a Support Group who ran a phone line in my home for 3 yrs in the early 90’s, I, can “HONESTLY” say, I heard 1st hand; on a number of occasions, of heinous alleged conduct by priests abusing Alter Boys before and after mass. One priest named for this sacrilegious, notorious behaviour of sexual conduct in the sanctuary of the church was convicted. Knowing about these repeated occurrences from a number of victims across various States, I find it disturbing that victims are still indirectly being disbelieved.

Mary Adams | 26 February 2019

” They tried to wipe it out during the reformation but it survived.” Hardly. “They” tried to reform it.” “It” as an institution by and large resisted fiercely for around half a century. By the time the message was received it was too late to save the universal Church.What survived was a remnant.Some might even say just one sect among other sects. Sound familiar…??

Margaret | 26 February 2019

it is indeed very sad that such a controversial person such as cardinal George Pell is treated in this way and let us now turn to prayers for the church and those affected by sexual abuse by clergy,

Maryellen Flynn | 26 February 2019

Celebrate the Feast Day of St. Thomas More, June 22, 2019, by visiting his prison cell in the Tower of London

An invitation to walk down the Appian Way outside of Rome, where Peter met Christ and said to him, “Quo vadis, Domine?”…


Visit our new pilgrimage website for a complete list of our pilgrimages:

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