Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Cardinal George Pell Condemned
Australian Cardinal George Pell, 77, has been found guilty 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.
The decision was handed down by an Australian jury in December, but kept under a strict press embargo until today because a second trial was foreseen on separate charges. But that second trial has been dropped.
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.”
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.
Here below are three reports on this matter, one from the Associated Press, one based on a report in The Australian in April 2015, and one a comment from the traditional Catholic website OnePeterFive. (See also: link to BBC story and link.)
One curious point: these grave charges were seemingly not brought against Pell until after he had been appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 to take a key financial post in Rome, in the Vatican. Francis tasked Pell to lead an effort to bring greater transparency to certain aspects of the Vatican’s finances. During this process, Pell announced publicly that he had discovered $1 billion in funds kept in accounts that were not part of any public balance sheet. Pell promised to make a full report on those funds, but in 2017 Pope Francis removed Pell from his post after his financial reforms had met with considerable internal resistance.
(1) Differences between Cardinal Pell’s prosecution and defense (link)
Key points of difference between the prosecution and defense cases in the trial that convicted Cardinal George Pell on child sex abuse charges
By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
MELBOURNE, Australia — 3h ago
The lawyers representing Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric ever charged with child sex abuse, and those prosecuting the case painted very different pictures of the events that led to his conviction.
Pell was found guilty in December of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the sacristy of a cathedral and weeks later of indecently assaulting one of the choirboys in a cathedral corridor. Reporting on the case in Melbourne, Australia on had been forbidden by the Victoria state County Court until Tuesday.
The prosecution said Pell had opportunity to commit the crimes. The defense said it was impossible for the crimes to have gone unnoticed in the busy cathedral moments after masses.
The following are key points of difference between the prosecution and defense cases:
The defense said the allegation in which Pell caught two choirboys in a change room known as a priests’ sacristy at the rear of the cathedral and sexually abused them would have taken at least six minutes and could not have happened undetected.
The defense said that the sacristy was a “hive of activity” after mass, where an altar server testified that 30 seconds did not pass without a priest, altar server or church official being inside the room returning chalices and the missal from the altar and helping the archbishop disrobe or disrobing themselves.
The defense also said Pell would have been standing on the front steps of the cathedral chatting to worshippers during the first two Sunday Solemn Masses he said as archbishop at the cathedral in the moments after services when the complainant testified he was molested. Records show that the sacristy episode could only have happened on Dec. 15 or 22, 1996.
The defense said church protocols dating back to the 15th century require that a bishop is never unattended while robed and Pell had been dressed in full archbishop’s regalia except for the crosier (shepherd’s crook) and the miter (pointed hat) when the offending occurred.
Cathedral Master of Ceremonies Monsignor Charles Portelli testified that he recalled accompanying Pell and helping the archbishop robe and disrobe during Pell’s first two Sunday masses at the cathedral.
The prosecution said Portelli smoked 20 cigarettes a day at the time and suggested he might have left Pell at the sacristy door while going outside to smoke. But Portelli denied leaving Pell for a cigarette and the prosecution told the jury they should disregard the smoking-break theory as speculation.
The prosecution argued that there was an opportunity for the offending to take place, with altar servers allowing worshippers a few minutes of “the privacy of prayer” after mass before moving in to clear the altar space of sacred items and returning them to the sacristy.
The prosecution also said Pell did not always spend time conversing with parishioners on the cathedral steps after mass.
The defense argued that Pell could not have parted his garments to expose his penis as the complainant had alleged to police, with defense lawyer Robert Richter calling such a scenario “nonsense” and “laughable.” The defense accused the complainant of altering his evidence in later testimony after discovering that the garments did not open along the middle.
The jury was given the cumbersome garments to examine in the jury room during their deliberations.
The prosecution argued that the full length robe known as an alb was “not like a straight jacket,” and there was “little difference” between the complainant’s police statements and his court testimony.
The defense said Pell could not have shoved a choirboy against a corridor wall and painfully squeezed his genitals following a mass on Feb. 23, 1997 without being noticed, even if they were partially obscured by a pillar.
“Whether or not he’s hiding behind a pillar doesn’t matter because this gentleman, George Pell, … all six foot four (193 centimeters) of him, wouldn’t be hiding behind any pillar anyway. He would be seen by whoever was in the corridor to be violently pushing someone against the wall and reaching for their nether parts. And so we say that is just nonsense,” Richter said.
The prosecution said the indecent assault was brief, Pell would have had reason to be heading to his sacristy via that corridor and might not have lingered out the front of the cathedral chatting with the congregation that day because he had to say another mass that afternoon at a church in the Melbourne suburb of Maidstone.
*The complainant’s credibility
The defense said no other witness corroborated the 34-year-old complainant’s allegations and the other alleged victim had told his parents before he died of an accidental drug overdose in 2014 that he had never been molested while he was a chorister. The defense says the complainant’s evidence was full of “improbabilities and impossibilities.”
“His account is ultimately based on some kind of fantasy, or a fiction, or an invention. I would like to think that it’s not an outright altogether invention, that it was based in some way on some fantasy that has morphed over the years into him believing that he’d been assaulted,” Richter said.
The prosecution described the complainant’s testimony as “powerful and persuasive.” The evidence of other witnesses supported several aspects of his evidence, prosecutors said.
*The choir’s procession from the cathedral
The defense argued that none of the choristers recalled seeing two choirboys break from a procession from the cathedral front door to the choir change room after mass in December 1996 because it never happened.
The complainant testified that he and his fellow victim had peeled away from a procession and returned to the cathedral through a side door before Pell caught them in the sacristy and abused them.
The prosecution said whether the boys had been able to break away from the procession was a key issue for the jury in determining Pell’s guilt, along with whether Pell had stayed on the cathedral front steps chatting with the congregation after mass and whether he returned to the sacristy alone.
The defense said the pair, as sopranos, would have been toward the front of the procession with older boys and adult choristers behind them. The older choristers would have enforced a high degree of discipline.
The prosecution argued the procession did not operate with “military precision” and with 61 choristers in the procession plus altar servers and priests, it was probable that the pair could have slipped away without being noticed.
The complainant testified that the wine Pell caught him swigging was red, while there was evidence that the cathedral used white altar wine at the time.
The defense points to Sacristan Max Potter’s evidence that the wine was always locked in a sacristy safe after Sunday Solemn Mass.
The prosecution says as a 13 year-old boy, the complainant could be expected to be inexperienced in varieties of wine.
(2) Cardinal Pell discovers a billion lost euros at Vatican (link)
Published: 13 April 2015
Cardinal Pell discovery
More than a billion euros in previously “hidden” Church funds will be revealed in new Vatican budget audit. But the funds have not been misused and are not part of corruption and scandal that have previously shamed the Vatican, reports The Australian.
The vast sums of undeclared money have been hidden in various bank accounts by organisations and groups within the Holy See in Rome.
Although the funds have not been misused, the money has not been properly disclosed or available for the full use of the Vatican because it has been hidden away in an Italian practice of keeping aside undeclared finds.
It is now expected that Cardinal George Pell, appointed by the Pope a year ago as the Vatican treasurer, will disclose in his audit of Vatican funds as part of next month’s budget that more than a billion euros have been hidden away.
Cardinal Pell, who is introducing tough, modern financial rules for the Vatican, said previously he found hundreds of thousands of hidden euros as he applied his new audit standards to the Holy See.
Shortly after taking over the role last year, he said he would be aiming for “substantial transparency” for the Vatican’s finances. “We are working so that international financial standards will be followed in all the dicasteries (departments) and sections of the Holy See,” he said. “Our ambition is to become… a model of financial management, rather than cause for occasional scandal.”
(3) Cardinal Pell’s Conviction Announced After New Trial Falls Apart (link)
By Steve Skojec
February 25, 2019
I’m not even going to attempt to present this one as a straight news piece. The inescapable feeling one gets when looking at the story is that it’s a farce.
After months under an Australian court’s gag order, the December conviction of Cardinal George Pell on decades-old sex abuse allegations has just been announced. The news comes after another trial scheduled to happen this month has fallen apart. The question of whether the cardinal is guilty or innocent remains.
It’s currently breaking news pretty much everywhere.
Cardinal George Pell isn’t a man I have a particular affinity for. He’s known as a “conservative,” which means only so much to a traditionalist like me. He’s a politician, like most bishops of note, if a little more rough around the edges. But he was brought into the Vatican to do a job — audit and reform the Vatican bank — and when he found over a billion Euros in the Vatican mattresses, he was suddenly called back to Australia on decades-old sexual abuse allegations as papal hatchet man Archbishop (Giovanni Angelo) Becciu swooped in to put a stop to any momentum the financial reforms might have.
In July of 2017, I wrote a piece entitled “The Destruction of Cardinal Pell.” In it, I noted that he had fallen from the good graces of Francis when he signed the 13 Cardinals Letter, and that as soon as the years-old allegations of decades-old sexual abuse against him became formal, there were signs of it being a witch hunt. As I wrote at the time:
One can’t help but wonder whether decades-old allegations — usually impossible to prove — will do anything but leave Pell a man with a ruined reputation. Certainly, a guilty verdict under such circumstances seems unlikely. But with headlines like “The Pope’s Pedophile?” now circulating in the mainstream press, even an complete acquittal will never restore his good name.
Apparently, I underestimated the Australian courts.
Despite the Australian media gag order, the Catholic News Agency under the helm of J.D. Flynn went ahead with stories last December about Pell’s conviction — even after they received a cease and desist order from an Australian judge. In a piece by Ed Condon, the verdict was described in terms that very much called into question whether justice was even attempted. Allow me to quote from it at some length:
CNA has spoken to several sources familiar with the Pell case, all of whom expressed disbelief at the verdict. The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the legal gag order imposed by the court.
“They have convicted an innocent man,” one source directly familiar with the evidence told CNA. “What’s worse is that they know they have.”
An individual who attended the entire trial in person but is unconnected with Pell’s legal team, told CNA that Pell’s lawyers had made an “unanswerable defense.”
“It was absolutely clear to everyone in that court that the accusations were baseless. It wasn’t that Pell didn’t do what he’s accused of – he clearly couldn’t have done it.”
The allegations are understood to concern Pell assaulting the two choristers in the sacristy of Melbourne cathedral on several occasions immediately following Sunday Mass.
The defense presented a range of witnesses who testified that the cardinal was never alone in the sacristy with altar servers or members of the choir, and that in all the circumstances under which the allegations are alleged to have taken place, several people would have been present in the room.
The sacristy in Melbourne’s Cathedral has large open-plan rooms, each with open arches and halls, and multiple entrances and exits, the defense noted.
Defense attorneys also produced a range of witnesses who testified that Pell was constantly surrounded by priests, other clergy, and guests following Sunday Masses in the cathedral, and that choristers had a room entirely separate from the sacristy in which they changed as a group, before and after Mass.
Observers also questioned whether some courtroom tactics used by state prosecutors were intended to stoke anti-clerical feelings in jury members.
One priest, a Jesuit, was called as an expert witness by the defense, but was consistently referred to as a “Christian Brother” by prosecutors – a move, the court observer told CNA, that seemed calculated to invoke the religious order at the center of a widely known clerical sexual abuse scandal in the country.
“It was a blatant move, but it sums up the sort of anti-Catholic, anti-clerical drift of the whole trial,” CNA’s courtroom source said. “The jury were being winked at.”
Full discussion of the charges and the evidence laid against Pell remains impossible because of the media blackout. The gag order was imposed at the request of prosecutors in June, who argued that media attention could bias the case.
“It’s absurd,” another source directly familiar with the trial told CNA. “Any Catholic in Victoria can tell you that our media has been steeped in anti-Catholic, anti-clerical and especially anti-Pell coverage for more than two decades. The prosecutors were perfectly happy with all of that leading up to the trial, and for it to carry on now.”
“The only thing you can’t talk about are the facts of the case,” the source said.
Of course, we will never know for certain the truth of Pell’s innocence or guilt. It’s my understanding that this is why the 8th Commandment is meant to be taken seriously. But despite the Church revisiting the clerical sex abuse crisis in all its debauchery these days, there are reasons to question Pell’s guilt.
He was seen as an enemy by the Australian media, who disliked his conservatism.
He was seen as an enemy by the entrenched powers within the Vatican, who resisted and resented his financial reforms.
He makes a convenient scapegoat for media and anti-Catholics of all kinds in the kind of trial that, by nature, can provide zero physical evidence, and only testimony against testimony — testimony from a single accuser — in a moment where public sentiment against the Catholic Church and its abusers is at an all-time-low.
To the last point, a quote from The New York Times’ piece on the conviction says a great deal:
“There are no winners,” said Andrew Collins, a clergy sexual abuse survivor from Ballarat. But, he said, “It’s part of the bloodletting that’s needed to happen for the Catholic church.”
Part of the bloodletting that’s needed to happen.
I suppose it doesn’t matter if it’s symbolic, then.
Pope Francis expelled Pell from his C9 in December, at the same time as he dispensed with Cardinal Errazuriz of Chile — himself accused of covering up the abuse of Fr. Fernando Karadima. Two other cardinals said to have failed to deal appropriately with clerical abuse in their dioceses — Marx and Maradiaga — remain in the pope’s council of advisors.
As for Pell, he is expected to be sentenced despite concerns over the injustice of his treatment and an appeal against the verdict. He faces a maximum 50-year prison sentence. The cardinal is 77 years old.
(end, OnePeterFive piece)
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