I have followed the case of Cardinal George Pell with interest. Cardinal Pell, as many of my cherished co-Charioteers will know, was convicted last year of raping two boys at his cathedral in Melbourne. After the initial appeal was rejected 2-1, the High Court of Australia overturned his conviction 7-0.
The case of Cardinal Pell has been controversial to say the least. Speaking from a strictly legal standpoint, there was never really a case against him. There were some dodgy accusations, many of which were encouraged by the Victoria Police. However, outside of social media and a number of universities, accusations do not in and of themselves prove guilt.His conviction was based on the flimsiest of accusations and the squashing of far greater evidence proving his innocence.
For many decades the Catholic Church behave abominably. I would argue that it did so for centuries. Excuses could always be made, excuses could always be found for everything from near-genocidal conditions in 18th century California missions to selling babies in 1950s Ireland, against their mothers’ wishes to a global code of silence on sexual abuse of children.
It was sorely tempting, then, to cheer the fall of a senior figure — the third highest, in fact — in that most strange of institutions. But there is something else, something more important. Whatever the sins of the Church, Pell is still a man and is entitled to the presumption of innocence, due process and a fair trial. He was denied all three.
The more I learn of his trial, the more I suspect that there was more behind it. Cardinal Pell embodies things that many in places of power and influence in the Victoria Police, Victorian government and the establishment media hate. He is a religious conservative, a social conservative, a climate sceptic and a lead conservative figure in a most conservative of institution. He is also a deeply patriotic, proud Australian. God and country. Tradition and faith. You don’t necessarily have to like him or everything about him, but the attacks on him reveal some deeply disturbing things.