The Vatican underscored Cardinal George Pell’s right to appeal a Melbourne court’s guilty verdict for historical sexual offenses Tuesday, while also declaring its “utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities.”
In what has been described by some as an “unfair, anti-Catholic conviction,” the court ruled in December that Cardinal Pell, who is widely disliked for his conservative views, sexually abused two choristers in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s.
The verdict followed an earlier mistrial in which a jury was deadlocked at 10-2 in favor of declaring the cardinal “not guilty.”
The court has now lifted a media gag order it had imposed on the Pell trial, while announcing that a second trial against him has now been dropped for lack of evidence.
As Breitbert News has reported, Pell has steadfastly maintained his innocence of all charges and his lawyer, Robert Richter, has said there is “voluminous” evidence to show that “what was alleged is impossible.”
Australian journalist Gerard Henderson wrote that Pell has been the victim of a “modern-day witch hunt,” while highlighting biased coverage of Pell by the Australian media, which he attributed to journalistic hostility to “Pell’s conservatism.”
In point of fact, Pell was already investigated and exonerated from sex abuse charges in 2002. In July of that year, Pell was accused of sexually abusing an altar boy more than 40 years earlier. Pell vigorously denied the claims, but immediately offered to step down from his position until his name could be cleared.
“The allegations against me are lies and I deny them totally and utterly,” Pell said in a statement. “The alleged events never happened. I repeat, emphatically, that the allegations are false.”
In 2017, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard came out in defense of Pell, underscoring the cardinal’s well-documented efforts to root out sex abuse.
“It seems as if Cardinal Pell is being singled out to take the rap for the misdeeds of a whole lot of people and the evidence is that he was more active in trying to do something about it,” Howard said.
There seems to be a “get Pell” mentality in “some sections of the media,” Howard said.
“This is painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia. As already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities,” the text read.
“Out of this respect, we await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal,” it said.
The statement also assured prayers for “all victims of abuse,” and said the pope had “confirmed the precautionary measures which had been imposed by the local Ordinary on Cardinal George Pell when he returned to Australia.”
“That is, while awaiting the definitive assessment of the facts, as is the norm, Cardinal George Pell is prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors,” it said.
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