The former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office railed against the recent conviction of Australian Cardinal George Pell for sexual abuse, calling the accusations “absolutely unbelievable.”
Speaking with the U.S.-based National Catholic Register, Cardinal Gerhard Müller said that the circumstances surrounding the alleged abuse beggar belief, since the incident was purported to have taken place in a public place — the archbishop’s sacristy — following a well-attended Sunday Mass.
“Nobody witnessed it,” Cardinal Müller said, adding that that it would have been very difficult with “all the other persons” presumably in the area after Mass. One could believe such an incident could take place in a private house, he said, but not “in the public cathedral.”
“The allegations against him are absolutely unbelievable, it’s impossible. It’s without proof, against all evidence,” Cardinal Müller said.
“If there’s no proof, you cannot condemn a person to 50 years in a fortress,” he continued.
“It’s an understanding of justice that goes back to the time of Henry VIII,” and “shows a corruption of the juridical system in mainstream public opinion,” he said.
While the Vatican has limited itself to saying that the news of the cardinal’s conviction was “painful,” while underscoring that that “Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal,” others have been more blunt in their indictment of the way the courts handled the trial.
Canon lawyer Ed Condon said that judging decades-old sex abuse charges with no corroborating evidence risks turning the presumption of innocence into a “legal fiction,” which obliges jurors to choose “only between the word of the accuser and that of the accused.”
In these cases, “the right to due process is at risk of becoming moot,” Condon said.
The Catholic writer George Weigel compared the Pell conviction to the notorious 19th-century Dreyfus case, where a French army captain was convicted of treason over charges that he had given military secrets to Germany.
“The charge was false; Dreyfus, a Jew, was framed,” Weigel writes. “His trial was surrounded by mass hysteria and people with no grasp of the facts celebrated when Dreyfus was condemned to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island.”
Similarly, though Cardinal Pell’s two trials “were held under an Australian media blackout, irrationality and venom, stoked by media bias, had already done their work,” Weigel notes.
In the end, the “unhinged loathing of French royalists and anti-Semites for the Jewish bogeyman Alfred Dreyfus” is “ominously similar to the unhinged loathing of secular progressives for the bogeyman George Pell,” he suggests.
The Register reports that Cardinal Pell is appealing the verdict while “currently being held in solitary confinement until sentencing on March 13.”
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