The Catholic archbishop of Melbourne still believes Cardinal George Pell is innocent of abuse charges brought against him, despite an Australian court’s split decision to deny the cardinal an appeal.
“I believe in what he said to me, on many occasions, that he’s innocent and I continue to be really quite shocked with all of how things are developed,” Archbishop Peter Comensoli told Melbourne’s 3AW radio station on Thursday.
Pell’s first trial in 2018 for accusations of sexually assaulting two choirboys when he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s resulted in a hung jury, deadlocked at 10-2 in favor of declaring the cardinal “not guilty.”
In a second trial last December, however, a different jury found Pell guilty of the charges and in March an Australian judge sentenced Pell to six years in prison, with the possibility of parole after three years and eight months.
Last Wednesday, an Australian court rejected Cardinal Pell’s appeal by a split judgment of 2-1, relying on the testimony of the alleged victim against the word of the cardinal, despite the lack of witnesses or other material evidence.
The third judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, underscored inconsistencies in the plaintiff’s testimony in his vote that Pell should be granted an appeal.
In Australia, as in many western nations, a defendant is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. According to Australia’s Attorney General’s office: “The presumption of innocence imposes on the prosecution the burden of proving the charge and guarantees that no guilt can be presumed until the charge has been proved beyond reasonable doubt.”
The Labor senator Kristina Keneally slammed Archbishop Comensoli Sunday for suggesting that Cardinal Pell could be innocent. “It’s distressing for so many reasons,” she told Sky News.
Ms. Keneally, who identifies as Catholic, has said that Catholics should cease going to Sunday Mass in order to protest abuse in the Church. Last March, Keneally said she had “long lost faith in the institution of the Catholic Church” and refused “to prop up a failing and decaying institution.”
In her criticism of Archbishop Comensoli Sunday, Keneally said that the archbishop should abandon his defense of the seal of the sacrament of penance and instruct priests to reveal to authorities the sins they hear in the confessional.
“Here we have an archbishop just declaring he is going to break the law rather than report a child sexual abuse that is revealed to him in the confessional,” Keneally said.
“I can’t understand how he can stand in front of the Australian people and make that statement, given all the evidence that has come out of the royal commission in relation to the Catholic church and child sexual abuse,” she said.
In his defense of Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Comensoli did not question the plaintiff’s sincerity but suggested he could be confused about exactly what happened 25 years ago.
“I believe both,” Archbishop Comensoli said.
“I genuinely think that I can take on my knowledge of the man in terms of George Pell and accept what he has said to me, I can also take on what I’ve heard of (the plaintiff) and what he said in terms of abuse.”