Critics Decry ‘Absurd’ Abuse Conviction of Cardinal George Pell by Australian Court

MAY 02: Cardinal George Pell leaves Melbourne Magistrates' Court on May 2, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. Cardinal Pell was committed to stand trial on Tuesday, after a month-long committal hearing. Cardinal Pell is Australia's highest ranking Catholic and the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican, where he was responsible …
Robert Cianflone/Getty

A number of witnesses have stepped forward to denounce a guilty verdict handed down against Cardinal George Pell for sex abuse in what they describe as the mock trial of an innocent man.

A startling article by canon lawyer Ed Condon suggests that a series of reporting restrictions imposed by the County Court of Victoria in Australia have not served to guarantee an impartial trial but rather to obfuscate the truth.

The gag rule that the progress or outcomes of the trial “cannot be covered by local media or broadcast electronically into Australia” have meant that no media discussion of the allegations or of Pell’s defense is permitted in the country, Condon notes.

In a curious succession of events, Cardinal Pell was convicted on December 11 of having sexually abused two altar servers while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s, following an earlier mistrial in which a jury was deadlocked at 10-2 in favor of declaring the cardinal “not guilty.”

As Breitbert News reported, Pell has consistently 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.”

Condon said that the Catholic News Agency (CNA) spoke with several sources on condition of anonymity because of the gag order, all of whom were familiar with the Pell case and all of whom expressed astonishment at the verdict.

One of the sources said that the court had convicted “an innocent man,” adding: “What’s worse is that they know they have.”

Another independent source who was personally present for the duration of the trial said that the entire proceeding had an “anti-Catholic, anti-clerical drift” and that Pell’s attorneys 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 source said.

Pell had been charged with assaulting the two altar boys in the sacristy of Melbourne cathedral following Sunday Mass, yet several witnesses testified that the cardinal was never alone in the sacristy with altar servers or members of the choir.

Moreover, the sacristy in question has large, open rooms with multiple entrances and exits, and there were always people present there following Sunday Masses, the defense noted.

Observers have noted the senselessness of the court’s gag order, with one source calling the process “absurd.”

Australian journalist Gerard Henderson wrote that Pell has been the victim of a “modern-day witch hunt,” while pointing out tendentious coverage of Pell by the Australian media, which he attributed to journalistic hostility to “Pell’s conservatism.”

Last year, 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 at the time.

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