Calling Cardinal Pell’s Prosecution What It Is: Religious Persecution


National Catholic Register, 1 March 2019

COMMENTARY: Now that the suppression order has been lifted, we are free to state what has been evident for several years now.

Cardinal George Pell was exactly where he should have been Wednesday night in Melbourne: in jail.

Let Henry David Thoreau explain: “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (Civil Disobedience).

Now that the peculiar “suppression order” in Australia has been lifted, we are free to state what has been evident for several years now. The prosecution of Cardinal Pell has been a monstrous miscarriage of justice, a religious persecution carried out by prosecutorial means.

Cardinal Pell was convicted last December for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys in 1996. The process that led to the convictions was, from the start, a sustained and calculated strategy to corrupt the criminal-justice system toward politically motivated ends.

And now Cardinal Pell is in jail, awaiting his sentencing next month. There is no shame that Cardinal Pell is in jail; the shame is sufficiently abundant to be worn by all those who put him there.

False Accusations

Miscarriages of justice do take place. Cardinal Pell himself was falsely accused in 2002, and, before him, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was falsely accused in 1993. Both those accusations were resolved with recourse to the police or courts.

The case of Cardinal Pell, though, was not a miscarriage akin to a mistake. It was done with police and prosecutorial malice aforethought.

Americans ought not be surprised by this, for the list of wrongfully convicted is very long indeed. Even some on death row have been exonerated before their executions could be carried out.

Malicious Prosecution of Prominent People

The most famous recent case in the U.S. is the 2008 conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who lost a narrow re-election bid after a conviction for not reporting an alleged gift. Only after an FBI whistleblower revealed the grievous prosecutorial misconduct was Stevens exonerated. It came too late for his re-election, but his good name was restored. Stevens died in 2010.

If a Republican-led Justice Department can deliberately, maliciously and wrongfully convict the longest-serving Republic senator in the land, still popular in his home state, it would be relative child’s play for prosecutors in Victoria (Cardinal Pell’s home state in Australia) to deliberately, maliciously and wrongfully convict Cardinal Pell, who has been subject to a yearslong campaign of media defamation in Australia. Such was the intensity of the vilification that it would likely be possible to find a jury of 12 people in Melbourne who would believe that Cardinal Pell had sexually abused the boys, too.

Still, the case against Cardinal Pell was so grotesquely fantastical that it took the prosecutors two tries to get the convictions. The first trial, in September, ended in a hung jury, with jurors reportedly voting 10-2 to acquit. A retrial followed, with the jury reaching the necessary unanimity to convict in December.

The Supposed Facts of the Case

It is important for Catholics to know the specifics of the case, not just summary statements that it was “weak.” It was impossible.

The prosecution charged that Cardinal Pell, instead of greeting people after Mass, as was his custom, immediately left everyone in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and went unaccompanied to the sacristy. Arriving alone in the sacristy, he found two choirboys who had somehow left the procession of the other five dozen choirboys and were swigging altar wine.

Having caught them in the act, he then quickly decided to sexually assault them — “oral penetration,” to be unpleasantly precise.

This he accomplished immediately after Mass, with the sacristy door open, despite having all his vestments on and with the reasonable expectation that the sacristan, the master of ceremonies, the servers or concelebrants might come in and out or even pass by the open door, as would be customary after Mass.

Meanwhile, there were dozens and dozens of people in the cathedral, praying or milling about.

The whole affair took place within six minutes, after which the boys went off to choir practice and never spoke about it to anyone for 20 years, not even to each other. Indeed, one of the boys, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014, explicitly told his mother before he died that he had never been sexually abused.

The supposed facts are virtually impossible to complete. Ask any priest of a normal-sized parish — let alone a cathedral — if it would be possible to rape choirboys in the sacristy immediately after Mass. Sixty seconds — let alone six minutes — would not pass without someone, or several people, coming in and out, or at least passing by the open door. Ask any priest if he is customarily alone in the sacristy immediately after Mass, while there are still people in the church and the sanctuary has not yet been cleared.

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