Cardinal Pell’s Groundbreaking Record on Dealing With Clergy Sexual Abuse


National Catholic Register, 20 August 2019

Whatever the outcome of his appeal against his own conviction, historically he pioneered many reforms now in effect in how bishops address this issue.

In the discussion of clerical sexual abuse, Cardinal George Pell now occupies a unique place. He is in fact the highest-ranking Catholic official ever to be criminally charged with the sexual abuse of minors. Other cardinals have had allegations confirmed against them in Church processes — Theodore McCarrick of Washington, Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna — but faced neither criminal charges nor subsequent conviction to date.

The appeals-court verdict, to be delivered Wednesday morning in Melbourne (Tuesday evening in North America), is supremely important, not least for Cardinal Pell’s liberty. But the facts of the case are now widely known, and the appeals-court verdict may not change very many minds. Cardinal Pell, should the conviction be upheld, will remain a man falsely convicted in the considered judgment of many, including this writer.

Should the conviction be overturned, those who have been after Cardinal Pell — including the Melbourne police, who confessed to want to “get Pell” long before there were any allegations against him — will remain convinced that he is guilty of horrible crimes. They were convinced of that before there was any evidence and will remain convinced even if the appellate court rules that that evidence is false.

But before that story dominates the days and weeks ahead, it is important to remember that Cardinal Pell was a key figure in the Church’s sex-abuse scandals long before the current charges were made in 2017. He was, in fact, widely considered to be a pioneering reformer. The travails of the past two years have obscured that.

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