‘If he re­ally is in­no­cent, he can now fi­nally clear his name’

Herald Sun - - NEWS - AN­DREW BOLT

THE de­ci­sion by Vic­to­ria Po­lice to charge Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell with sex­ual abuse is both a tragedy and a hope for the Catholic Church’s fi­nance min­is­ter.

It is a tragedy be­cause Pell, who has de­voted his life to his church and in­sists he is in­no­cent, is now pub­licly ac­cused by po­lice of one of the most de­spised evils.

How Pell keeps going as­ton­ishes me. Weaker peo­ple would kill them­selves rather than un­dergo these years of public sham­ing.

I asked him just this last year in Rome, af­ter he’d re­turned — choked up — from meet­ing Bal­larat vic­tims of pae­dophile priests.

He said what might seem ob­vi­ous from a car­di­nal but was ev­i­dently sin­cere: his deep faith in Christ, the suf­fer­ing ser­vant. And he gave me a book of ser­mons he’d given on the Gospel of Luke.

So — again, if he’s in­no­cent — be­ing charged with sex­ual abuse must seem the ul­ti­mate in­sult to a man who has en­dured so many al­ready.

Yet be­ing charged also gives Pell hope be­cause, if he re­ally is in­no­cent, he can now fi­nally clear his name in court and put an end to the most vi­cious campaign of per­sonal vil­i­fi­ca­tion we have seen. But there’s the catch. What hope is there of Pell get­ting a fair trial?

Pell has for decades been trashed by a media that has hated him — first for be­ing a con­ser­va­tive war­rior, op­pos­ing same-sex mar­riage and then global warm­ing alarmism.

Priests of the Left also at­tacked him for reforming the cur­ricu­lum in Catholic schools to make it more in line with church teach­ings.

Pell was then at­tacked for al­legedly pro­tect­ing pae­dophile priests, first as a rel­a­tively ju­nior priest him­self in Bal­larat and later as a bishop in Mel­bourne un­der Arch­bishop Frank Lit­tle, who did in­deed hide pae­dophiles rather than ex­pose them.

And now Pell stands ac­cused him­self of sex­ual of­fences.

Right now, Mel­bourne Uni­ver­sity Press is removing from sale a book by ABC jour­nal­ist Louise Mil­li­gan in which Pell is ac­cused of sex­ual of­fences nearly 40 years ago.

(I can­not dis­cuss the charges against Pell for le­gal rea­sons and will not now de­bate their mer­its.)

Nor is Mil­li­gan’s book all the char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion that Pell has faced.

He has been re­peat­edly ac­cused of hav­ing ig­nored warn­ings that other priests abused chil­dren, of­ten by peo­ple whose mem­o­ries have been proved faulty.

For in­stance, David Rids­dale, him­self con­victed of child abuse, ac­cused Pell of of­fer­ing him a bribe to shut up about be­ing abused by his un­cle, no­to­ri­ous pae­dophile priest Ger­ald Rids­dale — a claim that the coun­sel as­sist­ing the royal com­mis­sion into child sex­ual abuse con­cluded was highly im­prob­a­ble.

Other sim­i­lar ac­cu­sa­tions of hav­ing turned a blind eye were also proved false when Pell showed he was not even in the coun­try when al­legedly warned by one man, or liv­ing in an­other home than the one an­other ac­cuser said he’d gone to con­front him.

Mean­while, the ABC and other media out­lets played a Tim Minchin song call­ing Pell a “cow­ard” and “scum”.

Over­looked or ig­nored is ev­i­dence of an­other side to Pell, in­clud­ing his record as the first church­man of any faith in Aus­tralia to lead a campaign to re­move pae­dophile priests and com­pen­sate their vic­tims.

Nor has the media shown much in­ter­est in the tes­ti­mony of Pell de­fend­ers, in­clud­ing for­mer choir­boys and parish­ioners who knew Pell well. Given all that, and his own stern de­meanour, how can Pell hope that a jury will have an open mind to the ev­i­dence? Yet for Pell, noth­ing but a court hear­ing can end this night­mare or re­move this stain on his char­ac­ter.

For the com­plainants, of course, this is a big step to vin­di­ca­tion and jus­tice, and pos­si­bly com­pen­sa­tion. A lawyer for some said they were over the moon, although had been warned they should not count on Pell be­ing con­victed.

But, for the rest of us, I fear the worst. Once again, the pil­lars of our so­ci­ety are be­ing shaken hard. Al­ready, our trust in the big po­lit­i­cal par­ties that form our gov­ern­ments has been shred­ded. One-third of vot­ers pre­fer any other party than La­bor or Lib­eral.

Mean­while, con­tempt for our his­tory has been taught so well that there are se­ri­ous moves to change Aus­tralia Day from Jan­uary 26, and calls to change our flag and an­them.

And faith in our churches has crum­bled so much that just 52 per cent of Aus­tralians now pro­fesses them­selves as Chris­tian, down from 61 per cent in just five years.

Has shame, as much as dis­be­lief, driven tens of thou­sands of Aus­tralians from the churches that preached the faith and val­ues that are the foun­da­tions of our so­ci­ety?

Lit­tle faith in our pol­i­tics, fall­ing faith in our priests. If our most se­nior Catholic is in­deed found guilty of child abuse, in whom can any of us now trust?

Or, rather, in whom will younger sal­va­tion seek­ers now put their faith. Ahead lies dan­ger, and not just for Pell.

Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell says he will re­turn to Aus­tralia to face sex­ual abuse charges. Pic­ture: AFP 09

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