TEST OF FAITH FOR JUSTICE
‘If he really is innocent, he can now finally clear his name’
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