Editorial: Those who dismiss Pell verdict ignore integrity of legal process

National Catholic Reporter

August 29, 2019

The response in certain circles to the Aug. 21 court decision upholding Cardinal George Pell’s conviction for sexually assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s was as swift as it was irrational.

Edward Peters, a canon lawyer who teaches at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary, claimed in a tweet some 40 minutes after the verdict that “the testimony used to convict Thomas More was more plausible.”

Hours later, John Paul II biographer George Weigel questioned at First Things whether people would want to travel to Australia anymore because of “mob hysteria.” First Things editor Matthew Schmitz likened an aggrieved Pell to the suffering Christ.

In following days, Crux’s John Allen said the odds against Pell being guilty are “awfully long.” And the editor of Crisis Magazine, Michael Warren Davis, claimed it is “literally impossible” that Pell is guilty.

Even a cardinal joined in, with South Africa’s Wilfrid Napier taking to Twitter to characterize Weigel’s analysis as “daring,” although the cardinal later said he did not mean to praise the biographer’s point of view. (Nota bene, the Oxford English dictionary defines “daring” as “adventurous or audaciously bold.”)

Forgive the graphic nature of the following, but it serves to indicate the seriousness of what these men dismiss.

According to 12 members of a jury of his peers, and to two appeals judges who just upheld their verdict, Pell, as archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, orally raped one 13-year-old boy and indecently assaulted another. Later, he sought the same boys out again to grab at their genitals at church.

Excuse us — perhaps it comes from 35 years’ experience investigating such monstrous predators as Legionaries of Christ founder Marcial Maciel Degollado, who First Things defended for years, once calling him an “innocent and indeed holy person” — but we have some rather firm ideas about the consideration that should be accorded survivors of such despicable and cruel abuse.

In the interest of helping others care for victims — assuming, of course, that those defending the convicted cardinal have such intention — it seems only reasonable that basic courtesy is a minimum. When a person comes forward alleging that they have been abused by a minister in the Catholic Church — be it a priest, bishop, sister, teacher, parish worker or otherwise — they should be listened to, treated with respect, and presented with avenues for justice.

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