Cardinal Pell faces ‘A Witch Trial’

Cardinal Pell faces ‘A Witch Trial’

Dorothy Cummings McLean

MELBOURNE, Australia July 14, 2014 (LifeSiteNews): There’s something rotten in the State of Victoria, and Cardinal Pell’s defenders say it is the Police Commissioner’s decision to charge him. Prolific author George Weigel, a friend of Pell’s for fifty years, compares the case to the Salem witch trials.

Weigel reported in the National Review that the charges against Pell were no surprise to “those familiar with the fantastic campaign of false allegations of sexual abuse conducted against the cardinal.” Cardinal Pell was subjected to such claims in 2002 and stepped aside as Archbishop of Melbourne during an inquiry into the matter. After examining the case, retired Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell cleared Pell.

Weigel notes that the media trial of Pell has created “a thoroughly poisonous public climate” worsened by “poorly sourced but widely disseminated allegations”, a lack of respect for elementary fairness and a “curious relationship between elements of the Australian media and the Victoria police.” One example of this “curious relationship” is the leaking of information by police to the Sydney Morning Herald about their investigation into Pell.

The anti-Pell media hysteria reached a peak in May with the publication of Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, a book devoted to airing allegations, both old and new, about Pell’s character, career, handling of Australian clerical sex abuse claims, demeanour towards victims and supposed criminal deeds.

Weigel cites an Australian diplomat and Australian legal experts and journalists who are appalled by the media campaign to bring down Pell. Amanda Vanstone, a former ambassador to Italy, wrote on May 30 in the Sydney Morning Herald that “The media frenzy surrounding Cardinal George Pell is the lowest point in civil discourse in my lifetime. I’m 64. What we are seeing is no better than a lynch mob from the dark ages.”

Vanstone accused Australian media of playing fast and loose with the law, risking libel suits only because the pockets of their employers are so deep. Referring to two years of the media’s anti-Pell campaign, Vanstone stated “This saga has gone on and on. Civilised as we are we’ve discarded the death penalty. Oddly, we seem to condone death by a thousand cuts through public persecution. We allow a career and a reputation to be destroyed because a baying crowd thinks they can be the arbiter of guilt and innocence.”

Journalist Angela Shanahan decried Australian media’s “Get Pell” mentality in her June 11 column in the Weekend Australian. “Pell can never receive a fair trial,” she wrote. “The ‘vibe’ has taken over.” The year-long police investigation, the Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton’s granting of several radio interviews and “unprecedented commentary on the process” plus the “sustained efforts” of Australia’s media “have ensured that any real evidence of wrongdoing has long become a secondary consideration to the vibe.”

It may be that this “vibe” needs a scapegoat and, as Australia’s most high profile Catholic, Cardinal Pell smells of the goat. Shanahan cites John Howard, a former Australian Prime Minister, as having observed “It seems as if Cardinal Pell is being singled out to take the rap for the misdeeds of a whole lot of people, and the evidence is that he was more active in trying to do something about it.”

Pell was the pioneer of child protection in the Australian Church, having founded “Melbourne Response” in 1993. This was almost ten years before the American clerical abuse scandal broke.

Robin Speed, the president of the Australian Rule of Law Institute, warned readers of the Australian that prosecutors ought not to act against Cardinal Pell “in response to the baying of a section of the mob.” Meanwhile, the Justice Institute of Victoria has stated that the “lack of regard” for Pell’s rights was “a startling affront” to the Australian justice system.

In his National Review piece, Weigel cites journalist Peter Craven who reviewed Cardinal: the Rise and Fall of George Pell for the Sydney Morning Herald and concluded “One can only hope to God than in the present climate people will be capable of realizing this is a case being mounted for a witch hunt.”

Doctor Philippa Martyr, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, has also come to Cardinal Pell’s defense. In the first of two essays for First Things, Martyr explained that, prior to Pell’s promotion to the archbishopric of Melbourne, faithful Catholics in Australia were in despair, thanks to thirty years of doctrinal and liturgical confusion. When they heard that Pell was to become Archbishop, “the rejoicing, underpinned by sheer disbelief in our good fortune, was ecstatic.”

Martyr recounts how Pell was at first courted by the media, who sought his opinion on a myriad of topics. “But then the zeitgeist changed,” she wrote. “It may have been due to Pell’s move to become archbishop of Sydney, followed by journalist Tess Livingston’s effusive biography, and then his elevation of Cardinal.” However, Martyr concedes that it might also have been “the new evidence about the terrible extent of sexual abuse and corruption in the Church in Australia, unpacked by a government inquiry.”

“More recently,” Martyr added, “it may be the current pope’s apparent dislike of Pell, and Pell’s robust defense of marriage and the family at the second session of the recent synod–during which his microphone was turned off, but Pell continued to speak, rallying marginalized bishops to his side.”

Asserting that Cardinal Pell is “probably the least secretive man in the Australian hierarchy,” Martyr believes that he is innocent of any charges of sexual abuse.

Philippa Martyr underscores Cardinal Pell’s defense of traditional teachings concerning marriage and the family; George Weigel believes the reason for the “witch hunt” has to do with the Cardinal’s perhaps too effective work mucking out the Augean stables of the Vatican finances. Weigel suspects that those who have profited from the corruption “took care to derail Cardinal Pell by fostering more false allegations in Australia.”

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One comment on “Cardinal Pell faces ‘A Witch Trial’

  1. Are Cardinal Pell’s sex abuse charges just the latest attack from his enemies?

    Dorothy Cummings McLean

    MELBOURNE, Australia, July 14, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — We wish we could tell you in detail about the charges Cardinal Pell will answer when he appears in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 26, but we can’t. We don’t know what they are. We don’t even know who knows what they are. We read that they involve “multiple historic sex offenses” in the Australian state of Victoria, but against whom? And when? And where in Victoria?

    The very prominent Australian Cardinal has vehemently denied that he is guilty of any wrong doing and stated that he is looking forward to his day in court to finally clear his name.

    Cardinal Pell has faced opposition in Australia for decades, both for his handling of child sex-abuse cases and for his defense of the Catholic faith. Once upon a time, he was hailed as a national treasure: He received Australia’s Centenary Medal and made a Companion of the Order of Australia. But as increasing numbers of Catholic Australians have ceased to practice their faith, Pell has become a scapegoat, a symbol of the supposed hard-heartedness of those who still teach the doctrine of the Church on life issues, sexuality, and marriage. Now, as Julia Yost wryly observes in First Things, “his critics strain to establish his responsibility for crimes in which he played no part.”

    Take, for example, crimes that took place in the city of Ballarat, Australia, in the 1970s and the early 1980s. Pell has been criticized both for not having done anything about, and for not having known enough about, clerical sexual abuse in Ballarat at that time. However, in the 1970s, Pell had no authority over clergy in Ballarat or anywhere else. Until 1981, he served only as an assistant parish priest. He did not become a bishop until 1987, and even then he had a difficult relationship with the man in charge, the very liberal Archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little. In 1993, within four months of becoming the decidedly conservative Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell green-lighted an independent investigation of clerical sex misconduct claims. In short, as soon as Pell was in charge, something was done and knowledge was sought.

    The first allegation that Pell was himself an abuser was made in 2002 by a career criminal who alleged that, as a seminarian, Pell had abused him at an altar boys’ camp in 1961. Phil Scott claimed that Pell had touched him inappropriately but always in the presence of other boys “seemingly oblivious” to the alleged groping. After an inquiry, a judge dismissed the complaint.

    Phil John Scott had amassed 39 criminal convictions from about 20 court appearance. Most of his convictions between 1969 and 1975 involved drunk-driving or assaults. In 1982 he was convicted twice for dishonest practices in gambling, for which he was again convicted in 1986. In 1984 he was fined twice for refusing to cooperate with officials investigating his profits from illegal bookmaking activities. In 1995 he pleaded guilty to three counts of trafficking in amphetamines and was sentenced to 3 years and nine months in jail. In addition to this, he had been charged with evading taxes. It is perhaps safe to conclude that he was not an honest man.

    A second allegation was made in 2015 by two lifelong friends, Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan. Monument and Dignan are also convicted criminals. Media-accountability site notes that Lyndon Monument is a drug user who served almost a year for a violent assault on a man and a woman “over a drug debt.” Damian Dignan is an alcoholic with criminal convictions for assault and drunk-driving.

    Monument and Dignan claim that Pell abused them at a busy public swimming pool at Ballarat in the Australian summer of 1978-79. Pell allegedly did this while playing a game in which he put his hands under their feet to propel them out of the water. Monument has told interviewers that Pell put his hand (or hands) down the boys’ bathing suits during this game. In her blistering critique, Yost observes that Monument’s and Dignan’s descriptions of the alleged abuse seem very unlikely if not physically impossible.

    Nevertheless, these and other allegations are the subject of a book by Australian journalist Louise Milligan. An ex-Catholic, Milligan laces Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell with her own sad feelings about Catholicism, including being hit with a shoe by her Catholic mother. “Whenever she can,” notes Yost, “Milligan associates Catholicism with the victimization of children.”

    Milligan’s book was released May 14 and removed from Melbourne shelves when Cardinal Pell was charged June 29. It seems unlikely, though, that this measure was insufficient to secure Pell a fair trial. After 15 years of mud-slinging, it may be a case of too little, too late. One thing for certain: If Cardinal Pell is put on trial, the Australian judicial system will be on trial with him.

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