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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 27, 2019
Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne Feb. 27, 2019. Cardinal Pell was jailed after being found guilty of child sexual abuse; the Vatican announced his case would be investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (CNS photo/Daniel Pockett, AAP images via Reuters)

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is opening an investigation into the case of Cardinal George Pell following his conviction by an Australian court on five counts of the sexual abuse of minors in the late 1990s.

Sources told America that this decision was made by Pope Francis, given that Pell is a cardinal and an archbishop.

The cardinal is now in prison in Melbourne, following the decision of the Australian judge handling his case to revoke his bail.

Alessandro Gisotti, the interim director of the Holy See’s press office, issued the following statement just after midday on Feb. 27, in response to queries from journalists:

“After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm.”

This is a major development in the case of Cardinal Pell. It makes clear that the Vatican congregation, which is the main tribunal for dealing with all cases regarding the abuse of minors by clerics, is opening an investigation into Cardinal Pell, who has been convicted of sexually abusing two thirteen year old choir boys when he was archbishop of Melbourne. The Vatican statement indicates that the C.D.F. will follow the procedure and the time limit laid down in the code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church.

Depending on the findings of the investigation, which will take into account the findings of the Australian court, the C.D.F. will decide whether to proceed by an administrative process or hold a formal trial.

If tried and found guilty, the penalties can vary depending on the seriousness of the crime and, often, the age of the accused; possible penalties include removal from office, restricted ministry, “a life of prayer and penance” without any public ministry and dismissal from the clerical state.

The C.D.F. opted for the more rapid administrative process in the case of the former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, which found him guilty of the crimes of abuse, leading to Pope Francis removing him not only from the college of cardinals but also from the clerical state.

Cardinal George Pell is in prison in Melbourne, and will remain there until he is sentenced on March 13 on five counts of sexual offenses against two minors, each count carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Today, at Melbourne County Court, Judge Peter Kidd revoked the bail that he had granted Cardinal Pell after the jury delivered an unanimous guilty verdict on Dec. 11, 2018. He had been granted bail then to undergo urgent knee surgery.

Having revoked the bail, the judge then remanded the cardinal in custody; that is, he ordered that he be detained in prison until March 13 when he will sentence him. The cardinal was then escorted by security guards from the courtroom and taken to prison. He is expected to remain there until he is sentenced.

After that, he will appeal the sentence, various sources said. It had been expected that his lawyers would have made the appeal before two judges of the Court of Appeals yesterday, but he decided against that and opted to wait until after sentencing.

According to Australian media, people shouted “Rot in hell!” as the cardinal arrived in court for this morning’s pre-sentencing hearing.

Late yesterday, Feb. 26, the Vatican spokesman confirmed that “Cardinal Pell if no longer prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy.” Pope Francis had appointed him to that position on Feb. 24, 2014, for a five year period, a mandate ended three days ago.

Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tim O'Leary
5 years 3 months ago

This is welcome news, and very proper and just. I expect the Vatican will not be susceptible to the kangaroo courts in Australia. If Pell is guilty, he should face the same fate as McCarrick. If he is innocent, he should be celebrated like St. Thomas More. I await the evidence.

Tim O'Leary
5 years 3 months ago

Well, well. With the lifting of the gag order, the actual trial proceedings are becoming public. Not a pretty sight. I just read Jim McDermotts "Explainer". He would certainly not be a Pell doctrinal ally. Agnostics and other non-Catholics are calling the whole trial into question. Many odd things about this case set it apart from all other abuse cases.
1. There is no physical evidence whatsoever. No possibility of DNA or other evidence to save an innocent man falsely accused. Seems the jury took the default position that any accusation is considered true until proven false. A presumption of guilt, and not innocence.
2. There is no living witness apart from the accuser. The boy who it is claimed was abused with the accuser at the same time denied it happened. But, he is dead of a drug overdose. The accuser only brought forward the charge after the witness had died. Was this a coincidence or calculated?
3. Several key claims of the event are highly unlikely if not impossible: the exposed nature of the sacristy, the restrictions of the vestments, the busy church around a con-celebrated cathedral Mass, the standard practice that Pell was never alone, the clerics calendar of 1996-97, the speed of the event and the return to the crowd with no change in vestments,
4. Consider that at the time of this alleged event, Pell had been made Archbishop only a few months before, and was already dealing with the child abuse crisis in full rage. He had just instituted a zero tolerance policy. What could possibly possess someone to be so cavalier in this setting. He would indeed have to have been possessed.
5. Trial procedural issues: McDermott reports that Cardinal Pell never got to face his accuser (who made his accusation as an adult!), "he was never present in the court, gave video testimony; nor is his name or the name of his now-deceased co-victim public knowledge (why is this - they are adults now). The transcripts of the testimony are being withheld by the court and may never be released. No one but the jury, the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys has heard or read the actual testimony of the victim. In fact, the jury that convicted Cardinal Pell in December was only seeing a replay of the testimony and questions presented before a prior jury in the case, which was dismissed in late September after it failed to reach an 11-1 decision about Cardinal Pell’s guilt.

So, the very same testimony convinced one jury by video but went the opposite way when it was in real time. No corroborating evidence, lots of disputed facts, decades later, vilified accused, and a process of secret testimony and gag orders. Disgraceful. Some haters of Pell doubt he did this actual event. But, they think even a false conviction is better than a conservative go free. They look at "presumption of innocence" in a procedural way ("if he is convicted by 1 out of 2 juries, then he must be deemed guilty"), when it really means that if the evidence is insufficient to prove someone guilty, he should be presumed innocent. As George Weigel wrote, the Australian judicial system is as much on trial here as the Cardinal.

Tim O'Leary
5 years 2 months ago

Here is a link to the interview of Cardinal Pell when he first heard of this accusation (just released): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBg9tqKLOMk. His reaction reads to me of a man wholly innocent and indignantly outraged by the vulgar preposterous charge. Yet, he seems fully confident he will be able to defend himself by providing counterfactual information. He was successful in the first trial, and not in the second. When an injustice so obvious is perpetrated by a police-judicial system, it ALWAYS should call into question the validity of those methods, whether it happened in apartheid South Africa, Jim Crow Dixieland, Chicago under the Daleys, NY's Tammany Hall or the states of Australia. The motives and actions of the police and judicial system in Victoria are very troubling. Some key concerns:
1. Operation Tethering: Based on an anti-Catholic media campaign, hatchet jobs from journalists, pronouncements from the Royal Commission on sex abuse, the people were whipped up into a rage of hate for Cardinal Pell, the figurehead of the Church in Australia. In 2013, the Victoria police, without any complaints reaching their office, began a 4-year search for people willing to allege sexual abuse, including suggestive newspaper ads. The vast majority of allegations were thrown out, a few reached the judicial system. All have failed, including this one on the first trial. Consider it only took a week or so in the Kavanaugh case for Avenatti to find Julie Swetnik to make the preposterous claims involving multiple gang rape charges against high school kids. Imagine what a four-years of searching could do, and if it was driven not just by liberal partisans, but by the police?
2. The gag order was extraordinary in its application and doubtful in its motive. It is supposed to be motivated to protect the accused from an unfair trial. This was impossible given the prep work of Victoria’s finest. Hundreds of media outlets have received threatening letters. This could never happen in the US because of our Constitution and free speech rights. The Australian journalists union has complained that the state of Victoria uses it excessively.
3. Even though the accuser was an adult in his 30s, the Victoria judicial system, using methods for children, permitted the accuser to testify in closed court, and prevented the accused from confronting his accuser, a norm in Democratic nations.
4. The decision to proceed with a new trial after a 10:2 in favor of Pell is reported to be highly unusual by Australian journalists.
5. In the second trial, the complainant did not have to testify before the jury. They simply replayed the video testimony.
6. Journalist Melissa Davey attended the trial and says the judge, Pell and Richter were all shocked by the verdict, when presented by the jury.
7. Pell’s lawyer Richter is now appealing the case in part on the an irregularity of the process (Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury panel), on the refusal of Judge Kidd to permit a video representation of their argument, and on the unreasonableness of a determination of “beyond reasonable doubt” based solely on a single complainant and despite unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 crown witnesses.

Some key links

Phillip Stone
5 years 2 months ago

Well covered. I can only add my confirmation and endorsement.

Crystal Watson
5 years 3 months ago

Gee what a great idea. Perhaps the Vatican will discover all that missing evidence of Pell's innocence and reinstate a convicted sex abuser as the Pope's right hand man. Except, you know, he'll probably be in prison.

Tim O'Leary
5 years 3 months ago

Crystal - you reveal your presumption of guilt over innocence. What can be the "missing" evidence of your innocence? Don't get your hopes up re prison.

Crystal Watson
5 years 3 months ago

He had the presumption of innocence and then he was convicted by a jury in a trial.

Tim O'Leary
5 years 3 months ago

Interesting analysis by John Allen at Crux (link below). I think the haters will be disappointed that the evidence that has surfaced so far does not support the conviction. Here's Allen on why the Vatican's child sex abuse investigators remain skeptical about Pell's guilt (unlike McCarrick):

"Instead, the doubts are based on the allegations themselves, which require one to believe that an archbishop known as a fusspot for liturgical rules inexplicably broke protocol to head for the sacristy behind the cathedral altar on a busy Sunday. Normally accompanied by aides but at that moment strangely alone, according to the charge, Pell then discovered two choirboys, also by themselves, sexually abused both boys while still wearing his cumbersome liturgical vestments (which cannot be parted in the ways described in the testimony), and then returned to greeting Mass-goers, all without ever being observed by the host of people who constantly move in and out of the sacristy on such an occasion."

"As Australian Jesuit Father Frank Brennan, who attended the trial, has written, 'The proposition that the offenses charged were committed immediately after Mass by a fully robed archbishop in the sacristy with an open door and in full view from the corridor seemed incredible to my mind.'”

"Further, Pell’s conviction came in a second trial after his first trial in August ended with a hung jury. Ten of those twelve jurors were ready to acquit, leaving people to wonder about how such a dramatic swing was possible from one trial to the next.

"There’s also the politics of Australia to consider, where, due to negative media coverage and his own combative disposition, Pell occupies roughly the same spot in public opinion as Osama bin Laden did in the United States post-9/11. (Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but only slightly.) For some, there are questions about whether a fair trial was really possible."

And earlier: "The irony is that the people in the Vatican most inclined to welcome Pell’s conviction aren’t really reformers on sexual abuse, but those lukewarm about house-cleaning on the financial front who resented Pell’s challenge to the status quo during his brief tenure as the Vatican’s financial czar."

Lisa M
5 years 3 months ago

Crystal- What is the rush? It appears there are plenty who question if it was physically possible for the abuse to have happened the way the victim claimed. Yes, he was found guilty, but the first trial was a hung jury, with most voting to acquit. We all should want justice to be served, and that , at the very least requires us to wait until he attempts an appeal, or confesses, because as of now, it is still unsettling. He should not pay for the sins of others, only his own. I truly hope the truth will be revealed.

Crystal Watson
5 years 3 months ago

I'm not rushing. There have been decades of his mishandling of abuse and the accusations of sex abuse were made against him before ... The rise and fall of George Pell – timeline ... "June 2002 Pell stands aside while he is investigated by the church over an accusation that he sexually abused a 12-year-old altar boy at a youth camp on Phillip Island in 1961 while a seminarian. Pell denies the allegations. The verdict of the retired judge is not proven but not dismissed."

Lisa M
5 years 3 months ago

Crystal- We are not talking about other cases or accusations though because they are not before the court, so it would not be just to speculate. In the one case I know personally, I didn't know the extent of the charges, but I couldn't imagine the priest did anything. He, of course claimed innocence, and until the trial began, I believed he likely was innocent. My prayers however, were for the truth. It did not take long for me to realize that indeed he was guilty, and I, and others had been played. He was found guilty, and later pleaded guilty to charges he was facing for another trial. I say this because we must always be open to the truth, and always seek justice, no matter if we like the accused or not, or there are other rumours or not. In this instance, in this case, it would appear there are some issues that remain concerning at least to those seeking truth and justice. Therefore, we should remain open to the possibility that he may in fact be innocent of these particular charges.

Tim O'Leary
5 years 3 months ago

Lisa - Progressives want scalps of bishops and do not care a whit of the actual evidence. As reported by America's interview with Archbishop Coleridge, Archbishop Wilson was convicted by a magistrate for the cover-up of a priest abuser, and sentenced to a year’s “home detention.” He was cleared of all charges upon appeal and the magistrate was scolded for the guilty verdict. Archbishop Coleridge called him a sacrificial lamb and said, "One of the ironies of the case was that [Archbishop Wilson] was a trailblazer in the early years of leading the church to a point where we would actually deal realistically with abuse.” After his guilty conviction “There were people screaming for imprisonment,” he recalled. “There was a crowd baying for blood, who want nothing more than to see an archbishop or better still a cardinal being dragged off to prison.” Though the acquittal of Archbishop Wilson was decisive, Archbishop Coleridge said, “it’s been an agonizing process for Phil; his health is shot to pieces. There’s a tragic edge to the story, in a sense he was destroyed even though innocent.”

Lisa M
5 years 3 months ago

Tim- Very, very sad. I think both sides are looking for the scalps of the bishops though, and if Cardinal Cupich were the one accused , I'm most certain there would be no need for evidence on the 'conservative' side. That's how they are handling accusations of coverup right now, being guilty by association, etc. Sad but true, at least that's how I see it.

joseph mulligan
5 years 3 months ago

In 1957 the great German theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, in a homily during the first Mass of a newly ordained priest, presented some reflections about the priesthood which seem appropriate in relation to today’s moral crisis in the Church. His words were addressed mainly to his fellow priests.
“God, my dear brethren, has given us grace. He has given us a great grace: he has called and chosen us. It was not our doing; of ourselves we had nothing to make us worthy of that call and that grace. For we are poor sinners, weak human beings….

“Of ourselves we have not the strength to be faithful to this call. It is a tremendous, unmerited grace…. Most of the time we do not speak the word at all as we ought. We stammer, and we cannot seem to speak the word from the heart. We keep obscuring it by our own bad example, with our own wretched humanness. Yet God has given us the grace to utter and proclaim this word of his, to keep speaking it in this world….

“God give us his grace, we must say; for we are weak, we have hardly an inkling how weak….

“The priesthood is hard, for we are but men, and so we say and pray on such a day as this: God give us his grace, for we are poor and weak…. We may say, if you, oh God, have called us -- and not to believe that you have would be doing you an injustice --, then we also know that he who began the work is faithful and will bring it to completion.” [Fr. Rahner was referring to St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 1:6 – “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”]

This material is taken from the book, SERVANTS OF THE LORD, by Karl Rahner (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), pp. 81-86. Surely today Fr. Rahner would not use the male pronoun in referring to God.

Fr. Joe Mulligan, SJ

Gemma Cordingly
5 years 3 months ago

I am a grassroots Catholic from a small rural parish in Australia and I thought I would pass on some feedback to all you sophisticated commentators. Mid-week mass attendance is well up as the devout core of the church bring their broken hearts to Christ in the mass. It may be that Sunday attendance is down, we don't know yet. Cardinal Pell is revered as a holy man of God here and his conviction as outrageous. Why must the complainant's identity remain hidden? Such unaccountable power. We grieve and we pray.

Crystal Watson
5 years 3 months ago

Pell's own lawyer described what Pell did as a "plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating" and said Pell was "seized by some irresistible impulse". Yeah, he sounds so innocent.

Vincent Couling
5 years 3 months ago

Crystal, to be fair, I think that at sentencing, Pell's lawyer was compelled to argue from the point of view of Pell being guilty of the charges, having been found so by a jury of 12. From what I understand, Pell still protests his innocence, and at his appeal I don't think either he or his lawyer will be admitting that Pell actually sexually violated the two youths in the sacristy. This is a profoundly disturbing case, which has left me feeling hugely conflicted. Sexual abuse is evil, period. Ascertaining the authentic facts can be extremely messy, as revealed by Fr Brennan's article in The Tablet at https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/11412/cardinal-pell-guilty-a-jesuit-priest-comments . Hopefully the appeal hearing will bring further resolution for us, the observers reading the media. I really do not like commenting on articles covering Pell's case ... the whole business leaves me profoundly unsettled. I am thoroughly convinced that the church must ensure that those who have been sexually violated must come first in all considerations!

Lisa M
5 years 3 months ago

Vincent- I'm 100% in agreement with you. It is unsettling, but we must be always open to the assumption and possibility of innocence, while at the same time caring for and believing the victim, sometimes an impossible task to do both. Since we are talking about children, they come first, but how horrible is that for the accused. The only solution is to always pray for the truth to prevail, never to pray for what we believe the truth to be.

Phillip Stone
5 years 2 months ago

The sins against the prevailing culture of the monster male Catholic George Pell.

1. He debated in plain view with public intellectuals against homosexual marriage and for the standard, old fashioned traditional custom of one man, one woman, until death do they part.
Reactionary, superstitious, homophobic sexism - shocking.

2. When appointed to a position of authority over teachers of the faith within church institutions particularly the formation of candidates for the priesthood and religious life, he commanded that they all teach the faith as handed down from the apostles.
In disgust at this authoritarian conservative, in unison they handed in their resignations en masse. He shocked them by accepting them all and replaced them with expert educators of the true traditional faith.
Totalitarian and dictatorial outrageous abuse of power.

3. His Mass in the cathedral was time after time invaded by active homosexuals wearing a distinctive Rainbow sash proclaiming this fact who lined up for Holy Communion which he one by one declined to minister but gave them his episcopal blessing in the same way as he gave children who had not yet had first Holy Communion.
How dare he refuse anyone a sacrament, who did he think he was?

4. When commissioned with the power and authority of leadership of a diocese he immediately did what no bishop in the entire world had done, instituted an official function which was initially called the Melbourne response to deal with clerical sexual abuse.
As a first, this service was very imperfect and required significant modifications of rules and procedures responsive to feedback.
Shocking how he did not design a perfect solution at first try.

5. He once said "Abortion is a worse sin than clerical sexual abuse".
We all know that pregnancy is just a bundle of cells in the womb and not a real person! How could he be so insensitive?

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