What the Pell Case Is Really About

We’re in the middle of a deeply disturbing and dangerous phenomenon, in a sense inevitable, like the Reign of Terror, Communism, the Holocaust, McCarthyism, the #MeToo Movement and other human events where reason takes flight and humanity finds itself plagued with uncontrollable chthonic forces.

In theory, the case against George Pell should be about whether he is guilty of the specific charges against him. In practice, his case is really about something else. It’s part of a broader war over what he symbolises to those among the clergy, laity, and those within and without the Church who see him as a symbol of something awful, some ancient regime where women are meant to be submissive as men oppress them according to some Divine plan.

Recently, this line of thinking was argued forcefully by a religious Sister who regards the Pell case emotionally, rather than legally, in terms of the suffering it has caused Catholics. Following the trajectory of Sister’s deeply felt sense of what’s wrong, the legal question of Pell’s hypothetical innocence is irrelevant. Through Father Frank Brennan, who still hopes for truth and justice, and Archbishop Comensoli, who still maintains Pell’s innocence, the Church is wicked to pray for his vindication. The real issue is the perception that, in the past, Pell and other bishops supported the criminal rather than the victim, thereby ignoring the harm they did. In shielding the criminal from the consequences of his actions, the sufferings of their victims were multiplied and the numbers of their victims were increased.

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Although it may be a show trial, nevertheless the Pell case demonstrates an immeasurable betrayal of trust. Catholics feel betrayed, Sister says, because their representatives were unworthy, and the laity’s deference to the clergy gave them the opportunity to do great harm. Following this line of thinking, the Church shouldn’t focus on Pell’s hypothetical innocence. Rather, it should help survivors integrate their sufferings into Christ’s sufferings for the sake of the Church and all humanity. To that I say good luck. Australians aren’t habituated to offering up their sufferings to Christ and the number of Catholics who are has decreased dramatically.

While any semblance of objectivity around the Pell case is impossible, I make four points, which keep falling on deaf ear:

First, it’s extremely narrow to see child sexual abuse as a Catholic problem rather than a social problem more generally, since every denomination, faith and secular institution is involved. If a significantly greater proportion of abuse occurred in Catholic institutions, it was because the Catholic Church ran a significantly greater number of institutions.

Second, every institution, secular or religious, managed child sexual abuse in the same risk-management way before the introduction of statutory guidelines.

Third, in purely statistical terms, children have always been safer in Catholic institutions than their own homes, where the vast majority of abuse occurs at the hands of someone within the family or known to it.

Fourth, it’s not rational to conflate the specifics of the charges against Pell with the broader hostility towards him as a conservative Christian.

What is uniquely sinister about the Pell case is the way it brings out the darker side of human nature. In a purely evidentiary sense, the Pell case parallels Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate Hearing in the US, where the motives against him were glaringly political and their vindictiveness glaringly obvious. While the case against Pell was notoriously weak, motivations for convicting him were strong, and our judicial system is permanently compromised as a result. As Jesus said on the Cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”.

Michael Giffin is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney

8 thoughts on “What the Pell Case Is Really About

  • en passant says:

    During a lunch I had on Thursday the subject of the Pell case was raised. My lunch partner said, “I never liked Pell. I thought he was as cold and dispassionate as Lindy Chamberlain. Howver, the evidence in both cases was so weak that the verdicts are astounding. Both were always innocent and only a monstrously distorted legal system could find otherwise.”
    As an atheist with no stake to drive into Pell’s heart for other reasons, I concurred.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    Several people I know, all women – at least one Catholic – have made similar comments. To them, he lacks empathy, compassion and all the other florid emotionalism that many people judge to be the only appropriate evidence of such traits. One woman, the mother of an autistic son, is sure that Pell, like many priests (she believes), is on the “spectrum”.
    The media, and much of the public, have blamed Pell for not dealing with “the victims” personally, and for not waving an open chequebook around – accusing him of caring more about preserving the Church’s legendary riches than about compensating “the victims”.
    Of course, expecting him to do anything of the kind is just emotional claptrap, and one is tempted to ask when was the last time any journalist and/or media organisation volunteered to pay damages demanded for alleged libel to show “compassion” and to save their “victims” the inconvenience and expense of proving their claims in an appropriate court. Whenever it was, it would have been a cold day in hell.
    The most sickening thing about this whole saga is the pious hypocrisy of the usual suspects.

  • Salome says:

    I’ve heard the spectrum raised numerous times, independently. But a man shouldn’t be convicted of a horrendous crime simply because he isn’t a teddy bear.

  • Les Kovari says:

    Salome, your words “a man shouldn’t be convicted of a horrendous crime simply because he isn’t a teddy bear” should replace the words “a man should be convicted as charged except when there is reasonable doubt.”. I think, in today’s world where every nonsense is gospel, they are more appropriate. Even the two of the deciding Judges of the Victorian appellate court could have made a better decision. Reasonable doubt is a very airy-fairy term, whereas a teddy bear walking on two legs is very recognizable.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    ‘So, part by part or “taken as a whole”, the evidence as summarised in the Judgment left no room at all for the Judgment’s conclusion in [300].’

    The Vatican has been careful to say that it has confidence in the Australian court system.
    By using the term ‘taken as a whole’,the majority failed to forensically deconstruct the evidence.
    The dissenting opinion must have taken days to reason out and write, or possibly was written as the case proceeded, a bit like clinical history taking with a list of differential possibilities lined up until the diagnosis is achieved.
    One wonders if these majority judges are not overworked and just swept this one away.
    Lawyer X must be giving them a lot of overtime.
    However I am suspending judgement on all this in the event of appeal.
    Were the Vatican’s trust be misplaced, we are all diminished.

  • deric davidson says:

    Let’s get real, as they say in the classics, Pell is the fall guy, the scapegoat in all this. Pell is as innocent of these crimes for which he has been convicted as the day is long. We all know this. But Pell represents ‘the Catholic Church’ (note, not individual bishops) which in the minds of many covered up the crimes of some evil priests. Pell is in persona ‘the Catholic Church’ and must be punished regardless of individual natural justice. It was ‘the Catholic Church’ on trial not Pell.
    If Pell loses his appeal to the High Court then there will have been a massive strike against true justice for the individual in Australia. The concept that justice is blind will have been ejected from the justice system. Rather than individuals being on trial, institutions to which they belong will be on trial. Sadly the justice system will then be guilty of perpetrating a crime itself against the individual. Guilt by association it’s called.

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    Is this about Pell? It seems to me he is a vehicle to corrupt a long standing legal principle. It seems the legal profession at least in Victoria has come to the view that a child even though they are no longer a child will always tell the truth. All that is necessary is to provide a consistent believable story. The accused then has to prove they are innocent. I’m not a lawyer but it seems to me that is turning the legal system on its head. Anyone anyone can now go to jail on the evidence of one without any corroboration. I think kangaroos give better justice than that. Surely it will go to the High Court and I have read that the outcome will forever change our legal system. Either two Victorian judges will be totally discredited or we become a society where injustice prevails.

  • ChrisPer says:

    So many people are talking about impersonal institutional ‘force’ in society. I suggest that we should regard persons as culpable in creating a vile miscarriage of justice, just as we saw in the Lindy Chamberlain case.
    The propagandists journalists and editors;
    The Senior Police who operated a ‘trawling’ operation when they or their supordinates knew or should have known the appalling failures of justice in the UK trawling operations; who then pushed for prosecution despite the refusal of the Prosecutor’s office on solid grounds of no case realistically likely to prove guilt.
    The leftist author motivated by what appears to be appalling, ideological malice that discounts every consideration of exculpatory evidence or historical balance.
    The malice throughout the ABC and other journalistic monocultures, apparently out of motivation to destroy the Catholic Church for ideological preference.
    Recognise that the individuals in these ‘forces’ are not of good character.

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