How Pell became the Vatican’s sacrificial lamb
THE guilty verdict against Cardinal George Pell is devastating.
It's devastating because I don't believe that Pell, who I know slightly and admire greatly, could be guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys in a busy cathedral after Sunday mass when he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
He always rejected the allegations as "deranged falsehoods" and was sustained by his faith in God and his belief that truth would out.
But now he is the biggest scalp in the whole rotten Vatican and will probably be jailed on Wednesday, pending sentencing next week and an appeal. He has prepared himself for that eventuality with the stoicism that has marked his entire life.
The verdict is devastating, too, because of what it says about the fallibility of our justice system, although after Lindy Chamberlain, we know the power of irrational mobs to pervert justice.
Of course, we should respect the Melbourne jury who sat through all the evidence and reached a verdict. But how hard it must have been to find 12 impartial souls after the campaign of vilification against Pell over the past two decades and the carefully orchestrated drip feed of lurid allegations by Victoria police to selected media against the backdrop of shocking revelations of child sexual abuse by clergy around the world.
On Tuesday, the suppression order was lifted on the conviction so now everyone knows and many are piling on with glee.
They hate him because he is a conservative Catholic, the implacable enemy who stood in the way of "progress" in the Church. While fellow Catholics crumbled and appeased, he unequivocally defended Church teachings and refused to compromise over gay marriage, euthanasia, abortion, or wedge issues such as communion for divorcees. And now they think they've won.
As he emerged from a Melbourne courtroom after another set of charges was dropped and the suppression order lifted, a lynch mob bayed for his blood.
Stooped and limping after a double knee operation, Pell, 77, bowed his head slightly as the words rained down on him: "May you rot in hell, Pell. You're a monster, you're an animal. You deserve to be locked up for ever".
The most vocal heckler, a middle-aged man named Michael, was interviewed on Sky News afterwards: "Pell is representative of everything that is bad and wrong with the Catholic Church in Australia today … what a horrible pathetic useless leader he is, what an incompetent human being".
You can't help but feel that Cardinal Pell is being punished for the sins of his Church, which are foul, but not his doing.
Anyone who knows how crowded and open is the sacristy at St Patrick's Cathedral after Sunday mass must know the accusations are implausible. "Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the sacristy immediately after mass," said Pell's legal team.
It is the word of one man, codenamed AA, against the word of Cardinal Pell.
There are no witnesses and evidence was given that the second alleged victim, who died long ago, told his mother that he had not been sexually abused while a chorister.
Victoria police had already begun an investigation into Cardinal Pell, before receiving a single complaint. AA came to them after seeing an ABC story in 2016 containing fantastic allegations that Cardinal Pell had sexually assaulted boys in full view of everyone in a public swimming pool in the 1970s.
According to AA, after mass he and another choirboy escaped from a procession and dashed into the sacristy to drink the altar wine when Pell came in, parted his robes and forced them to perform oral sex.
Pell's legal team had told the jury that there were several flaws in the evidence.
Firstly, Pell was always at the front of the cathedral greeting parishioners after mass, after which he would return to the sacristy with assistants to help him disrobe. He was never alone.
His Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, testified that the assaults could not have happened because "I was with him the whole time he was robed on those days".
There was testimony also that the sacristy was bustling after mass with at least a dozen people coming in and out, tidying up and getting changed.
The liturgical vestments Pell wore could not have been parted or moved to the side for oral sex to occur, as described by AA.
No one saw the boy sopranos leave their place at the front of the choristers' procession or return shortly afterwards to a room for rehearsal that someone would have had to use a swipe card to let them in.
The court was told neither boy ever talked about the attack to each other or to anyone else.
Yet a jury has convicted Pell. The verdict came before Christmas, in a retrial after the jury in an earlier trial could not decide. Several jurors in that first hung trial burst into tears when the result was announced.
I'm very sorry if my defence of Pell upsets victims of child sexual abuse. What has happened to them is monstrous and no punishment is enough for the evil paedophiles who infiltrated the church, masquerading as men of God and preyed on its innocents.
But making a martyr of an innocent man won't right those wrongs. It just compounds the evil.