Cardinal George Pell, left, reads a bible in 2011 during the blessing of a statue of John Paul ll at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. Australian police say they are charging Pell with historical sexual assault offenses.
Cardinal George Pell, left, reads a bible in 2011 during the blessing of a statue of John Paul ll at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Australia. Australian police say they are charging Pell with historical sexual assault offenses. AP Photo/Rob Griffith,

George Pell saga: Where is the fair play?

THE nasty triumphalism which greeted news last week that Cardinal George Pell had been charged by Victoria Police, over historical sexual abuse allegations, beggars belief.

Typical was Fairfax columnist Peter FitzSimons who called on Pell to step down "until such times as he proves innocence".

Fitz doesn't seem to understand that our criminal justice system is built on the presumption of ­innocence.

Not that such niceties prevented another Fairfax scribe, Barney Zwartz, to declare yesterday that Pell has "authored his own tragedy (with) his failures of empathy and compassion, his inability to look victims of abuse in the eye, his efforts to limit damage to the church".

With Pell, the rules of fair play are out the window. All the considerable sins of the Church have been laid at his feet in this hysterical media witch-hunt.

As a Catholic and a mother, it is my tribe which has been preyed upon by paedophile priests. It is my Church which has been sullied with their evil.

This is not to defend the Church's shameful history of child sexual abuse. But the feral prejudging of Cardinal Pell is a parody of justice and an affront to victims.

How the cardinal is supposed to get a fair trial after years of public vilification is a question exercising the minds of fair-minded Australians, whether or not they are fans of his combative style. This is of concern as much for alleged victims as it is for the accused.

Cardinal George Pell
Cardinal George Pell David Dyson

For two years Victoria police have been investigating Pell, and the leaks to the media have been extraordinary. The pressures on the legal system of such a public campaign to paint him as, not just a protector of paedophile priests, but a sexual predator himself, go without saying. This is a global story.

Still, Victoria's Office of Public Prosecutions handballed the ultimate decision about whether to press charges to Victoria Police and its embattled commissioner Graham Ashton.

Cardinal Pell has been perceived, wrongly, as the "boss" of the Catholic Church in Australia and thus ­responsible for all its child sexual abuse scandals.

But, actually, he was the first person in Australia to institute any sort of system to deal with abuse allegations in his patch, the Melbourne diocese in 1996.

Just three months after he ­became Archbishop of Melbourne, he set up the Melbourne Response, acting where his predecessors and fellow Bishops around the world had been either too cowardly, or complicit.

As a tough-minded theological conservative, Pell's defence of Catholic orthodoxy in the face of ­attempts to water down Church teachings according to moral fashions of the day, has made him ­implacable enemies.

He opposed same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and human cloning. He refused communion to rainbow-sash wearing gay activists in Melbourne and Sydney almost 20 years ago, and took legal action against the display of a blasphemous art work, "Piss Christ".


Juan Jose Horta

His muscular opposition to the LGBTIQ agenda has earned him the unwavering hatred of a leftist establishment which is determined to ­destroy the last remaining institutions standing between them and total victory. More recently, he has made a new batch of powerful ­enemies in the Vatican, where he was appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 as Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, to clean out corruption.

They are rubbing their hands with glee as they background Italian newspapers that Pell is finished in Rome.

The Victorian legal process must take its course, and the allegations respected. But it was fitting that charges were lodged against Pell on the Holy Day which marks the martyrdom of St Peter and St Paul, the apostles who are the founders and patrons of the Church in Rome.

St Peter was crucified upside down, and St Paul was beheaded. But the Church for which they gave their lives endured, as it will continue to do.

Comments are not permitted on this column for legal reasons.

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