How the Australian Catholic Church has responded to the Cardinal’s release
STATEMENT FROM ARCHBISHOP MARK COLERIDGE,
PRESIDENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE
The High Court of Australia has today announced that it has quashed Cardinal George Pell’s convictions on historical sexual abuse charges. The Court has ordered that he be released from prison.
Today’s outcome will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the Cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process.
We also recognise that the High Court’s decision will be devastating for others. Many have suffered greatly through the process, which has now reached its conclusion.
The result today does not change the Church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse. The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community. Any person with allegations of sexual abuse by Church personnel should go to the police.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
This week, Holy Week, we have entered into the journey with Jesus towards his passion, death and resurrection. As disciples of Jesus Christ we make this journey with him to the foot of his Cross. His is the suffering, yet we accept our own part in it. This journey with Jesus can be confronting.
Our faith community in Melbourne over these past two years has been caught up in another hard and difficult journey as we have followed the court proceedings involving Cardinal George Pell and the person identified through the Courts as ‘J’. It has been an intense and painful time for so many, especially all those personally involved in this case. But most particularly, this has been a hard road for all those whose wounds of abuse have been re-opened and laid bare– our relatives, friends and fellow travellers. At the heart of this trial and appeal process have been the people involved.
I want to firstly acknowledge ’J’, who brought forward his story of abuse for examination in the courts of law. This is a right we value and honour.
I also acknowledge Cardinal Pell who has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout. Rightly, he has been afforded the full possibilities of the judicial system. This decision means the Cardinal has been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, and he is now free to live his life peaceably within the community.
As a Christian disciple, and taking my lead from the Gospel (Matthew 25.31-46), I have striven to uphold the dignity of ‘J’ and Cardinal Pell throughout this time, both in my private thoughts and public statements.
The sole matter for examination in this case was whether Cardinal Pell committed certain despicable crimes, of which he has now been acquitted, and not about the broader question of how Church authorities have dealt with sexual abuse. Yet, I fully appreciate that people have seen in this case another emblematic story of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest.
And it has brought a deeper weariness of soul to people of faith. I am acutely aware of the division this matter has created in our community. Even now, at the end of this process. Some will be comforted; others will remain distressed.
I have lost count of the conversations I have had with our people, who continue to draw strength and purpose from following in the way of Jesus Christ, yet whose anguish and anger towards the institutions of the Church and her leaders is visceral. While each allegation of abuse should rightly be addressed individually, the accumulative effect of the nature and extent of it has left most Catholics, and people of goodwill generally, utterly ashamed of what continues to emerge. You tell me of your outrage that this has been allowed to happen. Yours is a righteous anger and I share it with you.
But this journey to the Cross points us to a particular place – one of restoration and Christ’s promised hope. Healing the damage done to those who have suffered Church-related sexual abuse, and building a culture of life, trust, care and goodness for all in the Church, is the task I lead. It is something in which we all have a part to play.
As Archbishop of Melbourne I re-dedicate myself and our Archdiocese to finding new ways of listening attentively to victims of sexual abuse, and accompanying them on pathways to justice, redress and healing. We continue our efforts to protect and care for our young people and for those who are vulnerable, and to make our faith communities safe, as Jesus Christ expects of us. And, I commit myself to encouraging and supporting the many faithful Clergy who currently serve in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
I invite you to join me in walking with our brothers and sisters who have experienced abuse in helping them to find recovery in their lives. This means active support for rigorous safeguarding policies and practices, respectful listening to survivors of abuse, and our own conversion. Let us pray for ‘J’ and his family; pray for Cardinal Pell and his family; pray and work for survivors of abuse; and build a Church that is centred on God’s love for each person, with a special care and concern for the weakest, the most vulnerable, the most hurt.
In Jesus Christ, whose life is our hope and healing, I make the following words my prayer today.
For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress;
I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honour;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. (Psalm 62:5-8)
Yours sincerely in Christ Jesus
Most Rev Peter A Comensoli
Archbishop of Melbourne
STATEMENT FROM MOST REV. ANTHONY FISHER OP
ARCHBISHOP OF SYDNEY
I welcome today’s exoneration of Cardinal George Pell in a unanimous decision of the High Court of Australia.
The Cardinal has always maintained his innocence and today’s decision confirms his conviction was wrong.
I thank the judges for their meticulous review of the facts and the detailed judgment setting out the reasons for acquittal. After reviewing all the evidence before the Court of Appeal, the High Court identified “a body of evidence that raised lively doubts as to the commission of the offences” and concluded that there was a significant possibility “that an innocent person has been convicted”.
I am pleased that the Cardinal will now be released and I ask that the pursuit of him that brought us to this point now cease.
This has not just been a trial of Cardinal Pell, but also of our legal system and culture. The Cardinal’s vindication today invites broader reflection on our system of justice, our commitment to the presumption of innocence, and our treatment of high profile figures accused of crimes.
I recognise that the past failings of the Church to protect children have contributed to public anger directed at the Church and its leaders. I know that it is only by our sustained action seeking justice for all survivors of child sexual abuse and exhibiting best practice in safeguarding all vulnerable people that healing will occur and trust be restored.
Some will struggle with today’s decision. Cases like these can reopen the wounds of survivors of abuse so that they feel like they are on trial too. But justice for victims is never served by the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of anyone. I hope and pray that the finality of the legal processes will bring some closure and healing to all affected.
For Catholics – lay, religious and clergy – I know that this has been a time of trial also. I pray that your faith may not fail and that you receive the grace and courage to continue serving God and His people.
In this Holy Week we look forward to Easter as a time of hope and new life for all impacted by child sexual abuse, by the Pell trial and the coronavirus pandemic. I join His Eminence in praying for all affected.