The last shoe dropped in the Cardinal Pell case yesterday with Australia’s highest prelate getting a six-year prison sentence. Reading the New York Times piece on this, one realizes that important parts of this story haven’t been told. Again.
We hear of allegations of misconduct 20 years ago involving children in a scenario that asks you to believe that a cardinal would have taken the time to molest two boys right after a busy church service in a sacristy where anyone could have walked in at any moment. No one caught him in the act. He was wearing four layers of complex, heavy vestments that usually require the assistance of another person to remove. There is one living witness/victim. It’s a classic he said, he said.
So what did the jury hear that caused them to believe the victim?
We have not seen the accuser’s evidence and we have no access to a transcript or videotape of his testimony. Something the accuser said was awfully compelling to cause them to throw the book at Pell. It’s obvious the journalists don’t know, either. From the Times:
MELBOURNE, Australia — George Pell, an Australian cardinal who was the Vatican’s chief financial officer and an adviser to Pope Francis, was sentenced to six years in prison on Wednesday, with no chance for parole for three years and eight months, for molesting two boys after Sunday Mass in 1996.
The cardinal was convicted on five counts in December, making him the most senior Catholic official — and the first bishop — to be found guilty in a criminal court for sexually abusing minors, according to BishopAccountability.org, which tracks cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I would characterize these breaches and abuses as grave,” the chief judge in the case, Peter Kidd said during the sentencing. Speaking directly to Cardinal Pell, he added: “You had time to reflect on your behavior as you offended, yet you refused to desist.”
The sentence, which by law could be up to 50 years, was closely watched around the world.
I read more than once in the comments section that accusations against Pell date back several decades. Really? And why are they all coming out now?
With former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, his doom was set in motion two years ago when the Archdiocese of New York established a “Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” as a new outreach to sexual abuse survivors. To the shock of the two people administering the program, a very big fish turned up in their net.
Cardinal Pell was convicted on five counts of abuse relating to two separate episodes. The most important evidence came from a single complainant, who said that after a Sunday Mass in late 1996 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, he and another 13-year-old boy sneaked into the priests’ sacristy, where they were discovered, reprimanded and molested by Cardinal Pell.
According to the man’s testimony, Cardinal Pell pushed the other boy toward his genitals, then moved on to the complainant. The cardinal put his penis into the boy’s mouth, before telling him to remove his pants, touching himself and the boy at the same time, he said.
Cardinal Pell was convicted of three counts of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of, a child and one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16.
A separate charge related to an episode some weeks later, in which the same complainant said the cardinal pushed him up against a wall and squeezed his genitals.
But what about the other victim who denied to his parents that he’d been abused before he died in 2014? I don’t see that mentioned in this piece.
The National Catholic Register brings up the question of the other victim’s silence (and also points out other inconvenient details (i.e. there was another priest at Pell’s elbow at all times after each Mass) that have been left out of many news stories.
Again, after a Sunday service, people do walk in and out of sacristies. If there had been no prior grooming of these kids, what supports the allegation that Pell jumped them and forced sex on them for what must have been several minutes with not one person walking in on them?
The Washington Post’s story about the sentencing has the actual words of the accuser in more graphic language than what I reproduced above. He said the whole incident took about two minutes. Read it yourself and figure out whether Pell could have done all that activity in two minutes while wearing thick, multiple layers of clerical robes.
CruxNow asks this same question and brings up some other salient points in its thorough article on the sentencing.
The Times ran another piece on Tuesday about the precipitous drop in attendance at the country’s Catholic churches. I’ll repeat two paragraphs from that story:
Even compared with other countries facing long-running abuse scandals, Australia’s decline in church attendance is remarkable: In the 1950s, 74 percent of Catholics in Australia attended Mass weekly. In 2011, only 12 percent of the country’s 5.3 million Catholics went to Mass periodically (not even weekly), and that is expected to fall again when new data is published this year.
The exodus in Australia is a far more dramatic defection than in the United States, where 39 percent of Catholics say they attend church at least once a week, according to a Gallup poll last year, or Ireland, where weekly attendance has fallen to 44 percent.
But the writers didn’t cite findings like what’s reported here by the Aussie-based National Church Life Survey saying that church decline has actually slowed in the past three decades. Church attendance has never been high Down Under, according to this Christianity Today story. So let’s not say it’s just the Catholics who are seeing empty pews.
TheConversation.com even ran a piece suggesting what other Aussie churches could learn from Hillsong. Maybe the Catholics aren’t going to their parish church Down There or maybe they’re going somewhere else? That might be a good question for reporters to ask.