Australia’s highest court has overturned the criminal child sexual abuse conviction of Cardinal George Pell, the highest ranking Catholic official ever to be found guilty of child sexual abuse. Even though Cardinal Pell may have escaped criminal and legal accountability through the civil courts, Pope Francis and the Vatican should immediately conduct a thorough investigation of Pell, leaving no stone unturned. The full history of Cardinal Pell needs to be revealed and the information and investigation into Pell should be made public for full transparency and accountability.
As emphasized by media reports, including The New York Times, the entire legal process in Australia surrounding Cardinal Pell’s child sexual abuse charges and subsequent trial, was shrouded in secrecy and half-truths. It sounds eerily similar to how the Catholic Church has responded to and handled the issue of clerical sexual abuse for decades. Gag orders were issued, evidence was kept secret, transcripts of proceedings were kept sealed and even Pell’s conviction in December 2018 was not released to the public until two months later. The cornerstones of the civil justice system are truth and justice and in this instance, neither truth nor justice prevailed.
In response to the decision of the Australian court, the Holy See issued a statement in which it “welcomed” the High Court’s unanimous decision. Unfortunately, this an all-too familiar message from the Vatican, demonstrating that it cares more about its priests and protecting them than the kids who have been raped.
It is our hope that survivors of child sexual abuse do not see this as a message that a powerful person, backed by powerful institutions can get away with sexually abusing children, but as a call to action and motivation to come forward, speak their truths and hold those accountable who have escaped truth and justice for far too long.