Making sense of Pope Francis’ cryptic tweet following Cardinal Pell’s acquittal

Making sense of Pope Francis’ cryptic tweet following Cardinal Pell’s acquittal

Words by Tom Parker

The messaging from Pope Francis seems to go in contrast with that of The Vatican.

Yesterday, Cardinal George Pell walked free from prison after he was acquitted of five child sex abuse offences by the High Court of Australia.

If you’re just getting up to speed, the announcement came after Pell originally faced court in December 2018 on charges that he had sexually abused two choirboys at Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral between 1996 and 1997.

There, he pleaded innocent but the trial rested on the evidence from one of the former choirboys.

Cardinal Pell would be found guilty on five counts of child sex abuse and be sentenced for six years imprisonment for such charges in March 2019.

Then in late 2019, the Victorian Court of Appeal heard arguments from Pell’s legal team that there must be serious doubt surrounding the allegations. It was their case that even if the jury found the choirboy honest and reliable, his accusations should not be trusted.

The three justices, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, Court of Appeal President Chris Maxwell, and Justice Mark Weinberg, unanimously dismissed the first two grounds for appeal, relating to technical matters in the case, but were split on the third facet of the appeal, relating to whether the jury should have doubted Cardinal Pell’s guilt.

With the appeal being dismissed on a 2-1 majority basis, Cardinal Pell would remain behind bars.

It was yesterday that we heard the result of the above appeal, whereby the High Court of Australia, decreed that Cardinal Pell’s conviction on child sex abuse charges be overturned. This essentially means that the High Court unanimously ruled in favour of Cardinal Pell’s appeal; as a result, he was acquitted of all five charges laid against him.

“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place,” said the statement relating to the High Court’s judgement.

It was then yesterday evening that we heard Pope Francis’ opinion on the matter via a tweet.

“In these days of #Lent, we’ve been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent,” Pope Francis said in the tweet.

He then called for prayer for “those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because of someone had it in for them”. He’s not talking about the abuse victims here.

The alarming thing here is that Pope Francis’ words contradict the Catholic Church’s other statements on the latest ruling.

In light of the announcement, The Vatican, in an official communique, offered “its commitment to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors”.

Then yesterday morning, the Herald Sun broke Cardinal Pell’s first response via Twitter. Adamant in his innocence, Cardinal Pell said he’d been suffering from a “serious injustice”.

There seems to be some inconsistencies here with Pope Francis contradicting the words of the very state he is sovereign.

What is also noteworthy is the fact that the Pope used the word “innocent”. Cardinal Pell was rather acquitted, the High Court didn’t declare his innocence, per se.

Then above all of this is the words of Witness J, the choirboy at the very heart of the case. Issuing a statement via his lawyers, Witness J said the case “does not define me”.

While he respected the decision of the High Court, this didn’t stop him from commenting on the greater issue.

“I understand why criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt,” he said. “No-one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due and proper process.

“This is a basic civil liberty. But the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.

“That’s why it remains important that everyone who can report to the police does so.”

It will be interesting to see what comes out of this as there’s still seems to be a very large elephant in the room.

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