I was just going late to bed early this morning when a friend texted me with the news that the Australian Supreme Court had overturned the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, and that he was being released from prison.
This is clearly good news and justice has - finally - been done. The fact that the Court’s seven judges were unanimous in their verdict makes the decision all the more emphatic.
This must raise serious questions for the Australian - or at least the Victoria - Court system, and how the original process was conducted. The first trial resulted in a split jury, the second in a unanimous conviction, whilst the Victoria Appeal Court split 2:1 against the Cardinal. Now the Supreme Court had found universally in his favour on the grounds that the convictiing jury did not properly assess the evidence against the truth of the evidence given by the one prosecution witness. Yet this is in a country which has inherited the legal traditions of the U.K. It might seem to suggest that emotion swayed the jurors rather than reason. That may be a consequence of the heightened atmosphere around the whole issue of child and youth abuse and its alleged perpetrators. That said, I only know what I do from reports on the other side of the world, and the case was reported in a limited fashion because of reporting restrictions.
Along with others who discussed it the circumstances of the allegations always appeared to me too improbable to be believed, yet that is what a jury did do.
I have no more knowledge than anyone else here who follows the press reports, but the suggestion that this has all come about as a result of a conspiracy of one sort or another is shocking at a number of levels and should be investigated properly. Maybe this will result in a serious reappraisal of how societies deal with these matters. Abuse is always to be condemned - of that there should be no doubt. Allegations must however be weighed and probed without external or political pressure on prosecutors, and without people being tried at the bar of public opinion or indeed hysteria rather than that of the court
I met Cardinal Pell briefly when he came on an extended visit to Oxford about a decade ago. He celebrated Mass at the Oxford Oratory for the cause of John Henry Newman and presided on another evening at Solemn Vespers in Merton Chapel. All my friends who spent time with him on that visit spoke of his affability and directness. I am sure he will celebrate this Easter with a special joy after what has been a more than two year long season of penance.m, and indeed a Via Crucis.