Reply to Objections about Pell’s Conviction

Objection: A task force was set up to look for crimes by Pell. They had no accusers, and were just looking for dirt on him.

Reply: That is a half-truth. The task force began in 2013; they knew of past complaints, so they had some accusers. But they also looked to see if there might be other victims. This is justified because there was a history of complaints stretching from 1961, when he was a seminarian, all the way through his career, even when he was Archbishop. There were many complaints against Pell, so the task force was right to see if there were any more victims.

Abuse victims usually do not come forward. It is not true that they looked without any complaints; only that they looked for additional complaints. This is analogous to the situation where a stepfather is accused of abusing one of his four children, and so they ask the other three kids if they were abused.

Objection: The Archbishop would never be alone, so he could not have abused the kids. He was always in front of the Church.

Reply: Priests and Bishops say very many Masses in their careers. They do not act the same at every Mass. I know from attending Mass that it is always possible to speak to a priest, before or after Mass, and he will step aside from what he is doing for a private conversation, to answer a question or whatever. It is not true that Pell couldn’t possibly step away to the sacristy.

A priest stepping away from a crowd to enter the sacristy would not have raised any suspicions; it would not have been unusual or even memorable. Many years later, other persons could not be expected to remember him stepping away for a moment.

Objection: One of the victims recanted before his death.

Reply: Victims of abuse often are very reluctant to come forward. Before making a disclosure, a victim might deny the abuse many times. And it is not uncommon for an abuse victim to change his mind and withdraw an accusation. It is a difficult disclosure to make; it is humiliating. And in accusing a well-liked priest or bishop, a victim would have to endure much harassment. So the recanting of the other victim is not surprising, and does not prove innocence.

Objection: Pell was wearing his full vestments, so he could not have exposed his private parts for the alleged abuse.

Reply: What a ridiculous claim. He’s not an astronaut who can’t get out of his spacesuit! How do you think priests and Bishops go to the bathroom? He’s not wearing a onesie. Or a chastity belt. He lifted up his robes, dropped his pants, and committed the offense.

Objection: There was no corroboration.

Reply: This is not the case of one accuser. Pell has had accusers against him from the time he was a seminarian, working at a summer camp with kids, through his career as a priest and Bishop. This set of many accusers, and many alleged offenses, shows a pattern of behavior, the same type of behavior by Pell, as described by many different victims. The pattern of abuse corroborates the accusation.

Objection: Pell is hated by liberals because he is a top conservative Catholic leader. He made a lot of enemies. That is why he was falsely accused.

Reply: The accusations are not false; I can tell by the description of the abuse. It is just like dozens of other disclosures of abuse I’ve heard. Someone who hates Pell, wouldn’t be able to make a false accusation sound true. In addition, there’s no evidence that the accuser had hatred against Pell because of Pell’s views on various issues. And there are many accusers across many years of Pell’s career.

Objection: — The “I know Cardinal Pell” objection.

Reply: Yeah, I’ve heard this from family members of abusers. They’ve known someone for a long time, a spouse or boyfriend or brother or father. And he turns out to be an abuser. That’s the way child abuse works. The abuser hides the crime. And most of these persons who say they know Pell, don’t know him as well as a close relative knows someone. They don’t know his sins.

My Objections: Why are people defending a convicted child abuser? It’s because he’s conservative. Pell was a hero to conservative Catholics for standing up against liberalism. They don’t want to admit he is a monster. Just like the liberal former-Cardinal McCarrick.

It’s easy to find excuses for abusers. I used to see this all the time in family members. They can’t believe that their loved one is a child abuser. But that is how child abuse works, almost all the time. The abuser hides behind a mask of normalcy…or holiness. He might be a conservative priest or bishop, who truly believes in what conservative Catholicism teaches. But he sins. That is how abuse works; that is how sin works.

The implicit idea is that Pell can’t be an abuser, because he is conservative. But recall that the founder of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel, was a conservative Catholic leader, and yet a child abuser. And notice that both Maciel and Pell are not gay; they are straight. Maciel had sexual relationships with two different women, and had children by them.

Conservatives are not immune to grave sins. In one of his interviews, Pell states that the accusations are in effect saying that he acted contrary to all that he believes and holds dear in the Catholic faith. Yes, that sums it up nicely.

Remember all those questions people asked about McCarrick? How could he have risen to power? How could he have retained power for so long? How could it take so long to remove him? Some of those same people are now defending Pell. Yeah, that’s how. They’re the answer to their own questions.

So this is why the Church’s abuse crisis is so hard to solve. Child abusers are good at hiding. That’s what makes them abusers. They have a double life, and people are fooled by the mask they wear.

Are the laity the solution to the Church’s abuse crisis? Look at the Pell case. He’s a convicted child abuser, and many prominent laypersons defend him. This is what will happen if abuse cases are handled by a committee of lay persons. The more popular abusers will be set free.

Why I’m convinced Pell is guilty

1. I know what real disclosures of sexual abuse sound like. All the accusations of abuse against Pell have the ring of truth. The descriptions are just like many other descriptions by other victims. These are not invented accusations.

2. The behaviors described are exactly the way that abusers act. The behaviors accusers describe in Pell fit the behavior patterns of child abusers.

3. There are many accusers, who do not know each other.

4. The accusations are spread over many decades. They did not arise at one point in time.

5. The accusations from different persons at different times match in that they describe the same type of behavior.

6. When memories are decades old, no one gets all the details right, neither the victim, nor person who testified on behalf of the accused. So it is not a valid argument to say that the details from the victim don’t match what other witnesses remembered.

7. Would an abuser really abuse two boys right in the sacristy, just after Mass? Yes. Pell abused children for many decades, successfully, without being caught. And eventually, he became so brazen, that he would grab a couple of boys who were stealing Communion wine and sexually abuse them in the sacristy of a Church. Yes, abusers act on the spur of the moment, to take advantage of victims. Abusers look for opportunities when they are alone with kids, and then they step into a familiar behavior pattern. It’s like a thief who sees an opportunity to steal a valuable, and then he doesn’t think twice.

There will likely be more court cases. More victims will come forward in court. The other victims have already spoken to the press. Pell will not be able to hide behind his mask of holiness anymore. With one conviction, the subsequent convictions will be easier.

What George Pell did to children over the course of many decades is unconscionable. And to abuse kids after Mass, in the sacristy, is a grave sacrilege as well as the crime of child abuse.

In addition, when an ordained person commits a grave sexual sin, it is always a sacrilege as well. The ordained person is consecrated to God, so the abuse is an offense against something consecrated to God. And as Pell was promoted through the ranks, his crimes of abuse became ever more sinful. It is worse for these sins to be committed by a Cardinal or a Bishop than a priest, worse by a priest than a deacon, etc.

“all sins of impurity committed by those especially consecrated to God (whether alone or with others) are sacrilege.” Haring, Law of Christ III: 301.

I don’t know if Pell ever repented and stopped abusing children. Well, he has stopped now that he is in prison. But even if he at some point repented, and confessed, and was forgiven by God, he is nevertheless guilty of an actual mortal sin of omission for not publicly admitting his sins and making reparation for the harm that he did.

Addendum (3/20/19)

Dominican friar Peter Murnane wrote wrote a post, To Those Who Think George Pell’s Verdict Was Wrong, quoted at length below:

“I attended eight days of his trial, and have no difficulty respecting the jury’s verdict of guilty. Those who still claim his innocence say that he was condemned by only one witness who claims that Pell raped him when he was 13 years old. There were actually two boys, on choir scholarships which paid their school fees at St Kevins. They loved going to choir… but suddenly stopped loving it, and wanted to quit. They did not tell their parents why. Most victims don’t tell, at least for many years afterwards. If it took them a year to leave the choir, it was because they could not reveal the reason. To leave would mean that they would lose the choir scholarships, and there families would not be able to afford school fees. But the boys did leave, and by about 16 years of age both were taking heroin. One eventually died of an overdose.

“If you doubt his story, I suggest that you read the book by Louise Milligan, who listened to him at length. I have met Louise Milligan and she impresses me as a truthful woman, not at all sensationalist. She assures me that the young man is also genuine and truthful. Richter QC brought out small inconsistencies in his story, but do we expect a traumatised thirteen-year-old to have perfect recall after 22 years?”

Pell’s supporters claim that the crime could not have been committed in the cathedral sacristy after high Mass because there were too many people around. We heard from many witnesses: two choir masters, the organist, sacristan, master of ceremonies and former choir boys. But they all had to speak in probabilities: ‘people were coming and going; people had jobs to do; the archbishop always followed this routine’. But they could not rule out exceptions. No one could swear to seeing the archbishop all the time. After every Mass, in the cathedral as in any church, people eventually drift away. There are moments of quiet. The sacristy is empty. No one noticed two choir boys missing from their places, but that doesn’t mean that they never went missing to trespass naughtily in the room where, it is claimed, Pell found them pinching the altar wine.

“Please forgive me this distasteful detail: those who think Pell is innocent make much of this argument. I was astonished that Richter spent so much time trying to prove that a bishop dressed in a full length cassock with an alb over it could not possibly expose himself for the purpose of rape. It is a stupid argument. In my 53 years as a priest, if I wish to answer a call of nature when vested for Mass, it is a simple matter to lift the hem of the multiple garments or vestments I am wearing. End of story. It is astonishing that Fr Brennan is still spreading this foolish argument.”

“And how has Pell treated those complaining of sexual abuse. Chrissy and Anthony Foster’s two little daughters were raped by their Oakleigh parish priest. If you read the Fosters’ excellent book you will be saddened to see that Archbishop Pell treated them abominably. So too was John Ellis, the Sydney abuse survivor whom Pell almost destroyed by legal trickery, which has now been reversed. During the Royal Commission I watched Cardinal Pell give evidence by video link from Rome. Like the Commissioners themselves, I could not believe him when he claimed not to know about several cases of abuse. He and his supporters boast of his Melbourne Response to abuse. But it is a plan designed to limit compensation and tended to gag those who accepted its small payouts. It was not a wonderful, original initiative, but was launched in haste before the other Australian bishops could finish their combined plan.”

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
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3 Responses to Reply to Objections about Pell’s Conviction

  1. Gu Du says:

    I don’t really see the point in arguing for cardinal Pell’s guilt. Because the fact is that we don’t know. Therefore, by stating that he’s guilty you are deliberately taking the risk of accusing an innocent. Yes, you have good arguments, but you could still be wrong. It’s only the job of the australian court to judge. I personnaly don’t have an opinion. I don’t think he’s innocent, but I don’t think he’s guilty either. I think the most sensible thing we can do is to suspend jugment. All we can do is to pray that, if he’s guilty, he repents, and that if he’s innocent, he’s freed.

    • Ron Conte says:

      He’s a convicted child molester. He has numerous accusers across his entire career, from seminarian to Cardinal. He’s a registered sex offender. Suspend judgment? You don’t have an opinion? This type of thinking is the reason that clergy who molest children are able to get away with it for so long.

      How did McCarrick abuse so many persons for so many years? Because people don’t want to make accusations against the clergy. They don’t want to believe that a cleric could be a child abuser. And the same thinking happens in families. Sex offenders get away with it for so long because their family members don’t want to believe it.

      Cardinal Pell is no different from former Cardinal McCarrick. They are both monsters.

    • Gu Du says:

      By “suspend judgment” I didn’t mean to say that he should not go to trial. I fully agree that it is necessary to sent him to trial, as for all who have accusers that seem reliable. And if he’s convicted, then so be it. I don’t have a problem with McCarrick’s conviction either. However, what I meant is that a private person should not make a judgment against someone when it is not necssary (particularly when there is some doubt on the matter). If you suspect someone to be a criminal, then report it to the police. But don’t make a definitive judgment for yourself. That is only the job the court judges and the jury, who ultimately hold their power to judge from God, as all the powers in a civil society ultimately come from God.
      Furthermore, I don’t say this because Pell is a cleric, but simply because I think it should apply to everyone, and not just the clergy. And as I said I don’t have a problem with a cleric being convicted by a court. On the contrary, i think the sentence of a cleric should be more severe than that of a layman.

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