The longstanding controversy over Cardinal George Pell took a turn with an overturn based on the High Court decision. One of the fathers of an alleged victim stated that he is “struggling to comprehend” the decision of the High Court to overturn the convictions, recently.
With the overturn decision of the High Court, Pell was released as a free man. The High Court earlier overturned the former treasurer of the Vatican’s convictions for both sexual assault and indecent assault against Pell, acquitting him unanimously. In Australia, thousands of sexual abuse claims have come forward over recent years from alleged survivors at the hands of Catholic priests or religious brothers while in Catholic institutions for many of the alleged assault incidents.
Phil Nagle claims Christian brother Stephen Frances Farrell assaulted him at the age of 9-years-old. Nagle is a known personality in the media on some of these issues in Australia. The Christian Brothers are a religious community within the Catholic Church. It has been wrapped up in sexual abuse scandals as an organizational community within Catholicism. Whether priests or Christian brothers, the sex abuse scandals have continued to rock much of the Catholic Church for years and years now.
When Nagle heard the verdict on Pell, he said, “Absolute shock first, then disbelief and then confusion about the court system… The Catholic Church will always defend the brand – it’s a very damaged brand now, as we know – but that’s the way they do it…You look at how much money they’ve thrown behind this Cardinal Pell thing and every court case.”
A father of an alleged victim, who died in 2014, of Pell issued a statement that he no longer maintains faith in the criminal justice system in the country. Tony Abbot, former prime minister and a supporter of Pell, stated that the verdict should speak for itself. Other supports of Pell include high-profile politicians, including former prime minister John Howard.
Pell stated, “I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice… This has been remedied today with the high court’s unanimous decision… My trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the church.”
Some senior Catholics in Australia welcomed the decision of the High Court. Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, said, “The dramatic development was welcomed by Australia’s senior Catholics… The court system has gone through that now very thoroughly and has come to the conclusion that it has come to and I accept that decision… This outcome of the court will be received well by some who will be comforted. It will be distressing for others to hear.”
Lawyer David Baran has represented the Catholic Church and victims in his legal work. He said Pell’s lawyers expected this decision, as the lawyers for Pell pointed out gaps in the prosecution’s case.
Baran said, “The ultimate test is: was there a reasonable doubt? Just to put it in pre-acclaimed, simple English, if there was then you can’t have a conviction… Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the integrity of the victim… But, basically there are a number of strands in the cable that have to be put together to create a very solid rope to then secure a conviction. They just weren’t there.”
With the High Court ruling in Australia, this does legally make way for the royal commission on child abuse to release previously redacted findings, which can show some of the church leader handling of the allegations.
“The sooner that gets unredacted in the royal commission report we’ll see what’s going on,” Nagle stated, “You just don’t know how far the Catholics’ tentacles go.”