In Cardinal George Pell’s Prison Journal, papal biographer George Weigel describes me as one who “had previously held no brief for Cardinal Pell (and) a severe critic”. I plead guilty, writes Fr Frank Brennan SJ. Source: The Australian.
Nevertheless, having attended parts of his two criminal trials and having studied all the publicly available transcript, I am convinced of Cardinal Pell’s innocence of the criminal charges he faced. I am convinced the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse failed to accord him natural justice in its pursuit of a necessary big scalp for media delectation.
The Church in Australia continues to deal with the legacy of Cardinal Pell, who like many other Australians before 1996 — when he set up the Melbourne Response protocol to deal with abuse allegations — had little sensitivity to the pervasive reality of child sexual abuse in institutions and did little to ensure abuse could not occur within such settings.
No doubt the legacy would be easier to bear if he had worked closely with all his fellow bishops when designing the first protocols.
He would have had a better chance of the jury acquitting him in the first instance if he had gone into the witness box, subjecting himself to strenuous cross-examination, as had the complainant.
Cardinal Pell paid for these mistakes with 404 days of wrongful imprisonment, much of it in solitary confinement. The time has come to attest that Pell worked tirelessly and to the best of his ability from 1996 to put right the dreadful consequences of institutional child sexual abuse. Pell faced charges that should never have been brought, a prosecution that was malicious, a Victorian appeal court that got it very wrong, and a media campaign that was relentlessly prejudiced.
This is an edited extract from Frank Brennan’s 'Observations on the Pell Proceedings' (Connor Court), released this week to mark the first anniversary of George Pell’s acquittal by the High Court of Australia.