Setback, they say, cannot deter path forward.
Statement by Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA).
APRIL 7, 2020. Survivors around the world today are reacting with dismay and confusion over the Australian High Court’s reversal of the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for child sexual assault. Although the court said it was not ruling on the guilt or innocence of Pell it effectively did just that, annulling a guilty verdict by a jury, which was upheld by a majority appeals court decision. It seems as if the high court made the extraordinary decision to re-try the case on their own, although Pell was given the absolute fullest latitude of the law and was represented by a competent and very expensive defense team. No new or suppressed evidence was brought to the court; prosecutorial misconduct was not alleged; the defense did not charge an atmosphere of bias.
The jury heard the prosecutor’s case as well as the defense. The victim was thoroughly cross-examined, witnesses for the defense were heard, thorough arguments were made for both sides. How the court could know that the jury did not properly consider all the evidence in their deliberations is utterly mystifying and could send a chilling message to child abuse victims not to come forward because they will never receive justice even with a guilty verdict.
Survivors and justice officials in Australia and elsewhere must work together to assure that this will not be the result of this decision. Survivors have made enormous and historic strides over the past decades breaking down barriers to justice not only for clergy abuse victims but for sexual abuse victims everywhere. After this verdict, this effort is needed more than ever, because the safety of so many children depends upon it.
The court’s decision was the perplexing result of complex legal technicalities and arguments that are difficult to understand. And it is hardly the end of the long struggle for the victims who say they were harmed by Pell. There are now several victims, besides the victim that the jury found credible, who have alleged that Pell had sexually abused them. These newly revealed but historical cases are not in the provenance of a criminal court. A measure of justice might still be obtained through the Australian civil court process however, which has a different standard of proof.
Additionally, there are the results of the Royal Commission’s evidence and testimony concerning Pell’s cover-up and mismanagement of cases of child sex abuse by priests under his authority and supervision, which can now be made public.
The entire record and conduct of Pell are once again the sole responsibility of Pope Francis. He must fully and transparently investigate the totality of allegations and evidence to determine if he should remain a Cardinal or a priest.
Given the history of such Vatican investigations, that are notoriously ensconced in secrecy, and Francis’ deep loyalty and defense of Pell — which he dramatically affirmed today without seeming to grasp that the court was not ruling on Pell’s guilt or innocence — a true and full accounting by the Vatican may seem like a doomed hope. But it still must be undertaken.
Revealing and addressing clerical sexual abuse and cover up has been a long and torturous route for survivors. Great process has been made; setbacks are inevitable. What matters is that the path forward does not abate, in Australia and around the world.
Tim Law, President ECA USA/ECA Board Member
Peter Isely, ECA Founding Member
Dr. Denise Buchanan, ECA Founding/Board Member
Ending Clergy Abuse (ECA) is a worldwide leadership network of survivors of clergy abuse and human rights activists. Its mission is to compel the Roman Catholic Church to end clergy abuse, protect children, and seek justice for victims. ECA assembly members represent over 21 countries from 6 continents. https://www.ecaglobal.org – @ENDCLERGYABUSE –https://www.facebook.com/ENDCLERGYABUSE/ – firstname.lastname@example.org