Cardinal Pell – many hurdles still to overcome

Cardinal Pell has been acquitted by the Australian High Court in relation to the criminal charges that were brought against him and has been released from prison but it appears that there are still many hurdles for him to overcome.

In an earlier BLOG we dealt with the fact that his acquittal will now enable the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia to release its findings on Cardinal Pell, which to date had been heavily redacted in the Royal Commission’s final report of 2017 so as not to prejudice the criminal proceedings that were ongoing at that time.

The Vatican

When Cardinal Pell’s conviction by a jury became public in February 2019, the Vatican opened an investigation into him pending the final appeal.

Now that the criminal proceedings have been concluded it is open to the Vatican to proceed with the canonical process. This process is likely to include hearing evidence from the Cardinal’s other accusers with two more going public recently.

Having carried out its investigations it is open to the Vatican to decide to dismiss the allegations, or it may go through a full canonical trial, a process which takes place behind closed doors. Canon Law stipulates that any allegation with a “semblance” of truth undergo a preliminary investigation.

Despite the outcome of the criminal trial and noting that Cardinal Pell has always denied the allegations made against him, due to the publicity and public interest surrounding Cardinal Pell and the allegations the Vatican will have to be seen to have investigated these matters vigorously.

The Roman Catholic Church in Australia

The Roman Catholic Church in Australia will have to consider its own safeguarding procedures and haw they impact and apply to Cardinal Pell in any future ministry he may under take in the Church.

When he returned from the Vatican to face the criminal charges against him his ministry was restricted and it will now be a matter for child protection authorities to determine any risk if any he may pose.

Ongoing Civil Litigation

It is reported in the media in Australia that a number of civil claims are due to be issued against Cardinal Pell, either by people who allege they were abused by him or who allege Cardinal Pell did nothing to prevent their abuse at the hands of other priests. These claims can proceed in the absence of a criminal prosecution as there is a lower standard of proof in these claims so the Courts only need to be satisfied that the alleged events occurred on the balance of probabilities.

The father of one of the boys who Cardinal Pell was originally convicted of abusing has vowed to pursue the Catholic Church and Cardinal Pell for damages, his son died from a drug overdose in 2014 and the father claims his son had post-traumatic stress disorder which he says was caused by the alleged abuse. The Cardinal has always vehemently denied all of the allegations.

Cardinal Pell is also being sued in the Victorian Supreme Court by a man abused by paedophile Christian Brother Edward “Ted” Dowlan (also known as Ted Bales). This man claims Cardinal Pell knew Brother Edward was abusing children and was involved in moving him from school to school, allowing the abuse to continue. Cardinal Pell also denies these allegations.

It seems clear from the above that the acquittal by the High Court is only the first of many hurdles that Cardinal Pell will have to overcome especially if he is minded to return to active ministry.


Written by Sharon Moohan at BLM

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