News

Cardinal Pell, the Royal Commission and a Balanced Perspective

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
26 Feb 2016

Cardinal Pell will give evidence to Royal Commission via video link from Rome

Cardinal George Pell will from Monday give evidence to the Royal Commission via video link from Rome's Hotel Quirinale. The Cardinal will provide his testimony from 8am until midday AEDST (10pm- 2am Rome time) over three or four days.

It will be the third time the Cardinal has testified before the Commission, appearing in person in Sydney in early 2014 and via video link from Rome later that year.

The hotel venue was chosen following a crowd-funding campaign was established to send survivors to Rome, and a subsequent request was made to the Royal Commission for them to be present in the room when Cardinal Pell gives his evidence. Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said that the request from the victims was a reasonable one and at the commencement of the Royal Commission hearings this week, announced that if video link technology arranged by the Royal Commission proved acceptable, the survivors could attend.

Cardinal Pell has also expressed his willingness to meet with any survivors who would like to meet with him, and meetings will be arranged in the comming week for those who have accepted his invitation.

The Cardinal will not be asked any questions relating to a report in the Herald Sun last week alleging that Victoria Police's Sano Taskforce has been investigating him in relation to multiple offences. At Thursday's Royal Commission hearings, Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Gail Furness SC, indicated that these matters were not within the Commission's terms of reference.

Following the Herald Sun report, a statement was issued by Cardinal Pell's office rejecting the allegations as being "without foundation and utterly false." It said that the timing of the leak was clearly designed to do maximum damage to the Cardinal and the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Pell called for a public inquiry to be conducted in relation to the actions of those elements of the Victorian Police who are undermining the Royal Commission's work, and called on the Victorian Premier and the Police Minister to investigate the leaking of the baseless allegations. The Cardinal followed up the statement with a formal request for this to occur.

Acting Minister for Police, Robin Scott, replied saying that it was a matter for Victorian Police. Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Graham Ashton has referred the request to the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission for investigation.

Following the reports, Bishops and others from around Australia spoke out in support of Cardinal Pell, and his right to be afforded due process.

Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Reverend Anthony Fisher OP, said that he hoped the Cardinal will be heard respectfully, as he hoped and prayed all witnesses will be. "We can all be tempted to jump to conclusions after media headlines," he said, "but it is always better to withhold judgment until we have heard all the facts." He asked the Priests and people of Sydney to join him in praying to Jesus Christ - the Suffering Servant - for the work of the Royal Commission and for all men, women and children who suffer. 

Archbishop Hart speaks out in support of Cardinal Pell

President of the Australian Bishops' Conference and Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Reverend Archbishop Denis Hart, said that the allegations do not reflect the man he has known for more than 50 years. He also said their leaking undermines the criminal justice system.

"The administration of the criminal justice system in Australia is based on fundamental principles including the responsibility of the police to investigate allegations of criminal behaviour without fear or favour, that allegations be put to the accused, the presumption of innocence and a fair trial before Courts independent of the police and government," he said. "Whenever any of these basic principles are not observed for one individual regardless of their position in society, all suffer."

Bishop of Broken Bay, the Most Reverend Bishop Peter Comensoli, acknowledged the important role of the media in holding public officials and institutions to account, including the Church. However, he said, it was also ripe for manipulation by those whose agenda might not be a search for the truth. "Then media becomes used as a forum of insinuation and, ultimately, of intimidation. It does not serve the common good, but rather introduces into society a sophisticated form of bullying from which it becomes difficult to defend the right to a person's good name and integrity."

The Bishops' voices were added to by others, including the Australian Council of Civil Liberties, which called for uniform laws throughout Australia to make it a criminal offence to publish the fact that a person is under investigation for a sexual offence allegation, especially a child sexual offence allegation so that a person's reputation might not be wrecked if the allegation was untrue.

Voices in mainstream media also spoke out in support of the seeming witch-hunt against Cardinal Pell, and the resultant distraction from justice and the work of the Commission. Vatican commentator John L. Allen Jr is in Australia this week. He commented that it appears the general view in Australia is that Cardinal Pell represents the "old guard" of the Church, a symbol of what the Church is trying to recover from. He said that it is the opposite in the Vatican, and that Cardinal Pell is the leader of reform and the antidote to the old guard. Without commenting on the Royal Commission hearings or the recent allegations, Allen said that those in favour of transparency within the Church should be hoping the Cardinal succeeds.

Cardinal Pell's testimony will be streamed live on the Royal Commission website, www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au, from 8am Monday.