Australia’s Cardinal Pell has Conviction Overturned, SNAP responds
We are dismayed and heartbroken that Cardinal George Pell has successfully challenged his conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys and will be freed from prison. Once again, the powerful have won and the prize is the continuation of the Catholic Church’s tradition of abuse obfuscation and minimization. Our hearts ache for the surviving accuser in this case, and we hope that this disappointing ruling does not deter other victims from coming forward to report their abuse.
This is a disappointing ruling that only exacerbates the mistrust survivors feel. It also helps propagate myths about sexual violence, stigmatizes victims for choosing to disclose later in life, and negatively affects how people react when allegations are made against prominent community members.
Early reports have indicated that the Vatican no longer intends to pursue an investigation of its own. We believe it would self-serving and hypocritical of them not to do so. Based on their reporting habits, Catholic officials have for years held their own investigations out as equal if not better than those of law enforcement. For them to defer to the criminal justice system now instead of carrying out their own probe would be to fail yet again in Pope Francis’s “all-out battle” against clergy abuse.
This case saw testimony from twelve witnesses, including the lone surviving accuser. We are saddened that this testimony and the sentence handed down by the jury that first heard the evidence has been tossed out. The High Court has ruled that Australian citizens duly selected to form a jury of peers are actually not peers of the accused, the High Court are his peers.
It also sends the message that in Australia the citizen-jury, the representatives of ‘society’, is subordinate if not needed in criminal trials; cases should be directly transferred to the High Court for their administrative review and decision. Citizen-participation in the formation of societal rules and their enforcement is weakened by this action. We believe that this ruling will make victims lose their faith in the criminal justice system, and will send the message that survivors should stay hidden and silent rather than come forward and seek justice.
Hopefully, victims in Australia will not despair, but will continue to come forward and make reports to law enforcement in the hopes that their allegations are taken more seriously.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org; our Australia website is SNAPAustralia.org)