Australian Cardinal Pell to Speak at 2021 Commencement in Florida, SNAP Appalled
It was recently was revealed that Cardinal George Pell will speak at the commencement of Ave Maria University in Florida later this year. Apparently, he will also receive an honorary degree from the school.
The Cardinal was accused, convicted, and imprisoned in Australia for child sexual abuse. However, the High Court of that country overturned his conviction last April. At the time, we expressed our disappointment in this ruling, but hoped that the Vatican would at least follow up with an internal investigation. However, as far as we know, no such probe ever materialized.
The standard for upholding criminal charges is extraordinarily high. Prisoners who have their convictions overturned on appeal are absolved of legal guilt, but it does not necessarily follow that they are “innocent.” As advocates for victims, we know that the vast majority of those who report child sexual abuse are telling the truth.
As such we find it very upsetting that Cardinal Pell should be given any role or honor at a Catholic university. Notwithstanding his long-standing relationship with the particular school, we are saddened by the fact that the community has apparently not raised any outcry over the fact that the cardinal will not only speak but will also be honored at the graduation. Even leaving aside his aborted conviction, Australia’s Royal Commission found that Cardinal Pell knew of child sexual abuse by priests in that country as early as the 1970s but failed to take any action to protect the children at risk of harm.
Perhaps even more appalling than the invitation itself is the fact that Ave Maria University President Christopher Ice said that he hopes it can be a "healing moment" for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Victims are often reluctant to come forward because they are afraid that they will not be believed. For the Australian High Court to overturn the judgment of the jury who actually heard the testimony rubbed salt into the wounds of Catholic survivors everywhere.
For non-clerics like President Ice, and the university community to be so tone-deaf to victims’ pain is, we believe, one of the reasons why the clergy abuse scandal continues unabated. Until more practicing Catholics are as enraged as survivors over such invitations, the Church has absolutely no incentive to change.
(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)