Sunday, August 25, 2019

Cardinal Pell

Now being a retired solicitor after  some 45 years of practice, a possible autobiography beckons. However with one more Employment Tribunal case to complete, that possibility  may be deferred until after the remaining ET case reaches judgement or is settled.

The most difficult area of legal practice that I recall at present, was that of alleged abuse of children or young adults by Catholic clergy. Cases of this kind began to arise in England at least, fairly early on in my legal career. The first I recall involved an Irish priest who was convicted in England.  Unlike the situation likely to prevail in C21, there was no UK publicity but the conviction was headline news in his rural hometown newspaper in Ireland. Since then the Church, Charity Commission and the law in England, have tightened up considerably, to the benefit of all.

Having acted on occasion for victims of such abuse and sometimes for perpetrators, the case of Cardinal Pell who has been convicted in Australia of I believe two counts of abuse and who also lost a recent appeal is of interest certainly from a legal viewpoint. 

I do recall one case in England where a priest was arrested following a complaint of abuse by a girl. The priest was placed in custody by the police. 

Upon visiting him in the custody suite, he told me that the complaint concerned alleged behaviour in the church towards the end of Sunday Mass. He said that the alleged behaviour when he was still vested, would have been impossible to have taken place unseen in the Church at that time and asked me to check. Upon visiting the Church and looking at the area where the girl complained the alleged abuse had taken place, it was obvious that the priest was correct. The police concerned who told me that they were not normally churchgoers, promised to check at the Church which they did. The priest was released soon afterwards.

The fact that Cardinal Pell's case  proceeded to trial and appeal with its sad outcome so far, signifies probably that there was no clear evidence of the kind mentioned in the previous paragraph. On the other hand being a Cardinal, was likely to have encouraged the Australian authorities to take the strongest action possible against him, upon the basis that the public  backlash  against them from not so doing, would have been very strong.

As for publicity, the media has written about and broadcast the case widely certainly in the UK and presumably in Australia and elsewhere, which caused me to read the comment in today's Sunday Times by the paper's commentator Melanie McDonagh, reading:

"The flimsiest evidence has cast down a cardinal to hell
It is hard to think of a more obvious travesty of justice than the case of Cardinal Pell, whose appeal against his conviction for child abuse has been thrown out by two of three judges in Australia. I still can't see how he could be convinced on the uncorroborated evidence of the one surviving witness given the sheet implausibility of the scenario. The judges had to take the feel of episcopal vestments to see whether it would have been possible for Pell to get them out of the way so as to assault two choirboys, after nipping away from a church procession in full rig. The other alleged victim, now dead was asked by his mother in 2001 whether he had ever been 'interfered with' while in the choir and he said he hadn't. No doubt members of the clergy have assaulted children in Australia as elsewhere but it's wrong to hang out Pell to dry to pay for their sins."

Ms McDonagh has a good legal point  quite apart from her article generally. Some courage is also required these days  for a journalist to write in that way for which she is to be commended.

 I wonder if Cardinal Pell will endeavour to appeal further?

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