News National PM ‘shocked’ as Pell’s supporters lament guilty verdict

PM ‘shocked’ as Pell’s supporters lament guilty verdict

Father Frank Brennan says there are unanswered questions about George Pell's guilt. Photo: ABC
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has expressed his shock over the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, citing the result as “proof that no Australian is above the law.”

“Like most Australians, I am deeply shocked at the crimes of which George Pell has been convicted,” he said.

“I respect the fact that this case is under appeal, but it is the victims and their families I am thinking of today, and all who have suffered from sexual abuse by those they should have been able to trust, but couldn’t.

“Their prolonged pain and suffering will not have ended today.

“While due process continues, our justice system has affirmed no Australian is above the law.”

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the Catholic Church had not done enough to address child sex abuse within its ranks in the past.

“My own parish priest went to jail for 25 years and he died there – he was a monster,” he said.

“All this does though, I’m sure – and I can’t comment on the specific case as it is a matter under appeal – is I feel for everyone who’s ever been a victim of clerical assault and abuse.”

Tony Abbott once described Pell as one of the “greatest churchmen” that Australia has ever seen, but the former prime minister remained silent on Tuesday on his friend’s conviction as a child sex abuser.

But that wasn’t the way it was back in 2004, when Mr Abbott was being quizzed about his close relationship with the ultra-conservative Catholic leader.

“I am a very imperfect Catholic. Why shouldn’t I go and seek counsel?” he told the ABC’s Tony Jones.

“Perhaps if you spent more time with Cardinal Pell, your life might be more interesting and more edifying.”

But other high-profile Pell defenders, including Andrew Bolt, have expressed “amazement” and “devastation” over his conviction. 

The News Corp columnist declared he would have more to say on the matter on Sky News, admitting he had questions over the conviction.

“On The Bolt Report on Sky News at 7pm: Why I am amazed that Cardinal George Pell was convicted of sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys in a busy cathedral in a room with an open door,” he wrote.

“And to those who say we should always believe victims: Check how many other claims against Pell have been disproved or found flimsy.”

Jesuit priest Frank Brennan, who attended some of the court hearings, writes on the Jesuit-run Eureka Street website that he was “surprised” and “devastated” by the result. 

“The complainant’s initial claim to police was that Pell had parted his vestments, but an alb cannot be parted; it is like a seamless dress,” he said.

“I was very surprised by the verdict. In fact, I was devastated.

“My only conclusion is that the jury must have disregarded many of the criticisms so tellingly made by [Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter QC] of the complainant’s evidence and that, despite the complainant being confused about all manner of things, the jury must nevertheless have thought – as the recent royal commission discussed – that children who are sexually violated do not always remember details of time, place, dress and posture,” he said.

“Although the complainant got all sorts of facts wrong, the jury must have believed that Pell did something dreadful to him. The jurors must have judged the complainant to be honest and reliable even though many of the details he gave were improbable, if not impossible.”

Father Brennan also noted that Pell did not give evidence in the trial.

“Would the verdict have been different if Pell had given evidence? Who can tell? 

“Was the verdict unreasonable? Can it be supported having regard to the evidence? Those are questions for the appeal court.

“I can only hope and pray that the complainant can find some peace, able to get on with his life, whichever way the appeal goes.

“Should the appeal fail, I hope and pray that Cardinal Pell, heading for prison, is not the unwitting victim of a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat.

“Should the appeal succeed, the Victoria Police should review the adequacy of the police investigation of these serious criminal charges.”

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