The verdict against Cardinal Pell for sexual abuse is controversial among the Australian public. If it goes to appeal, the cleric will even be given a chance at a contrary ruling. Why is that?
Interviewer: What are the concerns about the process itself?
Anian Christoph Wimmer (editor-in-chief of the German-language edition of Catholic News Agency): The trial itself is highly controversial in the Australian public and among legal experts. On the one hand, because the undoubted guilt was established by a jury. It's only in the state of Victoria that such a high-profile case can't even be decided by a judge. And based on uncorroborated testimony from a single witness.
There is also no forensic evidence that has been cited. There is also no clear pattern of behavior by a pedophile in Cardinal Pell or even a confession. He still maintains his innocence. Now there are several jurists who are going out on a limb, including from the prominent University of Melbourne. They say that the appeal, which is coming up, has a good chance of reaching a completely opposite verdict.
Cardinal Pell may then be acquitted, at least these experts say.
Interviewer: Pells' attorney defended his client during the trial, saying, among other things, that the sexual assaults on minors lasted less than six minutes. Therefore, he pleads for a lesser sentence. In part, this was interpreted as an admission of guilt. It was not?
Wimmer: Not at all. If you look closely at what Robert Richter, as the man is called, one of the leading lawyers and a progressive atheist and prominent jurist in Australia, said, you can see that it was an appeal that is common in the legal process in Anglo-Saxon countries. He asked that the sentence that the jury had decided on be small, please. For this, he has, thank God, apologized in the meantime.
These were really statements, which not only me – I am a father of four – the breakfast cereals from the mouth knock out.
Interviewer: In general, how do you experience the debate about Cardinal Pell in Australia?
Wimmer: Less biased, perhaps, than in the global public sphere, where culpability seems clear. But on the other hand, the case is incredibly polarizing. I have already indicated that I myself am also an Australian citizen and have children who were born there and some of whom went to school there. If I imagine that something had happened to them – God forbid. But on the other hand, Cardinal Pell gets support from very many celebrities.
Advocacy comes, with regard to the actual proceedings, as already mentioned, also from jurists. You can see that there is much more at stake here than "just" a trial. This is about freedom of expression, this is about justice, above all and ultimately, of course, about the truth.
Interviewer: Do you have contact with other bishops and cardinals in similar positions? Are they not also shocked by the force with which the discussion is now being conducted??
Wimmer: Yes I am. And yes they are. Whereby many ask themselves, by the way not only the bishops, but also canon lawyers and colleagues in our circle of the worldwide Catholic News Agency, why of all things the case of Pell makes such waves.
Because the much more blatant and far worse offenses, for example those of a McCarrick and others, which raise much bigger questions with regard to the church circles as a whole and the abuse summit, have received much less attention. This is also a topic of discussion and heated debate.
Interviewer: Perhaps also because he was considered a confidant of the pope?
Wimmer: Yes, definitely. There is something added, which is particularly exciting for all those who want to make their own thoughts on this subject. One of the leading Vaticanists, who has been a correspondent in Rome for 45 years, a Mexican, Valentina Alazraki, was allowed to tell the 190 or more than 190 participants from all over the world at the abuse summit itself.
She said to them: Ask yourselves, are you as determined as we journalists are to take decisive action against those who commit abuse or cover it up?. That, I think, is the core question that the "dignitaries" must now ask themselves, for themselves and, of course, for their fellow dignitaries as well.
Interviewer: After all, it is said that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is considering further steps against Pell. What signs does the public expect?
Wimmer: I think the expectations of the public will be difficult to reconcile with what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith can and will really do. I am not a canon lawyer myself, but I think that proceedings will be initiated. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must also investigate.
They will probably also wait to see how the criminal proceedings in Australia develop – but they will also have to find out for themselves what is going on. The maximum penalty is threatened. This has now been seen as a precedent also with McCarrick, a former cardinal: namely, the Entlang from the clerical rank.
The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.