Why Pell should resign
After his conviction for sexual abuse was upheld by an appeals court, Australian Cardinal George Pell should resign from the College of Cardinals, for the good of the Church, writes GÜNTHER SIMMERMACHER.
Cardinal George Pell’s conviction of sexual abuse, passed down in December and upheld this month by the Court of Appeals in Victoria, is bad for the Catholic Church. It is another blow to the institution’s credibility, and to its ability to evangelise. It further erodes trust in the Church. It raises more questions about its systemic failures that even a leading cardinal could be found guilty of sexual abuse.
Within the Church, the Pell case is a source of division: between those who defend the cardinal to all ends, and those who welcome the incarceration of an unloved Prince of the Church.
Cardinal Pell’s legal process is not yet fully exhausted; he still has recourse to the Australian High Court in Canberra — but given the appeal court’s decision to uphold his conviction, legal experts doubt that such an appeal would succeed.
For all intents and purposes, the reality is that Cardinal Pell is a convicted sex offender who likely will not breathe the air of freedom again until at least 2022.
Cardinal Pell’s confirmed conviction is not good for the Church. But for that we cannot blame the complainant whose testimony led to the cardinal’s conviction, nor the media, nor the police, nor the judges, nor the jury, nor the appeals judges, nor “the system”.
The responsibility resides with Cardinal Pell.
And it also resides, to a lesser but still important degree, with those who insisted that he was the victim of a conspiracy, instead of keeping an open mind and giving the victim the benefit of at least some doubt, as all who allege having been abused are entitled to.
The impassioned arguments for Cardinal Pell’s innocence must now cease. His conviction has been confirmed and probably won’t be overturned. It is time now to respect the Australian judicial system. It is time to respect the jury whose finding has been confirmed by the Appeals Court.
And, for the sake of decency, it is time now to believe the victim of Cardinal Pell’s abuse.
Cardinal Pell ought to consider now the option of voluntarily resigning from the College of Cardinals and renouncing his episcopal title.
To do so, in humility, would not be an admission of guilt — like any other convict, Cardinal Pell has the right to proclaim his innocence — but be a favour to the Church which he has served for so many years.
There cannot be a place in the College of Cardinals for convicted sex offenders. This is why Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal-archbishop of Washington DC who was found guilty in a canonical process of sexual abuse, had to be stripped of his red hat (he eventually was excluded from holy orders altogether).
Should Cardinal Pell take the initiative in divesting himself of the titles which are blemished by his conviction, it would be a service to the Church, and also reflect well on him.
We may pity George Pell, or be angry at him, or despise his actions. We may see him as the victim of a court case which could have gone either way, or we may see him as the perpetrator of contemptible sexual abuse.
But just as those who defended him mustn’t engage in conspiracy theories and unyieldingly insist on his innocence, so must those who opposed him not gloat. We all must accept the verdict of the Appeals Court for what it is: the culmination (for now) of a profoundly tragic story.
We all must turn to God now: to pray for the victim of George Pell who should never have been abused in the first place; to pray for George Pell, who will have time to interrogate his conscience; and to pray for our Church, which needs healing.