“I urge people not to draw any final conclusions until the appeal judges have had their chance to review this matter. Amidst the heated emotions of the present, I also pray for public calm and civility.”
Fisher noted that “some have raised serious questions for the appellate court to examine,” adding, “If we are too quick to judge, we can end up joining the demonisers or the apologists, those baying for blood or those in denial. Our readings remind us that things are not always what they seem; that we must look beneath the surface and allow truth and justice to unfold in God’s good time.”
The archbishop reiterated his sorrow for all who have suffered abuse by clergy, as well as his commitment to pursuing the truth in abuse claims and preventing abuse moving forward.
Cardinal Pell was found guilty by a Melbourne court on five charges of sexual abuse of minors, stemming from charges that he sexually assaulted two former members of the Melbourne cathedral choir. A media gag imposed by the court ahead of that trial was lifted Feb. 26.
The cardinal is appealing his conviction. He faces of maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.
A number of bishops have voiced surprise at the verdict, which came at the end of a five-week retrial, after a jury in an earlier trial failed to reach a unanimous verdict.
In a March 2 pastoral letter, Archbishop Costelloe of Perth also said that he did not want to comment on Pell’s conviction or appeal until the legal process was complete.
“I have come to the firm conviction that in order not to inflame the situation and be seen as trying to prejudice the outcome of the appeal process I should not make any comments on Cardinal Pell’s situation until the legal processes are completed,” he said.
Rather than granting media interviews at this time, the archbishop said he believes it is more appropriate for him to support the people of his archdiocese. He called on Catholics to keep Christ at the center of their response to any reports of sexual abuse.
“Our first response to the present awful situation must therefore be, without pre-empting the outcome of the appeal against this criminal conviction which Cardinal Pell’s lawyers have lodged on his behalf, to stand by all the victims and survivors of sexual abuse by representatives of the Church.”
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, also issued a statement, saying news of the conviction “has shocked many across Australia and around the world.”
“The Bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system,” he said. “The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal’s legal team has lodged. Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served.”
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Archbishop Coleridge said the nation’s bishops will continue to “pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones, and we commit ourselves anew to doing everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable.”
Other figures have been more outspoken in criticism of the guilty verdict.
Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, suggested that the justice process was tainted by media and police forces that had worked “to blacken the name” of Pell “before he went to trial.”
“This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail,” Craven said in a Feb. 27 article in The Australian. “It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”
George Weigel, John Paul II biographer and Catholic author, denounced what he called a “tawdry” legal process driven by “public hysteria, political vendetta, and media aggression.”
In a Feb. 27 column in First Things, Weigel defended Pell, with whom he has been friends for more than 50 years, saying that “Something is very, very wrong” in how the cardinal’s case has been handled.