Vatican City, Mar 5, 2019 / 05:00 am
The Vatican has announced that a canonical process against Cardinal George Pell will soon begin in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pell was convicted last year by an Australian jury on five counts of child sexual abuse.
Pell’s case is well known to be controversial: while the cardinal was convicted by a jury of his peers, at least some Church figures seem to support his claim of innocence, and observers in Australia have raised serious questions about the integrity of his trial.
Secular media outlets and commentators, including some of Pell’s otherwise most implacable critics, have called the Victoria jury’s verdict into question.
Under those circumstances, the CDF has an unenviable task. Officials will approach the case with an awareness that their verdict, no matter where it lands, could have serious repercussions for the Church.
Canonical trials often take place after a civil government has ended its case against an alleged abuser, and the Church has developed some practices as a consequence of that.
For example, the transcripts of criminal trials in sexual abuse cases are routinely admitted as canonical evidence in Church trials. Very often, civil findings are treated as practically conclusive proofs, leading to an abbreviated administrative process.
Given the controversy caused by the Australian verdict, Pell’s canonical representatives are likely to insist on a full trial at the CDF, and to resist any overtures toward an abbreviated administrative process, like the one that handled the recent case of Theodore McCarrick.
Still, the situation invites comparison to McCarrick’s.