'The culture wars are real,' Cardinal Pell says in new interview

CNA 56eb0205719e2 98665 1 1 Cardinal Geroge Pell in the Vatican, 2017. Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA

Cardinal George Pell has said culture wars and anti-Catholic sentiment could have played a part in the decision of Victoria police to pursue charges against him, even while they lacked supportive evidence of the allegations in his case.

Cardinal Pell described Victoria police as having "advertised for business" against him in an April 14 interview with Sky News Australia. Pell was asked about the decision by Victoria police to launch an open-ended investigation into him, despite having received no complaints of a crime.

The interview was Pell's first televised appearance since his release last week after more than 400 days in prison. On the evidence of a single accuser, Pell was convicted in December 2018 of sexually assaulting two choirboys at the Melbourne Cathedral in 1996.

On April 7, the Australian High Court unanimously ruled that the evidence presented during the trial would not have allowed the jury to avoid reasonable doubt and ordered Pell's acquittal and release.

On the day of his release, Pell told CNA that "The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all."

Pell spoke with Sky News' Andrew Bolt about the decision by local police to bring 28 allegations of sexual abuse against him, only to see 27 of them dropped before reaching court. The remaining allegation resulted in Pell's conviction by a Victoria jury and eventual acquittal by the High Court.

Asked directly if he thought police were "out to get" him, Pell said he did not know.

"I don't know how you explain it, but it is certainly extraordinary," Pell said.

Asked if he thought there was an anti-Catholic bias at work in the decision of police to charge him and by judges at the Victoria Court of Appeal to sustain his conviction, despite the evidence which eventually led to his exoneration, Pell said it was a possibility.

"I've seen too many people [make the leap] from possible to probable to fact. Certainly, people do not like Christians who teach Christianity, especially on life and family and issues like that."

"The culture wars are real," Pell said. "There is a systematic attempt to remove the Judeo-Christian legal foundations [on for example] marriage, life, gender, sex."

"Unfortunately, there's less rational discussion and more playing the man, more abuse and intimidation, and that's not good for a democracy."

During the interview, the cardinal was also asked if he believed that there was any connection between his work to reform the Vatican finances during his time as Prefect for the Economy and the emergence of charges against him in Victoria.

"Most of the senior people in Rome who are in any way sympathetic to financial reform believe that they are [connected]. But I have seen too much from people, as I said, going to possibility to probability to fact – I don't have any evidence of that."

"But one of my fears was that what we had done [to reform the Vatican finances] would remain hidden for ten years or so, and they'd would be revealed and the baddies would say 'Well, Pell and Casey [Pell's chief advisor] were in charge then, they turned a blind eye and did nothing to it.'"

"Thanks be to God all that's gone, because there was a flurry of articles just before Christmas exposing all sorts of things like a disastrous purchase – actually a couple of them – in London, and it was very clearly demonstrated that we tenaciously opposed those things."

"What we were pushing and saying has been massively vindicated," Pell said. "Now you can see why they sacked the auditor [Libero Milone], why they got rid of the external auditors."

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Asked how high up in the curial hierarchy financial corruption goes, Pell said "Who knows? It's a little bit like [anti-Catholicism] in Victoria, you're not quite sure where the vein runs, how thick and broad it is, and how high it goes."

But the cardinal also made clear that, in financial reforming efforts, Pope Francis had "absolutely" supported him and that "at the feet of the pope we've got Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin, he's certainly not corrupt. Just how high up [the corruption goes] is an interesting hypothesis."

Pell said that despite the difficulties he faced in prison, where he was held in solitary confinement for much of the time for his own safety, he bore no anger towards his accuser.

"I've got no anger, no hostility towards my complainant, I never have," said Pell.

"I am called to forgive what happened to me that might have been a little unjust, and there is this heroic Christian call to forgiveness in the most appalling circumstances."

But, Pell said, he had no hesitation in condemning the terrible scandal of sexual abuse in the Church.

"I totally condemn those sorts of activities [of abuse] and the damage that it has done to people – and I have seen the damage that it has done to people."

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"One of the things that grieves me is the suggestion that I'm anti-victim or not sufficiently sympathetic. I devoted a lot of time and energy to trying to get [victims] justice, and to get them help and compensation."

Pell noted that as archbishop in the 1990s he set up the Melbourne Response to deal with sexual abuse in the Church and bringing about justice and compensation for victims.

"I worked hard," Pell said, "when it wasn't easy or fashionable, to get something in place – not run by clerics – that would give some protection and redress to these people, and I have worked consistently at that since at least the middle 90s."

The cardinal said he had kept the same routine while in prison that, as a bishop, he had often urged on priests who found themselves "in a bit of trouble;" getting up early and at a set time, praying, exercising, and eating well.

"If you can't pray when you are in trouble, your faith is very weak indeed."

Asked if he had ever asked God, in the words of Christ on the cross, "why have you forsaken me?" Pell responded "No."

"But I have said 'My God, my God, what are you up to?'"

"One of the strangest teachings about Christianity – and the most useful – is that you can offer up your suffering," Pell said. "Suffering is not just a brute fact. A Christian can offer that up to the Good God."

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