The Catholic Church has had numerous, well-documented, ongoing struggles to corral not only the public sentiment that they have a problem with pedophiles in their leadership, but also the actual instances of child molestation.
It’s been an often times infuriating process to hold many of the men accused of abusing little altar boys and girls because of the historical power and wealth the Vatican has had at its disposal. For literal centuries, Popes and their cardinals simply denied the allegations. When the allegations became too widespread to deny, they started their shell games — moving disgraced priests and bishops to far off parishes, as if stowing them away from their first (or more) victims would stop them from abusing others in a new location.
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The church has done everything it can do to protect those that don’t deserve protection, and to defend the indefensible. That’s why it’s still huge news any time a member of the Catholic hierarchy is actually convicted in a court of law and sentenced, which is exactly what happened to Cardinal George Pell in Australian court this week.
Pell was just convicted on two charges stemming from incidents that took place in 1996. In a testament of just how hard it is to get convictions on these guys, this is actually third time around for the trial, though the second one also produced findings of guilt.
His trial was heard twice last year because a first jury failed to reach a verdict. A second jury unanimously convicted him of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16. (BBC)
During the trial, testimony showed that Pell committed sexual acts on two 13-year-old boys, who he accused of breaking a rule as cover for his ensuing molestation. I should give everyone a fair warning, this next excerpt could be really difficult for victims of sexual abuse to read, particularly if their abuse also came at the hands of a Catholic man of the cloth.
Pell was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 when he found the two 13-year-old boys in cathedral rooms following a mass, the County Court of Victoria was told.
After telling them they were in trouble for drinking communion wine, Pell forced each boy into indecent acts, prosecutors said. He abused one of the boys again in 1997.
No matter how good it feels that Pell was convicted, sadly, justice simply cannot be served to one of his victims, who died in a drug overdose five years ago. The surviving victim, who by law cannot be named in the press, expressed all the things one would expect to hear from someone who was so callously treated by someone they were supposed to be able to trust.
The man said he had experienced “shame, loneliness, depression and struggle” because of the abuse.
To their credit, the Vatican has removed Pell from Pope Francis’ inner circle, and has removed him being able to minister in public. He’s also been banned from contacting kids, which is literally the least that can be done, of course.
They added that while the ruling was “painful”, and the Church has the “utmost respect” for the Australian authorities, Pell has the right to “defend himself to the last degree”.
Unfortunately, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference didn’t say much more than “thoughts and prayers” in their response to the guilty convictions.
“It is painful news that, we are well aware, has shocked many people, not just in Australia,” he added. “As we await the definitive verdict, we join the Australian bishops in praying for all victims of abuse, reaffirming our commitment to do everything possible so that the Church is a safe home for everyone, especially for children.”
As ever, the hope is that holding Pell accountable will serve as a guidepost for other law enforcement agencies in pursuing charges against religious leaders who prey on children. Considering how long the church was allowed to simply ignore and flout the law, we could be in for quite a long wait until every case is handled by a secular court that answers to the citizens and victims, not a kangaroo church court that answers to “God.”
Writer/comedian James Schlarmann is the founder of The Political Garbage Chute and his work has been featured on The Huffington Post. You can follow James on Facebook and Instagram, but not Twitter because he has a potty mouth.