Why the Vatican might want to send a thank-you note to Australia’s High Court

John L. Allen Jr. Crux Now

Apr 7, 2020

ROME – Obviously, the primary beneficiary of Tuesday’s decision by Australia’s High Court to overturn the sexual abuse conviction of Cardinal George Pell is Pell himself. The 78-year-old prelate was definitively acquitted and is now a free man after more than 400 days in prison, mostly in solitary confinement.

For all those presently chafing after a few weeks of a coronavirus quarantine, Pell’s forced isolation for a much longer stretch, and in much less pleasant conditions, may help put things in perspective.

A close second in terms of who benefits from the ruling, however, is the Vatican, which effectively got an early Easter present.

Had things gone the other way, the Vatican would have been compelled to launch its own canonical investigation of Pell, which could have led to his being expelled from the clerical state like ex-cardinal and ex-priest Theodore McCarrick. Judges in Rome would have had to examine the evidence, and likely would have reached the same decision as their Australian colleagues, which was that “the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt.”

As Pell put it in a brief statement after the ruling, the case “was not a referendum on the Catholic Church, nor a referendum on how church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of pedophilia.” It was solely about whether the evidence on the five charges against Pell, resting on the testimony of one witness, surpassed a reasonable doubt, and many reasonable people believed the answer was “no.”

Last August, the Vatican issued a statement that its own course of action regarding Pell “is awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case.” Theoretically the Vatican still could undertake a canonical process on the charges in this case, but assuming it reaches the same conclusion as the High Court, it won’t have to go first

Doing so would have put the Vatican in the position of being seen not only as taking care of one of its own, but also defying a whole nation’s civil justice system. To say the least, the PR fallout would have been abysmal – especially since, by the time an investigation here reached completion, the Vatican probably couldn’t count on the coronavirus any longer to offer a massive global distraction.

Now, the heavy lifting has already been done. If Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, isn’t drafting a thank-you note right now to Australian Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, he really ought to be.

To be clear, it’s not that the Vatican under Pope Francis had any built-in bias in favor of Pell, a well-known theological and political conservative who was among the strongest voices of caution during the pontiff’s raucous Synods of Bishops on the family in 2014 and 2015.

In the beginning, Francis and Pell seemed to have an odd-couple partnership, with the pope entrusting Pell with leadership of the Vatican’s financial reform. By the time Pell was charged in June 2017 for “historical sexual assault offenses,” however, that relationship had soured.
Pell had already lost several power struggles to the Secretariat of State, then led by Parolin and Archbishop, now Cardinal, Angelo Becciu as the sostituto, or “substitute.” Moreover, Pell’s role in the synods, and the broader debates they triggered about the direction of the Church, had led some members of Francis’s team to view him with skepticism.

One could make a much more persuasive case that if Francis and his allies were predisposed to be favorable to a cardinal facing abuse allegations, it was McCarrick, a vocal booster of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina in the run-up to the 2013 conclave and a figure perceived as an ecclesiastical progressive and a friend of the Church in Latin America.

If Francis’s Vatican was willing to set all that aside as evidence mounted against McCarrick, there’s certainly no reason to believe they would have looked the other way for Pell.

From the beginning, however, the Vatican expressed much greater reserve about the Pell case than McCarrick’s, and for a simple reason: Anti-abuse experts, lawyers and close observers of the Australian church were saying the case just didn’t add up.

To believe that Pell was guilty, one would have to accept that an archbishop celebrating Sunday Mass in his own busy cathedral left a closing procession without any aides or other clergy, entered an open and highly trafficked sacristy and found it unoccupied other than two choirboys, managed to sexually assault them in a matter of minutes without being witnessed or removing his liturgical vestments (which would render the sex act highly cumbersome, if not physically impossible), and then returned to the exit outside the cathedral to greet worshipers as if nothing had happened.

In their appeal to the High Court, Pell’s defense team noted that each one of those things is improbable, but if one considers the “compounding improbabilities” of them all happening at once, then the odds soar to something like 10,000-1 – and that’s only if you consider each claim as a 50/50 coin toss, as opposed to being more like 80/20 against.

Vatican officials could do the math, but they also understood that if they had to be the ones to say it out loud, a wide swath of public opinion would have dismissed it as nothing more than the clerical class circling the wagons. In all likelihood, it would have set back Francis’s efforts to convince survivors that he’s earnest about reform.

Instead, the Vatican can breathe a sigh of relief. Pell’s Vatican job has already expired, so they don’t have to worry about easing him out, and they also don’t have to reach any conclusion on the charges against him for themselves.
A lawyer for abuse victims in Australia has said that others may come forward with charges against Pell, and it’s also possible the accuser in this case may pursue a civil claim. Nonetheless, for right now, it’s not just Pell who’s in the clear but Rome.

If you were to ask Pope Francis what he really would like for Easter, he’d probably say an end to the coronavirus, world peace, healing for the earth, justice for the poor, and a new burst of faith. None of that, alas, appears to be on next Sunday’s menu, but for the pope and his team, George Pell’s acquittal probably feels like a lesser, but similarly unexpected, Easter miracle.

One can only imagine, of course, how it must feel to Pell.

Follow John Allen on Twitter at @JohnLAllenJr.

Pat says

Yes, the Australian court let’s the Vatican off the hook.

I doubt though that we will see Pell back in Rome. He is tarnished.





50 replies on “Why the Vatican might want to send a thank-you note to Australia’s High Court”

Pell achieved a pyrrhic victory, not an absolute one. It isn’t the outcome he would prefer.

If the High Court judges decided that there should have been reasonable doubt about Pell’s guilt in a lower court, I’m afraid they were unable to remove, after his unanimous conviction there and the majority upholding of this in the appeals court, the reasonable certainty that he was not innocent either.

Whatever spin one chooses to put on this latest outcome, Pell remains rutted in a no-man’s between guilt and innocence.

To put it bluntly, would you allow your thirteen-year-old son, and his nine-year-old brother, to be left alone with Pell in a swimming pool?

Could you do it without, well, wondering? 🤔


11.00: Tough luck you fool, Mags! You are a leech living in permanent hatred, venom and poisonous vitriol. Your comments now are superfluous. As for leaving children with Cardinal Pell? I’d choose him over you, mad, deranged, drunken, dysfunctioning specimen. I’d not let my dog near you.. Too full of rage, anger …all faux – but still monstrouly dangerous. Keep hatred away. Get a grip…caveman.



I believe you. Absolutely! I haven’t even a scintilla of doubt that you would consider it an honour, singular in the supreme, to have Pell fiddle with kids.

And I don’t doubt that you’d expect those kids to be uncompromisingly, and unequivocally, grateful for the inordinate privilege.

Karma will deal with Pell. 😀


Firstly, all blessings and good wishes to you + Pat and your congregation at the Oratory for Holy Week and Easter.

As to Pell, I think we do have to set aside any speculation as to whether he might really be guilty of the things he has been acquitted of. To do so is not just an injustice to him, but also to all Australians who want to have faith in their justice system, as well as to victims of abuse who need also to have faith that their justice system will support them in the future. Yes, one case, one individual directly connected to this will be sorely hurt and disappointed, and I feel for him and what he has been through – I mean by that the complainant in this case. But, for all our sakes and for the sake of justice itself, we simply have to accept this final verdict and not keep second guessing it.

As to the future for Pell, well, we may well find that other accusations emerge. I suspect that they will be very carefully assessed, and unless there is something absolutely incontrovertible, the authorities will be reluctant to take them forward. I’m not suggesting that there is something else that Pell has done. I do not know. But, usually with cases like this, other people begin to speak up, whether because they have a real case, or just to take an opportunity. We have to trust in the police and judicial authorities to sift these very carefully. Civil cases may well follow. I hope not. They would just exacerbate for all what has been an excoriating experience.

I imagine Pell will now quietly disappear from view, both for his sake and for the sake of everybody else involved in this case. He has had his say, he has been exonerated and found not guilty. There is no point now in him going a crusade. Quiet and prayer and penance for whatever sins he has committed of any kind, for the sins of the Church, are what is really required of him now. Leave the polemics and debate to others. And, he deserves a bit of peace and quiet.



Pell was not found ‘not guilty’ : this is a misrepresention of what happened in the Australia High Court,since Pell was not on trial here. The seven judges merely overturned the jury’s unanimous verdict at Pell ‘s actual trial, in a lower court, on the ground that the jury should, in its opinion, have had a reasonable doubt about Pell’ s guilt. It is not the same.

Your smug, ‘let’ s all move on now ‘ attitude is a callous disregard for how Pell’ s accuser must be feeling. But then, it is what child victims of sexual abuse are used to hearing from officious, supercilious fools, like you.


Magna, you are an angry, cantankerous and self-righteous twat. I think you just sit there fuming all day and spouting bile because you haven’t got it in you to say anything positive. But, I suppose we just have to put up with you and then go on an ignore you, in the interests of upholding free speech, But, I really do wish you could dig deep in to the well of human warmth and kindness. You might find you like it !


Your logic is poor at 1:23.
Let’s do the maths:
The starting point, let’s mark it 0 on the number line, denotes innocent.

Convicted, let’s mark it 1 on the number line.

Pell began with the presumption of innocence at 0.
He was convicted and moved to 1.

That conviction was rescinded, annulled, quashed on Tuesday. Pell returns to 0 and enjoys the presumption of innocence.

Your abusive predications of him as being a pedophile are on record, albeit pseudonymously. They were always shameful and scurrilous. Never more do than now though.



Dear God!

Your drivel is almost sublime.

Pell is adulterated goods.

Most REASONABLE people know what happened on that occasion.

Wherever he goes, Pell will trail a moral stench… and no high court ruling will change that. 😀


‘Most reasonable people know….’

First Arts logic should have taught you to spot a logical fallacy at 6:15.

If your risible imitation of an argument were true there would be no need for a criminal justice system.

To label Pell as you have done without evidence makes you a criminal.


Why is Pat allowing that ugly troll – bully, poisonous virus Magna, spout out his hate speech? Pat obviously needs this ugliness to keep his blog alive….Outrageous spirit for this SACRED Week. Then of course, Mags cursed GOD on this blog – so nothing us beyond his selfishness.


Lord God,
We tremble to think
That it was one of Jesus’ own friends who betrayed him.
One who sat by him, who broke bread with him…

Give us strength, we pray,
To walk faithfully with Jesus,
Even when the road we walk is rocky
Even when the message of the cross seems like foolishness
And even when we feel betrayed.

You, Lord, are always faithful.
We stumble, we become lost,
But you are steady and sure.

Give us the grace to endure our troubles,
And reveal to us the glory of your kingdom,
Through your son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit.


It’s the same smug ‘ let’s move on now’ with regards CSA.
Let’s have a commission of inquiry into all dioceses in Ireland.


3.10: Thorough investigations are on-going for child protection in all Dioceses and other institutions. Look beyond this blog for fact and truth…please.



You’re right there should be a Commission of Inquiry, but not just for the RCC.

It would need to cover a very wide range of institutions – such as County Councils, AGS, the Probation Service, Sporting organisations, the Licensed Trade …

Which is why it won’t happen.


There is an ongoing confusion of legal requirements for a criminal conviction and the requirements of professional bodies and responsible authorities to make sure their people can be let around vulnerable people safely.
You have to have a high level of proof for a conviction, but many a doctor and nurse have found themselves struck off by their registration body when there was no prospect of a criminal conviction.
Rightly so because these bodies use a much lower level of proof.
The article above implies that what the Vatican does is decided by courts which is not and should not be the case.
The recent example I can think of would be the abbot of Ampleforth who has not been convicted of the things it was alleged he did, after investigation by the police and remains listed as abbot. However he is not allowed there and the actual superior is an administrator. The abbot has apparently taken legal action against the abbot president but I don’t know the outcome.
It is too simple to say ‘Pell is innocent, business as usual’. Mark my words, a quiet retirement will be forced on him if he won’t take it voluntarily and if he isn’t forced back into the limelight by civil action.

Liked by 1 person

2.28: Pat, 12.52 is absolutely correct. Your blog is useless. As for Magna’s rant at 1.23, he, the monster of hatred, anger, jealousy and dangerous madness, is the one who has a callous disregard for survivors. His using their pain to score hateful shots against others does nothing for them. Magna’s ugliness of prose, hate speech, is not a way that will ever bring justice. His self serving nonsense adds only deeper pain to survivors, not that he cares as his supposed care is overtakes by his viitriol of hate towards clergy. I am certain that this super fool has done absolutely nothing in his life for survivors. All talk, all hatred, no REAL, VISIBLE acts of compassion. His dysfunctionality has killed his humanity.


If the blog is useless why do you bother to comment as an apologist for priests.
I know from experience the callous disregard the Institutional Church has for survivors.
Cover up is alive, well, and continues. The self serving ranting crap dished out by the likes of you adds to the pain of survivors.


4.34: There are many threads of stories in the issue of sexual abuse. Many. There are those who have been falsely accused only to be exonerated by the highest courts, lay and clerical. Yes, I agree that both Church and state have abysmally failed survivors. I share the outrage and sense of injustice, as one who experienced teenage abuse. I know. I care. That I am a cleric dies not and should not diminish my experience, disgust, understanding or pain as you intimate in your comment. Your slur is disgusting and insulting.


Happy Easter all. The fallout from being an alleged or convicted abuser is a difficult issue. Whatever they have done or not done I believe the weight lies heavy on their shoulders for the rest of their lives. I know some through being in jail have found God. What does Good Friday really mean…..


8:13 What’s disgusting and insulting about my comment? The institutional Church is STILL covering up. This is going on 35 years plus! If you are so concerned for survivors of clerical abuse you or your colleagues won’t have any objections for a commission of enquiry into every diocese.
By the way, stretch your imagination a little by remembering vulnerable adults were also abused through involvement with the Institutional Church. A thread easily forgotten by apologists like you. You sound like your battling with cognitive dissonance. You’re easily disgusted and insulted. What’s far more disgusting and insulting than your faux disgust is RUINED lives and covering up for the sake of duplicitous members of your brotherhood.


9.23: There’s little point arguing with closed minds like yours. Your comments of vinductive rage does nothing to bring healing to survivors. Simply because I am a priest who was abused, you seem to belueve it’s less relevant or important: in trivialising my experience of abuse, you do likewise to all survivors. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been “there”. And, I am involved in a restorative programme with survivors. That of course doesn’t interest you!


9.23: You have a problem with other people’s TRUTH. You should not be ignorant, dismissive or intolerant. If you have not been abused, you haven’t a clue.


If you, or other ‘good priests’ care as you claim, stop being a bunch of wuss wearing big girl blouses by challenging the corruption within the Church.


11:58 pm

It is you who has the closed mind. You are projecting onto me, notions of your own.
You are ascribing to me comments I never made. That’s typical of clerical apologists as is misrepresenting. You are continuously going on about your experience of abuse as a teenager.( I never trivialized your experience. I’ve worked as a therapist with abuse victims.) I’ve told you there’s an added dynamic when the perpetrator is a priest-spiritual abuse.
I am interested in the restorative programme you mention.
I’m coming to this from several positions, including first hand experience of cover up and misrepresentation by clergy and bishops. This rottenness in the church has to stop.
Who would Jesus align Himself with?

Liked by 1 person

6.15: Moral stench crawls out in all your deranged comments, your every word, Marge Cartwheel. You live in an isolated world of moral decay. I suspect were you at the Last Supper, as Jesus came to wash your feet, you’d have kicked him over…You are a bully, the kind of person totally anathema to the GOSPEL OF CHRIST. You have buried long ago any humanity you have. Sadly, all through drunken foolishness. Were you a normal human being, you could make a huge difference to the world!! We can thank God you have no choice now but to remain indoors as your presence would harm all before you.



Erm, Jesus wouldn’t even have considered washing my trainers’ ensconced smelly feet😖, bless his holy heart. 😀


8.52: So true of yourself Marje, you loveable rogue!! …is the rest of your body as smelly? But I think Jesus would love to enter your soul . Allow him.


Pat, While I am a critic of much of your opinions and world views, I believe you are mostly well intentioned and that you provide a platform for debate. I feel this platform is dominated too much by a certain person and puts many once good commentators off. His vitriol is unnecessary and is morally reprehensible at times. Be that as it is, I wish you a blessed Easter in these days of confinement.


Hopefully, the civil cases pending against him will prevent the dirty midden trying to do a runner to Rome… again. (Not that he would get very far at the moment .)


7.22: There’s a darkness in you…bring it to Christ this Good Friday…🐂🐂🐂🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐃🐱🐱🐱


Ahhh, diddums. Poor priests. Sorry, but having to listen to priests bleating about being hard up during this time is way down my list of priorities. Priests, like pretty much everybody else, will have to shoulder some burden during this crisis. But…..priests will not be put out of their houses; priests will not starve; priests will not go cold; priests will not have to worry about looking after children during lockdown; priests can still access their churches for prayer, contemplation, peace; the majority of priests will no doubt have a healthy bank balance and be able to continue finding cash to support themselves for a period; priests are very unlikely to have to access food banks; priests won’t have to deal with domestic abuse. Shall I go on ?!

Please, spare us the hard up stories about priests. Yes, they may have to tighten the belt a little, but by any stretch of the imagination they are in a far better situation than the vast majority of people So, please, dear Fathers, shut up !

In any case, the fact is that most dioceses have funds, savings, investments, capital etc that would ensure that they can support their priests. They just need to dip their finger in to that pile and dole out a bit. Of course, what they are hoping is that they can conserve what they have, and pass on the burden to the State. Hopefully the State will be wise to this. Before accessing taxpayer support, businesses and organisations should be accessing the resources they already have to support their workers. Or, how about going to the bank and taking out a loan ? Just like the rest of us !


Fr. Collins is appealing for people to donate online! its estimated, almost 25% of the Irish workforce is unemployed at the moment, meanwhile he is looking for money when we are entering an economic depression likely to be as bad, if not worse, than the great depression of the 1920s. I suggest dioceses sell some of their assets to fund their priests or for priests to look for part-time employment outside the Church. They might thereby qualify for social protection.

Les Cochran in his book called ‘Thievery Exposed’ estimates thievery in the U.S. Catholic Church is now surpassing to 1.2 billion dollars annually.

Liked by 1 person

7.22am: What horrible hatred, vengeance and evil from you on Good Friday. Irrespective of Cardinal Pells acquittal, let us remember all who are suffering, survivors especially. Atvleast try to emulate Christ!


12.12: And you, sir, defy logic. Keep your ignorance to yourself. Indeed, you do not seem to understand words…Tell us what post modernist crap means? Perhaps you personify it in fullness. Enlighten us.


Trying to enlighten abusive ignorant commentators is a woeful waste of time,energy and effort.It’s a fast day. I suggest you fast from nastiness.



It’s a fast day? Says who? Rome?

You know where Rome can put its man-made rules.

Tell me why you think Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild, wants people to go hungry, to suffer, especially in these already constrained times?

What kind of God are you worshipping?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s