The Melbourne Assessment Prison in West Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, where Cardinal George Pell remains imprisoned in solitary confinement. (Canley [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)])
Sources tell the Register that the cardinal, whose appeal of his conviction for sexual abuse is now being considered by Australia’s High Court, is enduring difficult conditions in solitary confinement.
VATICAN CITY — Cardinal George Pell may be allowed to receive Holy Communion in his prison cell on Christmas Day but he will still not be permitted to celebrate Mass, sources close to the cardinal have told the Register this week.
Since the cardinal was jailed and placed in solitary confinement in February, the Melbourne Assessment Prison where he is imprisoned has forbidden the former prefect for the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy from celebrating Mass.
It remains unclear if he has been able to regularly receive Holy Communion, although one source said he has been able to do so, “but not necessarily on Sundays.” The cardinal remains “a very much hated figure here which is why it’s out of the question for him to celebrate Mass,” the source said.
The cardinal is reportedly allowed one official visitor per week and a source close to the cardinal who prefers not to be named told the Register he is receiving “great support” from a religious sister, while another source, a friend of the cardinal, said “his cell is tiny and he is only allowed five books.”
The friend, who said the cardinal has been receiving thousands of letters and Christmas cards of support which he tries to reply to, told the Register that some supporters hope to go caroling outside his cell on Christmas Eve.
Cardinal Pell is serving a six-year jail sentence after being convicted last December on five charges of sexually abusing two choir boys as archbishop of Melbourne after Sunday Mass in the city’s St. Patrick’s cathedral in 1996 and 1997.
The second alleged victim died of a heroin overdose in 2014, and had denied on several occasions that Cardinal Pell had abused him. The surviving complainant, whose uncorroborated testimony was solely relied on by the jury that convicted the cardinal, has yet to be publicly identified but, according to a number of sources who have followed the case closely, is believed to have also suffered from drug addiction.
The Australian court forbade Cardinal Pell’s defense team from being able to question the credibility of the complainant who, according to appeal judge Mark Weinberg, changed his story “multiple times.”
The cardinal has always vigorously protested his innocence and last month two High Court judges referred the cardinal’s application for special leave to appeal to a full bench of the High Court’s justices.
The cardinal’s lawyers had successfully argued that a lower appellate court had made mistakes in its decision in August to uphold his conviction — a decision not supported by dissenting judge Weinberg. The High Court hearing is expected to take place in March or April next year.
Meanwhile, a chorus of public opinion that seriously doubts Cardinal Pell’s conviction appears to be growing. Journalist Keith Windschuttle has carried out research showing it was impossible given the complainant’s timeline, while further evidence has emerged in support of the cardinal, including two women who worked at the cathedral and told CNA last month that they believed the allegations were “impossible.” Neither was invited to give evidence at the trials.
Others, too, have been coming to the cardinal’s defense.
“I’m not a Catholic. I abhor paedophilia. I’m not particularly enamoured of George Pell,” wrote a pseudonymous commentator Lushington Brady in The BFD, a leading New Zealand newspaper, on Dec. 13. “Yet, I can’t escape the uneasy feeling that the most egregious miscarriage of justice in Australia since the Chamberlains has been perpetrated in Pell’s case.”
Brady, who was referring to the case of Lindy Chamberlain, a New Zealand-born mother wrongfully jailed in Australia in 1980 for the murder of her baby, added that “legal experts on all sides are openly aghast at what they see as a blatant travesty of justice.”
Retired non-Catholic barrister Anthony Charles Smith wrote Nov. 16 that he was “very troubled” by the case whose lack of evidence “curdles my stomach.” He added that the allegations against the cardinal would have been given “short shrift by competent, experienced crown prosecutors” in the 1980s and 1990s.
And like former Labor minister Peter Baldwin, Smith compared the case with Carl Beech who was recently jailed for eight years for making uncorroborated accusations against prominent British figures, but not before reputations had been ruined.
Smith said that given the circumstances, Cardinal Pell “had little prospect of getting a fair trial before a jury,” and he added he had “never seen a clearer illustration of pre-judgment than was there demonstrated.”
These critical voices follow Greg Barnes, a left-wing activist-lawyer, who wrote back in March that the Cardinal Pell case was characterized by “frightening ignorance” of Australia’s legal system, “triumphalism” on the part of some media who have pursued Cardinal Pell for years, and a “lynch mob” clamoring for the “cardinal’s blood,” which Barnes called “truly frightening.”
Such a mob mentality was visible again earlier this month when former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was vilified by the premier of Victoria state, Daniel Andrew, for visiting the cardinal in jail. “Shameful, absolutely shameful,” said Andrews, a Catholic, adding that Abbott should apologize. News of the visit was leaked to the press by one of the prison guards.
The growing perception of injustice led one of the cardinal’s friends to comment: “Is it possible to now start crying out from the housetops, ‘Free Cardinal Pell!’?”
Questions about a prejudicial justice system in Victoria connected to internal corruption are now emerging that may help to answer a few imponderables about how the cardinal could have been jailed on a paucity of evidence.
An email exchange published last week shows that in 2014 members of the Victoria’s police department sought to use accusations against Cardinal Pell to distract from a scandal affecting the department.
The scandal involved criminal defense lawyer Nicola Gobbo who was recruited by Victoria police to be an informant against members of the Ndrangheta Calabrian crime syndicate whom she was representing.