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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is praying for those who are persecuted by an unjust sentence. He did so shortly after news broke that Australia's High Court acquitted Cdl. George Pell of sex abuse.
Without mentioning Pell's name in his homily at Casa Santa Marta on Tuesday Francis said, "I would like to pray today for all the people who suffer an unjust sentence because of aggressive persistence [against them]."
A Vatican press release the same day was more specific: "The Holy See, which has always expressed confidence in the Australian judicial authority, welcomes the High Court's unanimous decision concerning Cdl. George Pell, acquitting him of the accusations of abuse of minors and overturning his sentence."
The press release added, "Entrusting his case to the court's justice, Cdl. Pell has always maintained his innocence, and has waited for the truth to be ascertained."
The rest of the Pope's homily, however, was on how all people are sinners and in need of repentance.
"There are, in life, falls: each of us is a sinner and can fall and have fallen," Francis said.
The approach the Vatican took regarding Pell's having to stand trial in Australia was not in step with the approach it's taken in the case of other prelates accused of corruption, who were shielded by diplomatic immunity.
One such case is Cdl. Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was summoned to criminal court Sept. 19 to answer for his role in advising Cdl. Philippe Barbarin on how to discipline a predator priest.
Barbarin, head of the diocese of Lyon, France, was facing trial for not sanctioning Fr. Bernard Preynat, who was accused of homosexual assault of multiple scout members from 1980–1990.
In Ferrer's case, the Vatican invoked sovereign immunity even though the cardinal was implicated in covering up sex abuse in France.
Many Catholics supported Pell throughout his legal battles from 2017 because he brushed aside diplomatic immunity while still in the Vatican and announced he was traveling to Australia in order to clear his name. At that time he spoke of the persecution he faced.
"There have been leaks to the media," noted Pell. "There's been relentless character assassination, a relentless character assassination."
"I'm looking forward finally to having my day in court," he added.
But that "day in court" proved quite disappointing for Pell.
Prior to yesterday's High Court ruling, Justice Mark Weinberg was the only judge to uphold Pell's innocence. During an appeals trial in August 2019, Weinberg in his dissenting opinion wrote, "An unusual feature of this case was that it depended entirely upon the complainant being accepted, beyond a reasonable doubt, as a credible and reliable witness. Yet the jury were invited to accept his evidence without there being any independent support for it."
Weinberg was referring to the 20 witnesses who testified that Pell never had the opportunity to commit the crime of which he was accused.
"All of these witnesses were important," added Weinberg, "but there were some whose evidence was critical. It can fairly be said that their evidence, if accepted, would lead inevitably to acquittal."
Yesterday, the High Court agreed with Weinberg and unanimously acquitted Pell.
Many Catholics believe Pell's legal battles are a travesty of justice and wonder if his involvement in ferreting out financial corruption in the Vatican was behind the relentless attacks.
As prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Pell uncovered massive financial corruption in the Vatican Bank. In an article he penned for The Catholic Herald in December 2014, Pell revealed that he had uncovered hundreds of million dollars of clandestine funds in the Vatican. Later he discovered nearly 1 billion euros in various other dicasteries.
Putting a somewhat positive spin on the finding, Pell wrote, "In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet."
Pell was also a whistleblower of the radical change in Church teaching and practice that were on the horizon. After the 2014 Synod on the Family had concluded, Pell stated that liberal bishops wanted much more than just offering Holy Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
"Communion for the divorced and remarried is for some — very few, certainly not the majority of synod fathers — it's only the tip of the iceberg, it's a stalking horse. They want wider changes, recognition of civil unions, recognition of homosexual unions," Pell said. "The Church cannot go in that direction. It would be a capitulation from the beauties and strengths of the Catholic Tradition, where people sacrificed themselves for hundreds, for thousands of years to do this."