Cardinal George Pell: A Victim of Australia’s Anti-Christian Bigotry

“Pell’s final words expressed his righteous indignation at the theological direction of Pope Francis’s pontificate, hinting that it is betraying Christ himself.”

By Augusto ZimmermannJanuary 12, 2023

Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic leader, died in Vatican City this Tuesday evening aged 81. He will be buried in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, where he served as archbishop for 13 years.

Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott says that Australia has lost “a committed defender of Catholic orthodoxy and a staunch advocate for the virtues of Western Civilisation”.[1] According to Dr Kevin Donnelly AM, one of the nation’s leading conservative public intellectuals, “Cardinal Pell was a religious conservative who had little time for absolutist secularism and what is now known as cultural-Left, Woke ideology”.[2]

George Pell was born in Ballarat in 1941, the second and youngest child to an Anglican father and a devout Irish Catholic mother. He was ordained as a priest in 1966 and appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, and then Archbishop of Sydney in 2001. Finally, in 2003, Pell was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II.  

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In 2017, Cardinal Pell was charged and found guilty of historical child sex abuse but the conviction was later squashed by the Full Bench of the High Court of Australia. The Australian’s legal affairs commentator, Chris Meritt, says Cardinal Pell “died an innocent man”. According to him, “the fact that an old, sick man spent a long time in prison and was eventually shown by the highest court in the land to be innocent, it still, it ranks up there … as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice we’ve ever seen in this country”.[3]

George Pell v The Queen[4] is a case that involved allegations of sexual conduct against a minor by one of the most senior prelates in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Australia. Due to the hostile reception during his appearances, anyone unfamiliar with him would have been inclined to believe that Pell was responsible for child sexual abuse within the Church.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

First of all, he was not even in charge of a diocese or an archdiocese when the historical cases of child abuse took place.

Second, Cardinal Pell was actually a pioneer in fighting against institutional child sex abuse. He was one of the first church leaders to initiate a protocol (The Melbourne Response) established in 1996 to investigate and deal with complaints of child abuse in his archdiocese, which sought to offer recompense to victims.[5]

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According to Gerard Henderson, an Australian columnist and political commentator,

“George Pell was the first leader in the Catholic Church to establish a procedure to tackle clerical paedophilia. His predecessor, Archbishop Frank Little, had covered up the crimes of his clergy. Pell took action some six years before American newspaper The Boston Globe, in its Spotlight series, revealed clerical child abuse in the Boston archdiocese … Soon after being appointed archbishop, Pell sacked two offending priests, Peter Searson and Wilfred Baker, the former, despite the Vatican’s instructions to the contrary”.[6]

In December 2018, after a trial lasting over a month, Cardinal Pell was found guilty of charges of child sexual abuse against two choirboys. He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment by a jury verdict.

Prior to that trial, Victoria’s Chief Commissioner Graeme Aston had implied that Pell was guilty by referring to the accusers as his “victims”, thus extinguishing the benefit of doubt from the minds of potential jurors.[7]

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Pell appealed against his conviction on grounds that the jury had disregarded the required standard of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In a remarkably short time, with little comment or precedent to support their decision, two trial judges summarily dismissed his appeal. “We do not experience a doubt about the truth of [the accuser’s] account, or the Cardinal’s guilt”, they said.[8]

Not so brief was the dissenting reasoning of Justice Mark Weinberger. In a compelling 215-page dissection of the case, he concluded:

“The complainant’s allegations against the applicant were, to one degree or another, implausible … [T]here is to my mind a significant possibility that the applicant [Pell] in this case may not have committed these offences. That means that in my respectful opinion, these convictions cannot be permitted to stand”.[9]

Cardinal Pell’s legal team filed their special leave to the High Court on January 3, 2020. In a seven-to-zero ruling handed down on April 7, 2020, the Full Court summarily dismissed the accusation as it found no evidence that Pell had committed any crime. The Court also stated that the jury had failed to entertain the benefit of doubt and that the Victorian Court of Appeals had committed significant errors of law.[10]

Over the last two decades the laws of evidence and procedure have been considerably modified in Victoria, to the effect that those who are accused, including by a complete stranger making decade-old allegations, cannot investigate an accuser’s psychological history in the hope of uncovering a reason why a seemingly reasonable person is making a false accusation. As a result, the Counsel for Pell was not permitted even to ask some basic questions about the accuser’s troubled psychological history.

According to law professor Kenneth Arenson, there is an “unsettling trend” in Victoria (and other Australian jurisdictions) regarding to the introduction of new laws which have, according to this criminal law expert, egregiously violated sacrosanct tenets of criminal justice, including, but not limited to, the presumption of innocence and that all persons are regarded as equal before the law. [11] These reforms, especially those more recently introduced in the Victorian criminal system, writes Professor Arenson, “seriously impinge on the entrenched common law right of an accused to adduce all legally admissible and exculpatory evidence on his or her behalf’.[12]

Curiously, however, only two days after the Court’s acquittal of Cardinal Pell, Daniel Andrews, the controversial Premier of Victoria, declared that his sympathies did not lie with the innocent person whom the highest court of the land had unanimously found to be wrongfully imprisoned for more than 400 days. Instead of showing compassion towards an innocent person and victim of his own State’s criminal justice system, Andrews responded to the unanimous quashing of conviction by reinforcing that he always believed in all those who make sexual abuse allegations.[13] Premier Andrews stated:

“I make no comment about today’s High Court decision. But I have a message for every single victim and survivor­ of child sex abuse: I see you. I hear you. I believe you”.[14]

Unfortunately, the Victorian Premier was not the only Australian politician to show no regard for the principles of natural justice and due process of law. Before the High Court even had the chance to overrule Pell’s unfair conviction, the then Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, commented:  

“Our justice system has affirmed no Australian is above the law”.[15] 

The then Prime Minister also argued that those courts whose decisions were ultimately overturned by the High Court “had done their work well”.2 When informed that Pell’s lawyers were actually appealing from those decisions to the High Court, Morrison dismissively stated: “I respect the fact that this case is under appeal, but it is the victims and their families I am thinking of today”.[16]

Morrison was especially interested to strip Cardinal Pell of his Order of Australia honour.  In fact, he vowed to the nation that Pell would lose his Order of Australia after Victoria’s Court of Appeal upheld his guilty verdict.  As reported by Judith Ireland on August 12, 2019,

“Mr Morrison said his sympathies were [solely] with the victims of sexual abuse… He told reporters in Canberra … that the courts had “done their job” and must be respected. “They have rendered their verdict, and that’s the system of justice in this country and that must be respected”, he said, adding this would see Pell, who remains a cardinal of the church, lose his Order of Australia”.[17]

In sum, the former Prime Minister kept implying that Pell was convicted of the crimes that the High Court had now found him to be entirely innocent of. Fortunately, Australia’s Governor-General David Hurley showed a greater level of respect for the presumption of innocence. “Once all legal proceedings have run their course, the Council for the Order of Australia may make a recommendation to me as Chancellor of the Order, which I will act on”, he said.[18]

These statements of our political leaders should invite a reflection of their commitment to the realisation of the rule of law. Cardinal Pell was released from jail soon after the High Court quashed all his convictions. He had always maintained his innocence. “I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice”, he said shortly after his acquittal was announced.[19]

As can be seen, our political leaders pre-judged an innocent person. According to David Flint AM, a constitutional law professor, because Pell dared to take unpopular positions on matters such as abortion, euthanasia and global warming, he basically became the victim of “unjust treatment” and “character assassination”.[20]

“Rather than being hated, he should be admired for this. But such is the narrow thinking of the elites today that dissent is intolerable and any dissenter must be punished”, Professor Flint says.[21]

There is a growing anti-Christian sentiment in Australia, which is evident in certain parts of the public and the private sectors. Increasingly, Australians avoid speaking publicly about matters involving their faith because they fear complaints can be made to government authorities under anti-discrimination laws.

In this context, the ordeal of George Pell appears to reveal the anti-Christian mindset of the nation’s ruling classes. Surely, his wrongful conviction provides an opportunity to raise serious questions about Australia’s justice system. Arguably, the unanimous acquittal of Pell by the Full Bench of the High Court may indicate that the administration of justice in Australia may be dangerously compromised by a desire to persecute and punish, not prosecute fairly. 

Be that as it may, Pell’s wrongful conviction is another example that anyone in Australia may suffer from unfair sentences. Arguably, the case against him was part of a “broader war” over everything he so bravely symbolised. While the case against him was notoriously weak, motivations of convicting an innocent person were strong, and our judicial system is permanently compromised as a result.[22]

Shortly before he died on Tuesday, Cardinal Pell wrote an article in which he denounced the book prepared by the Vatican for its forthcoming Synod as a “toxic nightmare” and “one of the most incoherent documents ever sent out from Rome”. Not only such booklet is “couched in neo-Marxist jargon”, but it is responsible for “the displacement of Christian notions of forgiveness, sin, sacrifice, healing and redemption”.[23]

Pell’s final words expressed his righteous indignation at the theological direction of Pope Francis’s pontificate, hinting that it is betraying Christ himself.[24] This was the last public statement by a courageous cardinal who was once part of the Pope’s inner circle. As Damian Thompson points out in The Spectator, “He did not know that he was about to die when he wrote this piece; he was prepared to face the fury of Pope Francis and the organisers when it was published.”[25]

As can be seen, Cardinal Pell was a formidable character and a true defender of the Christian faith. He endorsed all of the traditional beliefs and biblical teachings of the Church and was not afraid to say so.[26] What is more, for James Parker, a child abuse survivor and former gay rights activist, “Pell was not only the first voice to speak up for [child abuse] survivors, but he paid the price for injustices which he never committed”.[27]

And of all the impressive commentaries about his amazing life and legacy, I particularly appreciate this one by the editors of The Spectator Australia:

“Pell lived for Christ and the Church. His long career took him from the back-blocks of Ballarat to the Vatican. Nothing prepared him better for the trials visited o him in his old age than his lifelong study of the suffering of Christ and he was equally happy sharing his daily bread with prisoners or popes. As he begins his journey home to his Maker, all those who admired his courage and compassion will pray for the repose of his soul”.[28]

Augusto Zimmermann is professor and head of law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education in Perth. He is also president of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), and served as a commissioner of WA’s Law Reform Commission from 2012 to 2017.


[1] T. Livingstone, ‘Cardinal Pell ‘a saint for our times’, says Tony Abbott’, The Australian, 11 January 2023, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/cardinal-george-pell-dies-aged-81/news-story/55a08e4796769b331bd8c614e7053e16

[2] K. Donnelly, ‘Cardinal George Pell: Australia’s most influential and controversial Catholic figure’, Caldron Pool, 11 January 2023, at https://www.spectator.com.au/2023/01/cardinal-george-pell-australias-most-influential-and-controversial-catholic-figure/

[3] T. Livingstone, ‘Cardinal Pell ‘a saint for our times’, says Tony Abbott’, The Australian, 11 January 2023, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/cardinal-george-pell-dies-aged-81/news-story/55a08e4796769b331bd8c614e7053e16

[4] Pell v The Queen [2019] VSCA 186.

[5] K. Donnelly, ‘Cardinal George Pell: Australia’s most influential and controversial Catholic figure’, Caldron Pool, 11 January 2023, at https://www.spectator.com.au/2023/01/cardinal-george-pell-australias-most-influential-and-controversial-catholic-figure/

[6] G. Henderson, “Royal Commission Denies George Pell Legal Justice”, The Sydney Institute, 17 May 2020, https://thesydneyinstitute.com.au/blog/royal-commission-denies-george-pell-legal-justice/

[7] A. Bolt, “Chief Commissioner Hails Pell’s ‘Victims’”, The Herald Sun, 29 July 2016,  https://www.heraldsun.com.au/blogs/andrew-bolt/chief-commissioner-hails-pells-victims-update-this-witch-hunt-is-an-abuse-of-state-power/news-story/79101dc1a25313bbfee8e0b1b952bbcd

[8] Pell v The Queen [2019] VSCA 186, [39] (Furgason CJ, Maxwell P)

[9] Pell v The Queen [2019] VSCA 186, [1054] and [1111] (Weinberg J)

[10] Pell v The Queen [2020] HCA 12 [1].

[11] See: Kenneth J Arenson, ‘When Some People Are More Equal Than Others: The Impact of Radical Feminism In Our Adversarial System of Criminal Justice’ (2014) 5 The Western Australian Jurist 213, at 213.

[12] Kenneth J Arenson, ‘The Demise of Equality Before the Law: The Pernicious Effects of Political Correctness in the Criminal Law of Victoria’, (2016) 7 The Western Australian Jurist 1, at 61.

[13] R. Baxendale, “George Pell Case: I believe You, Daniel Andrews Tells Child Sex Abuse Victims”, The Australian, 7 April 2020, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/george-pell-case-i-believe-you-daniel-andrews-tells-child-sex-abuse-victims/news-story/631673b43a880b59aa470a117a210efb

[14] R. Baxendale, “George Pell Case: I believe You, Daniel Andrews Tells Child Sex Abuse Victims”, The Australian, 7 April 2020, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/george-pell-case-i-believe-you-daniel-andrews-tells-child-sex-abuse-victims/news-story/631673b43a880b59aa470a117a210efb

[15] NeosKosmos, ‘PM Scott Morrison Is Looking To Strip Cardinal George Pell of his Order of Australia Honour’, February 27, 2019.

2 NeosKosmos, ‘PM Scott Morrison Is Looking To Strip Cardinal George Pell of his Order of Australia Honour’, February 27, 2019.

[16] Benjamin Preiss and Michael Koziol, ‘Political Leaders Express Disgust at Abuse By Cardinal George Pell’, February 6, 2019, at https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/political-leaders-express-disgust-at-abuse-by-cardinal-george-pell-20190226-p510fg.html

[17] Judith Ireland, ‘Scott Morrison Says George Pell Will Lose Order of Australia’, August 21, 2019, at https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/scott-morrison-says-george-pell-will-lose-order-of-australia-20190821-p52j94.html

[18] J. Ireland, ‘Scott Morrison Says George Pell Will Lose Order of Australia’, August 21, 2019, at https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/scott-morrison-says-george-pell-will-lose-order-of-australia-20190821-p52j94.html

[19] G. Pell, “Statement of Cardinal Pell”, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, 6 April 2020, https://www.sydneycatholic.org/casys/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/STATEMENT-FROM-CARDINAL-GEORGE-PELL-070420.pdf

[20] D. Flint, “Cardinal Pell: Is a Fair Trial Possible?”, Quadrant, 3 July 2017, https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2017/07/cardinal-pell-fair-trial-possible/

[21] D. Flint, “Cardinal Pell: Is a Fair Trial Possible?”, Quadrant, 3 July 2017, https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2017/07/cardinal-pell-fair-trial-possible/

[22] M. Giffin, “What the Pell Case is Really About”, Quadrant, 1 September 2019,  https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2019/09/what-the-pell-case-is-really-about/ 

[23] Cardinal G. Pell, ‘The Catholic Church must free itself from this ‘toxic nightmare’’, The Spectator, 11 January 2023, at https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-catholic-church-must-free-itself-from-this-toxic-nightmare/

[24]  https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/cardinal-pells-righteous-fury-at-this-pontificates-theological-direction/

[25] Damian Thompson, ‘Cardinal Pell’s righteous fury at the Vatican’s theological direction’, The Spectator, 11 January 2023, at

[26] M. Giffin, “What the Pell Case is Really About”, Quadrant, 1 September 2019, at https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/qed/2019/09/what-the-pell-case-is-really-about/ 

[27] J. Parker, ‘Thank you, Cardinal Pell’, The Spectator Australia, 11 January 2023, at https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/cardinal-pells-righteous-fury-at-this-pontificates-theological-direction/https://spectator.com.au/2023/01/thank-you-cardinal-george-pell/

[28] The Spectator Australia, ‘Tall Poppy’, 12 January 2023 at https://www.spectator.com.au/2023/01/tall-poppy/

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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