Ed Condon over at the Catholic News Agency has word that Cardinal George Pell will appeal his conviction by a lower court on charges of sexual abuse. According to CNA:
Sources close to the cardinal told CNA Aug. 26 that Pell would be exercising his final appeal and that, while the majority of “special leave to appeal” cases were not granted by the High Court, his case would likely be accepted given the controversy triggered by the split decision of the Appeal Court judgement. . . .
The cardinal, 78, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned. He has been held in solitary confinement for 176 days. Pell has not been permitted to celebrate Mass in prison.
Cardinal Pell’s conviction may remind readers of former Chicago cardinal Francis George’s warning that he would “die in bed” while his successor would “die in prison”—with the added caveat that his successor would have to pick up the “shards of a ruined society”:
I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” What I said is not “prophetic” but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.
So what does this have to do with the tragedy of abortion in modern society? EVERYTHING.
Right now, our priests and bishops are finding themselves increasingly persecuted by a society fearful of the message of Christ. If the Eucharist brings life into the world, there is no question that the devil will target every faithful priest and bishop. No priests, no Eucharist; no Eucharist, no Church.
If the great scandal of the postmodern age is the radical claim “This is my body!” when an abortion is committed, it should not surprise a soul that those who exclaim “This is my body!” during the Holy Mass would be not only the antidote, but a holy sacrifice to undo a diabolic human sacrifice.
Pell’s martyrdom in the public square is certainly not an abortion, and yet his public sacrifice based on flimsy to nonexistent evidence is a stark reminder that even in nations with a long history of jurisprudence, Catholics remain strangers in a strange land. As Matthew Schmitz from First Things wrote:
It is now clear, if it was not before, that Catholics cannot expect just and fair treatment at the hands of our liberal elite. Paper guarantees of due process and equal rights are of little value in the face of overwhelming prejudice. Regrettably, prejudice of the kind that has put Pell in prison is reliably generated by the liberal order so many Catholics are eager to defend.
Pell’s conviction is damning—not for him, but for those who issued it. Of course, this is not the first time an unjust conviction has shown the hollowness of a whole social order. And Catholics have not always been on the right side in such cases. The scapegoating of Cardinal Pell should redouble our desire to stand for the truth rather than with the crowd, to attend to the facts instead of the cultural politics.
Indeed, the problem lies in our illiberal elite who insist upon pushing their secular values on the public square while deeming sacred values obsolete.
Back in 2002, Cardinal Pell told attendees at World Youth Day in Toronto that the act of an abortion was worse than sexual abuse for the simple reason that abortion destroys a human life. When challenged by the media about his comments, Pell refused to back down:
I don’t back off the statements. I feel a great sympathy for women who are pushed into abortion. I feel a great sympathy of course for the destruction of innocent life, and that is one of worst — it is the worst — of evils.
. . .
I . . . mentioned that the church is being attacked for [sex abuse] sometimes by elements that are a bit anti-Christian. . . . I said there are other scandals, such as abortion which are under-reported and because abortion destroys innocent life you could say it’s a worse scandal.
Of course, both abortion and sexual abuse are intrinsic evils. Yet if one can destroy and maim, one can certainly wound. Abortion cheapens human life to the point where others made in the image and likeness of God are cheapened as well. Is it any great surprise that a culture that justifies the slaughter of innocents would find the latitude to permit the sexual abuse of innocents?
Catholics are finding the world increasingly hostile to the gospel of life. Cardinal Pell is a recent casualty of it, but has long been a target of the illiberal secular elite whose promotion of abortion remains insatiable. And in Australia, he is a perfect scapegoat not because he conformed to the norms of the time, but rather because he stood against the culture of death.
Certainly the disgraced Theodore McCarrick received a great deal more latitude despite his actual crimes against young seminarians.
In the meantime, please continue your prayers for Cardinal Pell and the entire Catholic Church during these dark times. The devil is working overtime for a reason, and Our Lady’s promises are never broken.