Despite antipathy justice must have its way

Justice, if it is to serve its purpose, must be blind. It is not a barracking game and for the sake of wider justice, that fairness is not something we should properly deny to anyone. So just because a lot of people don’t like Ballarat’s Cardinal George Pell doesn’t mean he should be denied the same presumption of innocence over recent accusations.   

His current incapacity to return to Australia has done his image no favours and there is no doubt his high profile has made Cardinal Pell a lightning rod for many of the ills that have beset the Catholic Church in recent decades, not least the appalling legacy of clerical child abuse. No community understands this better than Ballarat. But the degree of Cardinal Pell’s culpability in the culture that allowed decades of abuse and cover up is a matter for the Royal Commission and only one part of its much higher aims.

Whether the cardinal is a perpetrator of abuse himself is another matter altogether.

Demanding the church accept responsibility for its shameful crimes in obfuscating and promulgating its monsters is the justifiable plea of many. But this failure cannot vindicate a logic that prematurely leaps to a wild conclusion that priests by default must be abusers and Pell, being the highest ranking, must be one of them.

If police proceed to charge Cardinal Pell (and he vehemently maintains his innocence), answering the charges; whether or not that involves extradition to an Australian court, and the just procedure of clearing his name or facing the consequences of guilt must be allowed to run their course. 

The Courier has continually warned that finding scapegoats for a massive institutional failure, whether it is Pell or even Mulkearns, whose culpability in the tragedy was at least demonstrable, is a dangerous distraction from the heart of the problem. 

There is also a bigger issue here that more deeply involves the Ballarat community; for all those who have known or been affected by these terrible stories of abuse. The problem is much bigger than one man. For Ballarat it must be about healing not revenge. The courageous victims who have long been advocates for truth, awareness and solutions have themselves pursued this.

Many of the worst perpetrators of abuse are locked away or dead. That much is complete. But the healing and prevention has just begun. We owe it to the victims and to all future generations not to lose sight of that goal.