Crucified for the sins of others?

The sentencing of George Pell for sex crimes committed against two choir boys has struck a chord with the public. And many older Australians surveyed in the YourLifeChoices Friday Flash Poll: George Pell – has justice been done? say they are unhappy with Mr Pell’s conviction and subsequent sentence.

While a psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance could be at play in the refusal to accept Mr Pell’s conviction, many claim the failing of Australia’s legal system is the reason.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when people simply cannot believe in the possibility of criminal behaviour by respected members of the community.

Rachael Sharman, writing for ABC News, puts it well.

“You have a mental picture of someone based on your experience with that person who you may have known, respected and even loved for years,” writes Ms Sharman.

“Suddenly, new information is presented that throws your entire conception of this individual into chaos.

“If you were so wrong about this person, what does that say about your character assessment of everyone else you know and love? It’s a horrifying possibility – and too much for some to bear.

“Worse still, what if you have genuinely supported this individual through similar allegations, claims, or trials: what does that say about you? Have you thus tacitly supported their actions?”

While this may be the case for many Australians, particularly Catholics and other churchgoers, our survey reveals that respondents believe it may be more likely due to failings of the court.

“To have a court case, let alone a conviction, on the uncorroborated testimony of one accuser, without any evidence or proof, is very unusual, as many commentators (e.g. John Silvester) have pointed out,” wrote YourLifeChoices member Digby. “And for the court to find the other deceased boy was also abused, even though he denied it all his life, is bizarre to my way of thinking. If this conviction stands, then they can come for any of us, and find us guilty and imprison us, on the say-so of one accuser … However, I am the first to admit I was not present in the Court to listen to proceedings.” .

Grateful wrote: “This is nothing to do with religion, it is all about our ‘justice’ system. And this case failed miserably on the most fundamental tenet – reasonable doubt. There is no way that that decision would pass the pub test which is often the guide we use.”

Of those surveyed, 61 per cent are unhappy with Mr Pell’s sentence, with 57 per cent saying the term is not long enough. However, 39 per cent are satisfied with the sentence. Three in 10 think the sentence is appropriate, and 13 per cent say they are unsure if it is long enough.

“The length of the sentence is not an issue for me. the fact that such a senior person in the Catholic church has been sentenced is enough,” wrote VJ.

Some members say that Mr Pell may be being crucified for the sins of others, in which he may also have been complicit.

“In my view, Mr Pell was certainly found guilty of representing the Catholic Church more than any abuse he was actually accused of. People just don’t like Mr Pell, but that does not make him guilty as charged,” wrote KSS. “… just wait until the case has run its course, and that means waiting until the appeal process is complete.”

Chief judge Kidd said that he took Mr Pell’s ‘public vilification’ into consideration in the sentencing. Do older Australians think this is fair cause for a reduced sentence? Eight in 10 say no, with just 20 per cent sympathetic to Mr Pell’s situation.

Still, some feel that public opinion may have been cause for Mr Pell’s conviction, rather than a reason for a reduced sentence.

“Somehow, I think the jury was influenced by background publicity rather than the actual evidence led at the trial. There is so much emotion around this whole topic and emotion has no place in determining whether sufficient evidence exists to convict someone of what is a heinous criminal act. I don’t know if Pell did this or didn’t, but proof to a criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt is very high and I wouldn’t be surprised if this conviction is found to be unsafe at the appeal,” wrote Illuminati.

The Pell case has sent shockwaves through the church and its followers. There is little doubt that public opinion of the Catholic Church has been swayed by constant reports of crimes such as those of which Mr Pell has been convicted.

Still, 26 per cent of respondents say it has not influenced their opinion of the church. Yet almost one in 10 believers say they will turn their back on the church as a result of this case and the many other cases in question. However, 21 per cent say their opinion of the church has been negatively affected, but they will not turn their back on their faith. Of non-believers, 17 per cent said the case has influenced their opinion, but 17 per cent also said it hadn’t. Only 11 per cent said the case had ‘somewhat’ influenced their opinion of the church.

One way floated to prevent such sexual temptation has been to revoke the vow of celibacy priests must take as part of their vows. We asked our members if the church should consider removing this caveat.

More than eight in 10 respondents (81 per cent) think it would be a good idea, however, 32 per cent say they don’t think it would make a difference. Fourteen per cent would not like to see such a change, with three per cent saying it is an important part of the ministry.

Mr Pell’s appeal of the conviction means the case is technically still open and, judging by the comments in the Friday Flash Poll, many YourLifeChoices members feel the decision will be overturned.  

No matter what the result of the appeal, a dark cloud will hang over the church until victims of alleged sex crimes get justice. What could the church do to make amends for these crimes? OlderandWiser offers a thought which seems to resonate with the wider community.

“I am far less concerned with whether Pell’s sentence was adequate than with the massive injustice suffered for so long by all children who suffered abuse – injustice for which Pell was partly responsible … The Catholic Church has much to answer for, as do most other religious institutions and the State, but ultimately it was the law of the land that denied children proper protection and – having failed to protect them – silenced their complaints and denied them access to help.”

Do you think Mr Pell’s conviction will be overturned? Has the legal system failed in this case? Are the victims of these crimes being overlooked in favour of the ‘religion’ argument?

Related articles:
Cardinal calls media ‘mischievous’
Cardinal Pell obliged to resign
Secret confessions

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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