SHAKEN and stirred – Catholics across Australia and the world are still coming to grips with Cardinal George Pell’s conviction.
It’s a challenging, questioning time, with sensitivities running high, the Church acknowledging responsibility to care for survivors, and others, including political leaders, publicly pledging their loyalty to Cardinal Pell (pictured).
Compounding the news of Cardinal Pell’s conviction was its timing – just days after Pope Francis concluded his unprecedented Vatican summit on the abuse crisis in the Church.
It took Chief Judge Peter Kidd to make clear during sentencing that he was not passing sentence on the Church in this case – he was sentencing Cardinal Pell, and him alone.
But the conviction of Australia’s most prominent Catholic for sexual offences against minors has proven explosive.
Long-time religion reporter for the ABC Noel Debien, himself a Catholic, has noted how Cardinal Pell’s conviction has elicited extreme opinions and was “feeding into people’s own experience of Church”.
“The conviction is socially vast in impact. And, given how human beings are by nature, it is being personalised, parsed and rapidly reclassified,” he wrote in an online opinion column.
“For many ordinary people, and ordinary Catholics in particular, the news is gobsmacking and hard to process. It is a calamity for them.”
There are examples of how Church authorities have already moderated their actions.
Out of respect for survivors, Melbourne archdiocese cancelled a Day of Prayer for Cardinal Pell planned for March 9.
And Hobart archdiocese withdrew an opinion column in its monthly edition of the Catholic Standard, defending Cardinal Pell.
The column was written by the director of Hobart’s Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies David Daintree.
“My thoughts were with survivors and victims and their families and the amount of wreckage and damage that we are only now accounting for,” Catholic journalist Fatima Measham told the ABC’s God Forbid radio program.
“There were tears on my part and there was outrage on my part, and I couldn’t help but think that this trial represents a single case among thousands and thousands globally in the Catholic Church.
“Everyone should allow legal processes to take place. This is a legal reckoning and it’s quite apart from other kinds of reckoning that the Church has to face.”
This is not the end of the legal process for Cardinal Pell.
It’s likely he will return to court for an appeal.
His legal team has filed three grounds of appeal, one of which is that the verdict was “unreasonable” because it relied on only one victim’s evidence.
“The verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence,” the appeal reads.
A second ground for appeal is that Cardinal Pell’s defence was stopped from using a “moving visual representation” of its argument that the allegations were impossible.
A third ground is that there was a “fundamental irregularity” that stopped him from entering a not guilty plea in front of the jury.
While some Catholics are simply shattered that Cardinal Pell was found guilty in the first place, Mr Debien said others had a different feeling.
“For the many, who have been profoundly harmed through clergy sexual abuse, it seems that they have been heard and believed,” he said.
“For Catholic progressives, a leader of the conservative faction has been pulled down.
“For all those Catholics made refugees in their own Church because they are divorced and remarried, LGBTQI, ‘living in sin’ or doctrinally unorthodox, their nemesis is put down under their feet.
“For those who dislike the Catholic Church and all it stands for, the public leader of all they detest has been brought low.”