Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has vowed to ensure the Sydney Archdiocese is “doing all we can to ensure that past crimes are never repeated and that Church environments are the safest possible for children and vulnerable adults” following the decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal to uphold the verdict of historical sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal George Pell.
He called for “calm and civility” following today’s split decision amongst the judges which he said was consistent with the differing views of the juries in the first and second trials.
He stressed matters of the Cardinal’s status within the Church can only be determined by the Vatican, not the Church in Australia, and that he anticipated the Holy See may well wait until the appeal process has been exhausted.
He vowed to pray for those who have been abused and to provide pastoral support to those Catholics who may have found their faith tested.
“I recommit myself and the Archdiocese of Sydney to doing all we can to ensure that past crimes are never repeated and that Church environments are the safest possible for children and vulnerable adults,” he said.
“I pray for and will continue to support survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of clergy and other members of the Catholic Church so that they may find justice and healing.
“I again say how sorry I am that you were harmed by people you should have been able to trust. I am conscious how you and your loved ones have had to live with the consequences of abuse for a lifetime.
“I know that there are many in the Catholic community and beyond who will find it difficult to come to terms with this judgment, especially those who know the Cardinal and will struggle to reconcile this outcome with the man they know. I thank them for persevering in faith, hope and love.
“As we wait to hear whether the legal process will continue, I will seek to provide pastoral support to those Catholics who may have found their faith tested.”
The Victorian Court of Appeal upheld Cardinal Pell’s conviction for the sexual assaults of two choirboys in 1996 while he was the Archbishop of Melbourne.
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Anne Ferguson handed down the two to one ruling by the judges. Chief Justice Ferguson and the president of the court of appeal Justice Chris Maxwell found against Cardinal Pell, while Justice Mark Weinberg agreed with Cardinal Pell’s lawyers.
A spokesperson for Cardinal Pell released a brief statement following the verdict saying he is “obviously disappointed with the decision”.
The spokesperson said his legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court.
While noting the 2-1 split decision they said Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and thanks his many supporters.
He will continue to serve his sentence of six years’ imprisonment until at least October 2022, when his non-parole period ends.
President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the bishops believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today’s judgement accordingly.
He said they realise that this has been and remains a most difficult time for survivors of child sexual abuse and those who support them.
“We acknowledge the pain that those abused by clergy have experienced through the long process of the trials and appeal of Cardinal Pell,” he said.
“We also acknowledge that this judgement will be distressing to many people.
“We remain committed to doing everything we can to bring healing to those who have suffered greatly and to ensuring that Catholic settings are the safest possible places for all people, but especially for children and vulnerable adults.“
Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacted to the verdict saying the courts had “done their job” and that his sympathies were with the victims of child sexual abuse.
“Events like this today bring it all back. I would urge Australians who are finding themselves reliving these experiences to reach out to those around them, to reach out to the services that are there for them,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“They (the courts) have rendered their verdict, and that’s the system of justice in this country and that must be respected.”
Melbourne Archbishop Peter A Comensoli acknowledged the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons and reaffirmed his commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults
“No words of apology – while always needed – will ever be enough to right the evil done to those who have been abused, and those who were not listened to and believed,” he said.
“Efforts to repair the harm done – while entirely necessary – cannot overcome the evil perpetrated upon innocent children and vulnerable adults, and the harm experienced by families and communities.
“Therefore, and looking ahead, it falls to me, as your Archbishop, to ensure that our local Church in Melbourne is unequivocally committed to attending to the harm done, prioritising the dignity and care of all who are young and vulnerable, rebuilding trust among our people, and creating safe environments in our communities, agencies and organisations.
“This is the way of Jesus Christ. It must be my way. And I invite you to join with me in making it our common Gospel way.”
Cardinal Pell was found guilty last December of molesting two St Patrick’s Cathedral choirboys months after being appointed Archbishop of Melbourne.
The guilty verdicts came at the end of a retrial after an original jury was unable to reach a majority verdict.
Cardinal Pell has vehemently denied any wrongdoing since being charged in 2017 following a lengthy police investigation.
He immediately resigned as Vatican treasurer and returned from Rome to Australia to face charges.