Wednesday, March 13, 2019

"Primates of the Gaols" – Pell’s Sentencing for Abuse Caps “Dark Age” for Red Hats

Due to a couple milestones on the horizon, the 21st century was already bound to be a moment of reflection on the long history of the College of Cardinals: coming years bring both the 1,000th anniversary of the codification of the group's role as the electors of a Pope, and half a millennium since the first meaningful attempt to internationalize the body, a distinct shift from its roots in the early assembly of the pastors of Rome's churches.

Now, however, this age has made some epochal history of its own: in ways unknown since the scandal-ridden days that would spur a Reformation, "princes of the church" have cast a public cloud over the Catholic scene. What's unique this time, though, is the public punishment being meted out upon them, in ways that would've been unthinkable even as the calendar hit 2000.

Capping a seismic month that began with the first dismissal of a once scarlet-clad figure from the priesthood in modern times – then brought an unprecedented conviction in civil court of another cardinal on charges of a cover-up – Cardinal George Pell, the most influential Australian in the history of global Catholicism, was sentenced this morning to a jail term of six years following his December conviction on five counts of assaulting two minors in the 1990s.

Until recently the Vatican's first Finance Czar with a mandate to carry out broad fiscal reforms – and before that the head of Australia's two largest archdioceses in Melbourne and Sydney – Pell's sentence fell far short of the maximum 50 years the 77 year-old prelate could've faced.

Already remanded to a Melbourne prison last month on the revocation of his bail, the cardinal – by far the highest-ranking cleric (indeed, the first bishop) ever to be convicted and jailed on abuse counts – has resolutely maintained his innocence, and outrage over the lead conservative's conviction has become a cause celebre among Pell's ideological allies worldwide. Though an appeal is to be heard in early June, the narrow parameters of Australian high court proceedings have borne out a healthy amount of skepticism as to whether the attempt will prove successful.

Should his appeal fail, Pell could be eligible for parole in 44 months on good behavior.

In a rare move underscoring the history of today's event, the chief judge of the Victoria court who presided at the hourlong hearing allowed for it to be broadcast, but with a single camera barred from filming Pell in the dock or panning around the courtroom.

Via the state broadcaster ABC, below is the full hearing, which included a lengthy recounting of the graphic evidence presented at trial:

As previously reported, following the publication of Pell's conviction last month upon the lifting of a gag order banning media coverage in Australia, the Vatican announced that a canonical investigation of the abuse charges has already been opened by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as revealing that the cardinal had been suspended from all ministry since returning home to face the counts in mid-2017.

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Coming as it does on the sixth anniversary of Pope Francis' election, today's sentencing underscores the towering challenge facing the pontiff and church alike as the global crisis continues to expand both in its breadth and scope.

With Pell now jailed and Theodore McCarrick laicized, a third eruption requiring Rome's full response arrived last week from France, where Cardinal Philippe Barbarin – the "Primate of the Gauls" as archbishop of Lyon, the country's oldest diocese – was convicted on failing to report allegations against one of his priests to the civil authorities on learning of them in 2014.

In the wake of Thursday's verdict and its suspended sentence of a six-month jail term – which reportedly took observers at the trial, and even its prosecutors, by surprise – the 68 year-old prelate (above, in court) announced that he would fly to the Vatican to present his resignation to Francis.

While that visit has not yet taken place, one of Barbarin's auxiliaries, Bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard, subsequently relayed that the cardinal had already decided to leave office regardless of the trial's result, having reached the conclusion that "the diocese has suffered too much" due to the court scrutiny.

Even should he resign as archbishop, however, the Barbarin verdict would appear to provide the first test-case of the principle articulated at the close of February's Vatican abuse summit by the CDF's Archbishop Charles Scicluna: namely, that an understanding of cover-up as being "equally egregious" to abuse was to be "a very clear point in church policy" going forward.

By that standard, a cardinal found to have shown grave negligence in handling abuse cases would ostensibly be subject not merely to resigning his diocese or Curial post, but losing his seat and title in the College, and even his ability to function in ministry altogether – an outcome which, with McCarrick having become the first ex-cardinal in a century last year, has never occurred on the grounds of cover-up.

As Barbarin would otherwise enjoy the right to elect a Pope until 2030, that fresh precedent would be especially significant.