Cardinal Pell and the Redemptive Suffering of a Convicted Pedophile in Prison

Cardinal Pell has illegally distributed a hand-written letter to supporters, the ostensible purpose of which is to criticize the Amazonian Synod's proposed policy of Instrumentum Laboris.  The Synod would, by the adoption of this proposition, offer an Amazonian Church with "an indigenous face".  One key problem for this is, apparently, the lack of suitably unmarried and celebate Amazonian priests.  The solution would be to ordain so-called viri probati, or married men who've proved their value to the Church.  It appears these propositions do not sit well with conservative Catholics.

Much less problematic for them, apparently, is child abuse.  While they deem sexually monogamous married men inadequate to act as representatives of god's perfect goodness, they are more than happy to entertain the theological criticisms of a criminal convicted of forcibly fornicating with children.  It was Pope Benedict who, facing criticism of the Church's refusal to open itself up to public oversight of its handling of sexual abuse by priests, tacitly condemned secular law enforcement by demanding that we hold these priests to a higher standard.  That standard was, of course, forgiveness in the spirit of Christ.  So, in the spirit of Christ ( apparently ) many of these priests were simply reassigned

In part, this is what Pell was accused of having done.  During his trial he was asked about an incident in which a boy reported an episode of sexual abuse by a priest, about which Pell did nothing:
He admitted that in 1974, when a boy spoke vaguely to him of the pedophilic behavior of a Fr. Dowlan of the Christian Brothers, Pell did not inquire further or intervene. Asked by the prosecutor to explain his inaction, Pell was blunt: The boy “wasn’t asking me to do anything about it.”
This is a description of Pell's testimony by Julia Yost, at the anti-secular First Things magazine, meant as a defense of Pell.  His brazen honesty, "heedless" of the risk it posed him, demonstrates both the Cardinal's lack of interest in the sexually predatory activity of priests and the social fecklessness which would eventually cost him his freedom.  In the mind of Yost, Pell was wrongly convicted.  Wrongly because the conviction rests, she says, on the testimony of the sole accuser.  The conservative Catholic News Agency describes the problem with the accusation in much the same terms as does Yost:
Attention has also been drawn to the plausibility of Pell’s apparent crimes, in which he is supposed to have sexually abused two teenage boys simultaneously in the Melbourne cathedral sacristy after Mass, at a time when the space would have been both crowded with people and exposed to view.
The sacristy, as many of you will know, is a private room in which the priest prepares for mass, and in which vestments and other religious accoutrements are kept.  Here is a picture of this place, at the Melbourne Cathedral, where Pell was convicted of assaulting two children:


That door is the only door to the room, and it is at the end of a hallway.  It is not a room in which a priest typically meets parishioners, or anyone else.  But aside from those facts, it was totally crowded and "exposed" to view.  In this room Pell was convicted of forcing himself into the mouths of two altar boys who'd crept into the room to drink the communion wine, and of fondling them while he pleasured himself.

As the Guardian reports, Pell may be subjected to punishment as a consequence of his letter, which is illegal by Australian law.  And as Pell himself points out, "Cardinal G. Müller, formerly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has written an excellent critique."  Why should the CNA dedicate so much space to Pell's criticism then?  Because it affords them an opportunity to publicize their criticism of the conviction, of course.  It isn't Pell's comments on the Amazonian Synod that are important so much as the central message of his letter:
In the letter, dated from Melbourne Assessment Prison on August 1, the cardinal also says that he has been sustained in his incarceration by his faith and by the prayers of the faithful, and that he is offering his suffering in prison for the good of the Church.   
“The knowledge that my small suffering can be used for good purposes through being joined to Jesus’ suffering gives me purpose and direction,” Pell writes in the letter. “Challenges and problems in Church life should be confronted in a similar spirit of faith.”
Note that it is Pell's "small suffering" which joins him to Christ's sacrifice and that this should be a standard to which those in "Church life" should aspire.  In effect, then, the CNA, Julia Yost at First Things, previous Australian prime ministers, even Pope Francis who has not "defrocked" the convicted criminal are all engaged in a campaign to rehabilitate the Cardinal and to overturn his conviction.  The only words spared here by the lot of them for the victim of Pell's depravity are employed to attack and discredit him, and indeed all those like him, as according to Yost:
Lurking behind the kiddish prose is an attempt at coercion, in the grand tradition of the 1980s. “We believe the children” was the slogan of that decade, with its daycare scares and Satanic panics. All were obliged to show empathy for the victims—and empathy demanded belief... 
...In order to empathize with the victim of child sex abuse, we must first of all believe his claim that he is a victim of child sex abuse. Since we are not sociopaths, we arrive at the dogma “Children never lie”—which is absurd on its face and ruinous in application. In the 1980s, it required the conviction of preschool teachers for raping their charges in subterranean catacombs that did not exist; for sodomizing them with butcher knives, which mysteriously failed to inflict tissue damage; for abducting them in hot-air balloons; for administering magic philters and narcotic candy corn; and for whatever else a childish mind can dream up. We have since discarded the Halloweeny trappings, but the residue of this tradition endures. We retain the imperative of empathy, and its function as epistemological coercion. Feel what the children feel—don’t think about what they say.
And in this we see the point and purpose of Catholic rhetoric.  The "satanic panic" was the result of adults manipulating children for various reasons - and often those reasons were essentially religious in nature.  Pell's story is woven into those of these exploited children to redeem him, to literally equate him with the innocence of children who, by coaching and coercion, falsely accused others of the most heinous acts.  That is to say, Cardinal Pell, a man convicted of sexually assaulting two young boys in part by relying on the authority of the Church, has in fact been exploited by that surviving altar boy in the same way religious adults did to children all those decades ago.  All these crimes are the products of children's imaginations, which we'd know if we just listened to what those children actually said.

There is one problem with this, however.  Ms. Yost has no idea what that former altar boy said in his court testimony.  It is under court seal.  Ms. Yost, as with CNA and Pope Francis, must all assume the accuser is simply lying without hearing him out, which of course the convicting jury actually did do.  What Yost and the Church is actually saying, is don't believe the children, and don't listen to them either.  Now that's advice even Pope Benedict can get behind.

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