The Catholic Church is investigating George Pell’s case. What does that mean?


Ian Waters, University of Divinity

Cardinal George Pell was this week sentenced by a Victorian court to six years’ jail for sexually abusing two choirboys, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

Although Pell was found guilty of the charges against him in December, he has remained a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. The Church previously said it would await the outcome of an appeal before taking action, but it has since confirmed that an investigation of Pell’s case will be conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

An American former cardinal was recently expelled from the priesthood by the Church following a canonical trial into claims of child sexual abuse. Here’s what it could look like if Pell was subject to a similar process.




Read more:
After Pell, the Catholic Church must undergo genuine reform


Canonical trials are governed by the rules of the Church

Most cases concerning the wrongdoing of Catholics are tried in secular courts. The decisions and punishments handed down by the courts are normally accepted by the Church as sufficient.

But the Church will conduct its own examination of cases where the church’s canon law requires punishment outside the competence of the courts of the land. That includes the excommunication of a member of the church, or the dismissal of a priest or bishop from the clerical state – often referred to as defrocking.

Tribunals to adjudicate matters that concern the Church’s own internal governance are principally governed by the rules and regulations of the Church, which are known as canon law (from the Greek etymology κανών or kanon, meaning a “rule”). These regulations are set out in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which came into effect in 1983.

Since such trials are conducted because of the requirements of canon law, they are known as “canonical trials”.




Read more:
How an appeal could uphold or overturn George Pell’s conviction


Sexual abuse cases are handled by the Holy See

Catholic Church tribunals are normally held in the diocese of the parties to the case. The bishop of the diocese can judge cases for his diocese. But since bishops often have little or no in-depth knowledge of canon law, most cases in Catholic Church tribunals are handled by judges (clerics or laypersons) appointed by the bishop. The presiding judge is a priest known as the judicial vicar.

Some matters cannot be introduced at a diocesan tribunal, but are reserved for the various tribunals at the Holy See. This includes cases involving dioceses and bishops, and certain serious matters regarded as crimes in the Catholic Church. Examples of this would be matters of sacrilege (offences against the sacraments), and sexual offences by a cleric against a minor under the age of 18.

A college of judges try difficult cases

Usually a single judge presides over contentious and penal cases. But a college of three or five judges will normally try more complicated or difficult cases – especially if the prescribed penalty is an excommunication from the Church, the dismissal of a cleric, or if the case concerns the annulment of a marriage or an ordination.

Other officers of the tribunal include the promoter of justice, who is the prosecutor in penal cases. The tribunal also has notaries who swear in witnesses, and commit their testimony to writing.

Like any legal system, parties in a case have the right to appoint an advocate who can argue for them at the tribunal. If a person cannot afford an advocate, the tribunal can assign one to them free of charge.




Read more:
Triggering past trauma: how to take care of yourself if you’re affected by the Pell news


Defendants are presumed innocent

Catholic Church tribunals do not use the adversarial system used by the courts of the common law tradition. Rather, Catholic Church tribunals use the inquisitorial system law found in most European legal systems. That means the judges lead the investigation.

The standard of proof used by the Catholic Church tribunals is “moral certainty”. Certainty results from examination in good conscience of the available evidence. This isn’t the same as “absolute certainty”, but it’s more than mere probability. It is normally stricter than guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, which is usually held to be the absence of doubt based on reason and common sense.

As a general rule, the defendant has the presumption of innocence, which means the defendant will win by default unless a majority of the judges is convinced with moral certainty of the petitioner’s case.The Conversation

Ian Waters, Professor, Lecturer, Department of Moral Theology and Canon Law, University of Divinity

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How an appeal could uphold or overturn George Pell’s conviction


David Hamer, University of Sydney

A criminal trial often helps to provide finality for the accused, and closure for victims and society. But following this week’s news, George Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter QC, indicated Pell maintains his innocence and the legal team have already lodged an appeal. Richter said this would be pursued following Pell’s sentencing.

Pell’s conviction no longer appears final, but provisional. The Vatican initially said it would wait until the appeal outcome before launching its own investigation that could lead to the Cardinal being defrocked. But it has now been confirmed the investigation is starting regardless.

The Australian government, though, said it will only strip Pell of his Order of Australia honours if he loses the appeal. Meanwhile, the media and community are awash with confusion about the verdict that came in a retrial after the first trial concluded with a hung jury. It seems many people are holding their breath until the appeal is heard.

Defendants generally only get one appeal, though that one appeal may be taken further to the High Court. If Pell’s appeal is dismissed, he will require exceptional intervention from the Government, which is very rare.

So, what is an appeal, and what might it look like for someone with Pell’s profile and convictions?




Read more:
We knew George Pell was guilty of child sex abuse. Why couldn’t we say it until now?


How long would an appeal take?

The appeal process is fairly elaborate. It requires the Court of Appeal’s leave (or approval). If given, the defence and prosecution will make written submissions to the court. There is then a hearing, on the basis of which the court will make a decision, explain its reasoning, and make appropriate orders.

In this case, the court may dismiss the appeal, allow the appeal and order a retrial, or allow the appeal and order that Pell be acquitted. With a crowded list of cases, this entire procedure often takes more than a year. The Pell appeal may be relatively simple and decided more quickly.

Bail was revoked pending sentencing, anticipating a custodial sentence, and Pell will remain in custody until the appeal. If the appeal is upheld, the court may make a decision immediately following the hearing and publish its reasons subsequently.

Evidence at the trial

The trial did not involve a great deal of evidence. One of the alleged victims had made a report to police in 2015, claiming the assaults occurred after mass. The other alleged victim died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2014, apparently without reporting abuse.

Like many delayed sexual assault cases – almost 20 years in this case – there simply isn’t much evidence available. At Pell’s trial, there seemed to have been little more than the complainant’s allegations and Pell’s denials. Pell did not testify. Video of his denials to police were played to the jury.

The jury may have preferred to see how Pell coped with cross-examination. But he has the right to silence, and his failure to enter the witness box can’t be used against him.

A few other witnesses gave evidence about the masses delivered by Pell at St Patrick’s Cathedral, where the abuse allegedly took place. They supported the defence’s claims of the impossibility of the abuse taking place. Witnesses noted the then Archbishop Pell would have been accompanied at all times during the crowded events and would not have had the opportunity to commit the offences.

Other types of evidence often relied on by the prosecution in child sexual abuse trials did not feature in the Pell trial. The prosecution wasn’t able to present the complainant’s earlier reports of abuse. It seems he told no one prior to the police report.

The absence of earlier reports would not necessarily help the defence. Courts now recognise there are many reasons why victims of child sexual assault find it hard to talk. They feel confused and powerless, particularly where the offender is in a position of authority.




Read more:
Triggering past trauma: how to take care of yourself if you’re affected by the Pell news


Many child sexual assault prosecutions rely on evidence of other alleged victims to demonstrate the defendant’s propensity or tendency for child sexual abuse. Such evidence was potentially available in the Pell trial – other allegations had been made from his time in Ballarat in the 1970s.

However, this evidence was not admitted at trial. The two sets of allegations were kept entirely separate (and the trials split), perhaps to avoid the risk of jury prejudice. Pell’s Melbourne convictions (in the cathedral trial) were suppressed while the Ballarat charges (swimmers trial) were pending.

It was only when the prosecution dropped the Ballarat charges that the convictions on the Melbourne charges were made public.

What would the defence appeal?

Because only limited evidence was relied on at trial, relatively few legal issues were raised. This means the defence may find it difficult to identify any legal error as a ground for appeal. Richter has indicated the defence will claim there were errors regarding the constitution of the jury and the defence not being permitted to use a graphic.

If errors are found, the Court of Appeal would still dismiss the appeal if the errors seem too slight to have affected the outcome.

The other defence argument on appeal could be that the conviction was unreasonable. The jury simply got the facts wrong. Here the defence may face obstacles. The Court of Appeal is unlikely to entertain claims the jury was prejudiced and blamed Pell for the Church’s inadequate response to other paedophile priests.

Appeal courts generally trust a properly directed jury will comply with its duties. Appeal courts are also generally wary of overriding jury verdicts, particularly where they rest upon witness credibility, as in this case. Inconsistencies and gaps in a complainant’s account may be attributed to the delay rather than fabrication.

However, the Court of Appeal may feel well placed to assess the defence argument of impossibility. And in this case, unusually, the court may be able to assess the complainant’s demeanour, since the witness testified over video link.

This may be one of those exceptional cases where the court is prepared to say the jury got it wrong. But the court may also hesitate to override the jury – the community’s representatives – in a case that has opened such a rift in Australian society.




Read more:
After Pell, the Catholic Church must undergo genuine reform


The Conversation


David Hamer, Professor of Evidence Law, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Persecution and the Advancement of the Church


The Particular Baptist Journal

The link below is to an article that looks at how God uses persecution to advance and strengthen the church.

For more visit:
https://www.monergism.com/blog/how-does-god-use-persecution-strengthen-and-advance-his-church

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India: State of the Evangelical Church


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the state of the evangelical church in India.

For more visit:
http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-gospel-in-india

Polyamory: The Next Progression


The current ‘marriage equality’ debate, is really a debate about a redefining of what marriage is. From a Christian perspective there is no debate as the Bible is clear on the issue and so for Christians there is no change no matter what may or may not happen around us. What happens in the world happens there and that is not something the church has a say over in real terms. Certainly God does have something to say about it and he has said it through the Scriptures to the world today. Whatever happens in that world outside of Christianity, the Christian definition of marriage will never change, regardless of the pressure that may or may not be brought to bear upon it and/or the church of Christ.

It would seem to me that the next logical step – the next progression for relationships in the civil marriage/relationship space, but not necessarily with those seeking same-sex civil marriage legality, would be the polyamory culture that appears to be growing out there in the world.

For more on ployamory see:
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/apr/25/polyamory-more-than-one-lover-emer-otoole
http://archermagazine.com.au/2014/03/five-steps-to-successful-polyamory/
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-sexual-revolution-polyamory/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/angi-becker-stevens/polyamorous-relationships_b_4370026.html
http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/07/multiple-lovers-no-jealousy/374697/

Tony Campolo Joins the Gay Acceptance Camp


The link below is to an article reporting on American Tony Campolo’s acceptance of gay marriage in the church.

For more visit:
http://christiannews.net/2015/06/13/former-christianity-today-editor-praises-tony-campolos-call-for-full-acceptance-of-homosexuals/

Exile of the Christian Church in the West


The link below is to an article that takes a look at ‘the exile of the Christian Church in the West’ and asks if you are ready for it?

For more visit:
http://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/stage-two-exile-are-you-ready-for-it

Christianity in Australia


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Christianity in Australia – by a ‘church growth expert.’ Any thoughts on the article?

For more visit:
http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/ed-stetzer-too-many-churches-in-australia-are-stagnant

More Disappointing News from ‘Reformed’ Circles


The link below is to an article reporting on a further watering down of the Biblical standard as regards homosexuality and this from a church in the ‘Reformed’ tradition.

For more visit:
http://christiannews.net/2015/03/18/megachurch-leader-drops-celibacy-requirement-for-gay-members-as-long-as-sex-is-in-marriage/