The Persecution of George Pell
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They had been persuaded by fanciful accusations that, twenty years earlier, George Cardinal Pell of the Catholic Church had sexually abused two 13-year-old choirboys in the priests sacristy of St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, on a Sunday morning after Mass.
The campaign against Pell aimed not only to personally destroy one of Australia's most influential religious leaders, but to trash the reputation of his Church as well. To get their man, lawyers, judges and a Royal Commission had to reverse long-standing legal principles including the presumption of innocence, guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and the onus of proof being on the prosecution. They insisted that a claim of child sexual abuse must always be believed. Had it succeeded, the campaign would have set damaging precedents for the rule of law in Australia. Pell spent 400 days in prison before a unanimous judgment of the High Court acquitted him, and set him free.
The persecution of George Pell is a story not only of a serious injustice heaped on one individual but also of the damage that can be done to a civilised society by ideologues within our major institutions when they are convinced of their own virtue and determined to get their own way.