(Catholic Women Speak is a member of the Catholic Women’s Council)
The Catholic Women’s Council notes that Cardinal George Pell’s conviction for child sexual abuse has been overturned by the High Court of Australia, because the seven judges decided that full consideration of the evidence allowed for ‘a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place.’ We respect the decision of the court, while recognising that insufficient proof to sustain a guilty verdict does not in itself amount to proof of innocence. As Witness J who made the initial charges against Pell says, ‘It is difficult in child sexual abuse matters to satisfy a criminal court that the offending has occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is a very high standard to meet – a heavy burden.’
We offer our prayers for Witness J in his struggle as a survivor of abuse, and to the family of the survivor who committed suicide before any case came to trial. Whoever the perpetrator(s) were in these particular cases, we know that this is part of a shameful and ongoing crisis in the Church, and that there are still many stories of abuse, concealment and collusion that have yet to come to light.
Many members of the Catholic Women’s Council have themselves experienced sexual abuse by priests or have been affected by the abuse of their children, family members or friends. We hope that the exoneration of Cardinal Pell will not discourage other victims and survivors from coming forward.
We commit ourselves to struggling with and for all who have suffered abuse at the hands of leaders in the Catholic Church, and to holding to account those who are guilty of covering up such abuse as well as those who perpetrate it. To all survivors of abuse and their loved ones who seek justice with and for them, we want to say ‘We hear you, we believe you, and we stand with you’.
Wednesday, 8th April, 2020
(The Catholic Women’s Council is a coalition of groups from around the world working for the dignity and equality of women in the Catholic Church.)