MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Suffering should be embraced and redeemed through service even when a result of a miscarriage of justice, Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, who spent 404 days in jail before his sexual abuse conviction was overturned this week, wrote on Saturday.
Reiterating his innocence, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric to have been jailed in the church’s child sex abuse crisis urged Christians to help those suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Christians see Christ in everyone who suffers — victims, the sick, the elderly — and are obliged to help,” Pell wrote in his Easter message in the Weekend Australian, accompanied by a photograph in which he wears his cardinal’s robes.
“I have just spent 13 months in jail for a crime I didn’t commit, one disappointment after another (…) But with every blow it was a consolation to know I could offer it to God for some good purpose, like turning the mass of suffering into spiritual energy.”
A powerful government-appointed inquiry in 2017 found widespread instances of child abuse, often covered up, in several thousand Australian institutions, more than half of them religious.
“The sexual abuse crisis damaged thousands of victims,” Pell, who was acquitted by the High Court on appeal, wrote in his piece. “From many points of view the crisis is also bad for the Catholic church, but we have painfully cut out a moral cancer and this is good.”
He added, “So, too, some would see COVID-19 as a bad time for those who claim to believe in a good and rational God.”
Although fewer than a quarter of Australians declare themselves Catholic, the church has weathered the abuse scandals with the closure of a few parishes and its schools still enroll a fifth of all Australian students, government data shows.
Before walking free on Tuesday, the 78-year-old Pell, a former Vatican treasurer and a polarizing figure in Australia for his conservative views, was serving a six-year sentence for sexually assaulting two teenaged choirboys in the 1990s.
“Everyone is confronted with a couple of questions,” Pell wrote. “What should I do in this situation? Why is there so much evil and suffering? And why did this happen to me? Why the coronavirus pandemic?”
(This story corrects paragraph 6 to show acquittal by High Court, not Supreme Court)
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)