Australian Cardinal George Pell, whose previous conviction for alleged child abuse was overturned after he was unanimously acquitted by all 7 justices of the highest Australian court this year, claims that his conservative and traditionalist views were what drove public opinion against him.
Speaking to the BBC, 79-year-old Pell said that there was “no doubt” that his firm and traditional approach to issues like abortion had contributed to a hostility towards him, but that he would not apologize for those views.
The Catholic cardinal, who was a senior advisor to the Pope, had charges of child abuse levelled at him in 2017 in his home state of Victoria. He was initially found guilty by a jury on December 11th, 2018, though to this day he has always denied the allegations, which hinge on the uncorroborated testimony of one person.
“I think my style is rather direct – the fact that I defend Christian teachings is irritating to a lot of people,” Pell said. “For my basic Christian positions I make no apology at all.”
Asked about the victims of child abuse, and what it must be like to live with that pain, Cardinal Pell said that he was “very much aware of their suffering”.
He said after being acquitted that the injustice had been “remedied”, and that he held “no ill will to my accuser”.
He also likened his time while segregated in prison to being in seminary, where priests in training would have to go through long periods of quiet isolation.
“God writes straight with crooked lines, and given that I was sentenced to jail, I do regard it as a gift and a grace,” Pell told reporters during a recent press conference.
“I’d have to hasten to add that I still regret that it happened. I wouldn’t have chosen it. But there I was and, please God, I did my Christian duty while I was in jail.”
The Australian cardinal went on to say that “many, many good things” happened to him during his imprisonment, including “the wonderful support” of his family and friends, “decency and professionalism” of the prison guards, the letters he received, including from other prisoners, “intellectually stimulating” journal articles that people sent to him, and a good prison chaplain.
“I was impressed by the goodness of a lot of people,” Pell said, even recounting well wishes he received from the prisoner in the cell beside his.
“The fellow who was in the cell next to me – he was a bit off his head, he’s a mass murderer. But on the morning that I was going for my appeal, he shouted out, wished me well. A very small thing, but it’s something for which I was very, very grateful.”
He just published a new book, “Prison Journal: Volume 1”, published by Ignatius Press, which he wrote in prison, “partly as a historical record of a strange time” and to help others going through hard times, describing it as “good therapy”.
“As I said to somebody, I now understand why Solzhenitsyn wrote so much.”