Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has told Catholic worshippers not to be “too quick to judge” in relation to Cardinal George Pell’s conviction over child sexual abuse.  “As the Cardinal’s matter is ongoing in the courts I cannot comment on the substance,” he said at solemn mass at St Mary’s Cathedral.  “Others have done so, and some have raised serious questions for the court to examine.  If we are too quick to judge we can end up joining the demonisers or the apologists, those baying for blood or those in denial.  Our readings remind us that things are not always what they seem; that we must look beneath the surface and allow truth and justice to unfold in God’s time.”

In remarks before his Sunday homily, Archbishop Fisher urged people “not to draw final conclusions until the appeal judges have had their chance to review this matter.  Amidst the heated emotions of the present I also pray for public calm and civility.”  He said many were feeling disheartened and uncertain how to go on believing, worshipping, living the Christian Gospel; indeed, some are not even sure they want to.  We should not be afraid to place our bewilderment and anger before God.  As he awaits the conclusion of his legal process, the Cardinal is offering his time to pray for all innocents who suffer; we faithful can do likewise with the shame and sorrow we are feeling.”

Archbishop Fisher said he prayed for the Catholic church to “emerge from present trials purified, humbled, more compassionate.”  If it was to recover from “this dark chapter” then “only a deep spiritual and moral conversion of hearts, cultures and institutions will suffice”.  He expressed sorrow for the suffering of victims of abuse within the church.  “Let me assure you I feel your shock and pain, and the Catholic community with you” he told the packed congregation.  “We are all shaken by reports about the shameful actions or inactions of church people towards children and the vulnerable’.

The Archbishop’s comments on the Pell case had a mixed response among attendees.  One worshipper said Archbishop Fisher was being “very diplomatic” by asking people not to judge too quickly, but this “could be misconstrued.  People are going to say, well maybe he knows something that we don’t.  But at the same time, what else does he say?”  Another attendee said the focus of the homily should have been more clearly on victims and that it was “probably better if mention of Pell at this point was ignored.  It was not the right time to speak like that.”

However another woman said she felt Archbishop Fisher had struck the right balance.  She had travelled from outer Sydney to hear him speak and was “pleased” to hear it so openly addressed.  Archbishop Fisher’s comments during Sunday mass come after other high profile Australians defended Pell following the revelation of his conviction earlier in the week.  Former Prime Minister John Howard provided a character reference for Pell, while former Prime Minister Tony Abbott rang the disgraced Catholic on Tuesday after the suppression over the cardinal’s guilty verdict was lifted.

Mr Abbott said friends of the cardinal, including himself, were devastated by the result.  “Certainly for the friends of Cardinal Pell, and as you say I am one, devastating for all who believe in the Catholic church, and I’m also one of those,” he told 2GB radio. Pell was found guilty of five charges of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys inside St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne in December 1996, after Sunday mass.  He also attacked one of the boys early in 1997. Pell, who was the Archbishop of Melbourne at the time, maintains he is innocent.

The current Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Conemsoli also addressed the shock of the Pell revelations on Sunday, at St Patrick’s Cathedral.  “The soul of our Church has been grievously wounded from the evil of sexual abuse” he said.  “It feels like we have reached Golgotha, where the smell of death is thick in the air and the sense of panic and confusion is pervasive”.  He said the church had to focus now on “actions that are transfiguring.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports 

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