THE case for the defence is put by an anguished column by Andrew Carey in The Church of England Newspaper. “My father has resigned as assistant bishop of Oxford, which basically means he is not licensed to have any ministry at all (News, 30 June).
“I’m struck by the absence of any public expression of sadness and sympathy for my father from the current crop of Archbishops and bishops. They certainly wouldn’t express any support for him in public because he now suffers from a disease that all Bishops fear is contagious — he has been criticised over handling safeguarding. . . It’s no matter that the term ‘safeguarding’ hadn’t even been coined when Bishop Peter Ball’s crimes were first reported. And it makes no difference that there were no guidelines, no advisers and no policies.”
In so far as this is a plea for sympathy, or mercy, it is powerful. As a plea of innocence, it is less convincing. It is simply not true that there were no advisers for an Archbishop in this matter. They did not advise him to keep Peter Ball’s name off the Lambeth List.
The most charitable explanation, which I tend to believe, is that he had not come across a case like that before, and that he was genuinely trying to rehabilitate Ball when he had him to stay, or arranged for him to be paid substantial sums from church funds, without realising quite what a manipulative pair of twins he was dealing with. That was bad judgement, of which almost everyone is from time to time guilty. But none of that excuses the failure to pass damning letters on to the police, or to ensure that Ball was put on the Lambeth List and that the record of his crime was preserved.
The story was picked up by The Times, which led to a correction for the ages: “Contrary to our report, Andrew Carey does not believe that those who have criticised his father Lord Carey are committing an unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. His point was that mishandling safeguarding, or being criticised for doing so (as Lord Carey has been criticised for mishandling the sex offender Bishop Peter Ball), is now regarded by the Church of England hierarchy as the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’ for which no one can expect forgiveness or sympathy. We are happy to make this clear, and apologise for the misunderstanding.”
There is a point about a rush to judgement, though. The blogger Adrian Hilton, who writes under the pseudonym of Archbishop Cranmer, is currently demanding the resignation of six more bishops, among them the Archbishop of York, on the basis of another story, which has not been investigated in court, or by any independent inquiry. This would be the same Adrian Hilton who was outraged by the posthumous condemnation of Bishop George Bell on the basis of one woman’s evidence.
ONE trouble with these stories is that it is extremely difficult to approach them with a presumption of innocence for both parties. People do, quite rightly, change their minds with the evidence, but that is not the same as approaching the story without any bias to start with. And when there is insufficient evidence, we reach provisional conclusions on the basis of our prejudices.
This is particularly obvious in the case of Cardinal George Pell, by some reckonings the third most senior figure in the Vatican, who has been charged with historic offences of child abuse dating back, it seems, to his time as a young priest.
Pell is unusual among senior cardinals, in that he is a hate figure to both sides in the current civil war.
The liberals dislike his outspoken sexual conservatism, his views on climate change, and his frequently arrogant manner. The conservatives, or at least one faction among them, dislike his assault on the Vatican’s bureaucracy after the Pope put him in charge of cleaning up the finances there.
The case has been building up in Australia for years, and it seems fair to say that people have taken sides according to their attitude to Cardinal Pell in person and to the Roman Catholic Church more generally.
So far as I can see, the position held at the moment is that Cardinal Pell is guilty of being a clever, arrogant thug with a low opinion of his opponents and a contemptuous manner of telling the truth. None of these is a criminal offence, although together they might influence a jury.
The American conservative monthly magazine First Things published a long defence of the Cardinal, couched as a review of a book attacking him, which compared the cases to the “satanic panics” of the 1980s and ’90s. That may yet prove the case. But it did not help the defence claim that the Cardinal was merely tactless to describe his attacker as “a spastic cheerleader”.