(Source: CD/Vatican News)

Pope Francis has decried “cruelty” and “persecution” in the justice system hours after former Vatican treasurer and top Australian cardinal George Pell was acquitted of child sex abuse.

Introducing Tuesday morning’s homily at his Mass in the Casa Santa Marta, the pontiff said:

“In these days of Lent we have seen the persecution that Jesus suffered and how the doctors of the Law raged against him: he was judged harshly, viciously, though he was innocent.

“I would like to pray today for all the people who suffer an unjust sentence because of cruelty”.

We are all chosen

Isaiah’s prophecy (Is 49: 1-6) relates to the Messiah and the People of God. God chose the prophet before he was born, explained Pope Francis.

In the same way, each one of us is chosen with the vocation of serving from our mother’s womb. None of us fell into this world by chance.

“Each one of us has a destiny, a free destiny. The destiny is the election of God. I am born chosen to be a servant of God with the task of serving.”

The vocation of service

“To serve is not pretending that we have any other benefit to give than serving,” said Pope Francis.

Jesus, the Servant of God gives us an example of service. The glory of Jesus was serving until death. It seemed a defeat but it was a way of serving. 

When the People of God distance themselves from the attitude of serving, they are a People that have apostatized, explains the Pope. This leads them to construct their lives on other loves that are often idolatrous and they lose their vocation.

The attitude of repentance

Pope Francis explained that the important thing is our attitude before God who chose us and anointed us as His servant.

Except for Our Lady and Jesus, we have all fallen. The example of Peter is a source of inspiration.

When Peter denied Jesus and the cock crowed, he cried and repented (Mt 26:75). This is the path of a servant who asks for forgiveness when he or she slips and falls.

The other path is that of the servant who is incapable of understanding that he or she has fallen.

This path leaves the heart open to the passions that lead to idolatry. Like Judas, the heart becomes open to Satan.

The Pope’s prayer

Concluding his homily, the Pope invited us to think of Jesus who was faithful in service.

We are by vocation meant to serve and not to make a profit from our position in the Church.

Pope Francis prayed that like Peter, we may be able to weep when we slip and fall.

Cardinal Pell celebrates: “Injustice has been remedied today”

In the meantime, Cardinal Pell’s legal battle ended on Tuesday morning, when Australia’s High Court announced their unanimous decision to overturn the guilty verdict upheld by Victoria’s Court of Appeal last August.

The High Court justices based their decision on the fact that the appellate court had failed to take into consideration whether there “remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place”, leaving open “reasonable doubt” as to the cardinal’s guilt.

The cardinal, Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy between 2014 and 2019, had been in prison since the February 2019 guilty verdict was announced.

Shortly after the High Court acquitted him, he left the prison and is reported to have been taken to a monastery in Melbourne.

Cardinal Pell’s reaction

Cardinal Pell released a statement after hearing the High Court’s decision.

In it, he reiterates that he has “consistently maintained” his innocence. The “injustice” that he received “has been remedied” today, he continued.

Addressing the person who brought the charges against him, Cardinal Pell said, “I hold no ill will towards my accuser”.

And thinking of others who may feel “hurt and bitterness”, he said that he does not want his acquittal to add any additional pain.

The basis for “long term healing”, he continued, “is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all”.

The cardinal thanked everyone who has prayed for him, sent letters of support, his family, his “team of advisors”, “friends and supporters here and overseas”, and especially, his legal team.

He ended his statement thinking of those affected by the coronavirus. “I am praying for all those affected and our medical frontline personnel”, he said.

Australian Bishops’ reaction

On behalf of the Australian Bishops’ Conference, its President, Archbishop Mark Coleridge also issued a statement.

In it, he acknowledges the mixed feelings that the Cardinal’s acquittal will provoke.

“Today’s outcome will be welcomed” by those who “believe in the Cardinal’s innocence”, while being “devastating for others”.

“Many have suffered greatly through the process, which has now reached its conclusion”, the Archbishop said.

Archbishop Coleridge ended hs statement reiterating the “Church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse”.

Since children’s safety is of utmost important to the Catholic community and its bishops, he invited: “any person with allegations of sexual abuse by Church personnel should go to the police.”

On Novena, more of the Pope’s daily Masses from the Casa Santa Marta:

6/4: Powerful: Pope, in Santa Marta Mass: “If I ignore the poor, the Lord will ignore me on the Day of Judgment” – full text


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.