Ruling cements Pell’s profile as the Dreyfus or Hiss of the Catholic abuse crisis

Crux | 8/21/2019 | Staff
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ROME - Although Australian Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of a conviction on child sexual abuse charges was rejected Wednesday, that ruling may not be the end of the legal road. As of this writing, Pell’s attorneys were still weighing whether to file a final appeal to Australia’s High Court.

Those attorneys told reporters that Pell continues to maintain his innocence, as he has since the charges first became public in June 2017.

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Though Pell’s judicial odyssey may not be over, Wednesday’s ruling likely does represent the final word on another aspect of the case: George Pell is now officially the Alfred Dreyfus of the Catholic abuse crisis, meaning that opinions about his guilt or innocence are at least as much a reflection of one’s ideological convictions as about the actual evidence in the case.

Dreyfus, of course, was the French artillery officer of Jewish descent charged with treason in 1894 for allegedly passing military secrets to the Germans, spending five years on Devil’s Island. Dreyfus was eventually acquitted and reinstated to his army position, but for more than a decade, opinions about his guilt or innocence functioned as a bellwether for broader political and cultural tensions, pitting Catholic and traditionalist “anti-Dreyfusards” against pro-Republican and anti-clerical liberals.

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One could, by the way, just as easily compare Pell to Alger Hiss, the urbane American diplomat accused in 1948 of being a Soviet spy. Like Pell, Hiss was tried twice, with the first ending in a hung jury and the second resulting in a conviction. In that case, too, opinions for a long time were far more about the clash between hawks and doves during the Cold War than the facts.

Similarly, opinions about Pell today often reveal far more about the prejudices of the observer than about the actual reality of what happened.

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