Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser and Australia's most senior Roman Catholic prelate, was charged with multiple counts of historical sexual assault. This has led to the Cardinal taking a leave of absence from his office at the Vatican to return to Australia to fight these charges.
In 2002, when Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in disgrace over his cover-up of abuse in Boston, victims expressed outrage that Pope John Paul II gave him a plum position as archpriest of a Roman basilica. While these instances may appear to paint Christianity- and the organization under which the Vatican functions- in a very negative light, we cannot forget the role religion plays in being a comforting factor.
The Bible cites that we are to forgive others every time, just as God does for us. The cross represents a place where all sins are healed, and is central to the Christian faith. Love and forgiveness is what this religion is based around. Thus with the charges against Cardinal Pell coming to light, the question is; does the Church punish the perpetrator or do they forgive?
If the church punishes the Cardinal without a verdict from the law it would in a way challenge what the faith stands for.
On one hand the ability to forgive is asked of every true Christian, and on the other punishment is demanded. It is a tough position for the Church to juggle. Priests cannot be mandatory reporters during confessions. Even today, Christianity allows penance at one’s death bed. To ask for forgiveness is seen as the ultimate act of being a good Christian.
The Blue Knot Foundation, an Australian support group for adult survivors of childhood abuse, said the decision to charge Pell sent a powerful message to both abuse survivors and society as a whole. "It upholds that no one is above the law, no matter how high their office, qualifications, or standing," said the group's head of research, Pam Stavropoulos.
While religion is a major social institution that makes up the fabric of society, the law is an equally important pillar, and above religion when it comes to punishment and repercussions. In this situation it is only fair that as bystanders we understand the juxtaposition of these two institutions. Nevertheless, the fact that Cardinal Pell has flown to Australia to clear his name is commendable. It shows that the Vatican is not playing a role in covering up any misdeed. And although the Cardinal has pleaded innocent, it is important to remember that justice will prevail. Religion can act as a cushion to deal with the stresses, to help people recover from mistakes, and to ask for forgiveness. But justice will and should be served. The Cardinal needs to be accountable for his actions, and he is liable to pay his debts in the court of law- if he is proven guilty.
Our assessment is that we cannot lose faith in the institution of the Church. This is the oldest institution known to mankind.
For over 2000 years, the institution headquartered in the Vatican has had one head, and has helped its followers work towards being better human beings. The first head was St. Peter, the apostle of Christ. Despite St. Peter’s earlier betrayal, he asked for forgiveness from Jesus, and was exonerated. Through hundreds of monarchs, millions of wars, and countless tests of strength- this institution has prevailed. In the past, there have been corrupt Popes who could’ve dwindled the Church’s stronghold; but the fact that this institution has survived through all these foreign and internal crises is a mystery. These few “bad apples” that commit crimes under the cloak of religion run the risk of ruining this powerful establishment. However, historically we see that at times when the Church was above the state, chaos ensued. Thus, people should not lose their faith, but also understand that the law comes above all.