CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses sexual abuse.

Pope Francis has been savaged for implying the trial and overturned conviction of Cardinal George Pell mirrored the plight of Jesus Christ himself.

A big call, if there ever was one.

Taking to Twitter last night, the Pontiff appeared to comment on the legal vindication of Cardinal Pell, who walked free from prison yesterday after the High Court of Australia acquitted him of five child sex abuse offences.

“We’ve been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously,” Pope Francis said.

He then issued a call for prayer. Not for the survivors of abuse, mind you, but for “those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because of someone had it in for them.”

The remarkable message stands in contrast with the Catholic Church’s other statements on the latest ruling.

In an official communique, The Vatican, which stood behind Cardinal Pell from go to whoa, said it “welcomes” the High Court’s decision. The Vatican also offered “its commitment to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors,” for what it’s worth.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Pell, in his first public statement since facing court on the child sex abuse charges, stopped short of saying he was “judged ferociously” during his criminal trial and his first failed appeal.

Both statements are extraordinary in their own right, and will rattle the hearts of countless abuse survivors nationwide.

But neither confer the tap-dancing jubilance of the Pontiff’s tweet, which appears to call the motives of the complainant, Witness J, into serious question.

It’s also worth noting the Pope used the word “innocent”. While Cardinal Pell was acquitted, the High Court didn’t declare him innocent, per se. More on that here.

People who disagree with the notion of papal infallibility have critiqued Pope Francis’ message, suggesting it struck an unnecessarily combative tone given Cardinal Pell’s legal victory.

Here’s one take from comedian Tim Minchin, who has been critical of Cardinal Pell and the Catholic Church for quite a while now:

But enough about that. Witness J, whose testimony underpinned Cardinal Pell’s now-overturned conviction, says he respects the High Court’s decision.

In a statement obtained by The Australian, Witness J said he understands why “criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt,” but said “the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.”

He urged survivors to come forward, despite yesterday’s verdict, saying “most people recognise the truth when they hear it.”

“This case does not define me,” he added.

“I am not the abuse I suffered as a child. I am a man who came forward for my friend who is, sadly, no longer with us.”

You can read Witness J’s statement in full here, if you’d like to have a good, hard look at the kind of “persecution” Pope Francis may have referenced in his tweet.


Help is available.

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you’d like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.

Image: Vatican Pool / Corbis / Getty Images