Australian Cardinal George Pell has been convicted on charges of sexual abuse of minors. While this may seem like a good thing in the wake of scandal across the globe, this may be a case of a political witch hunt.

Pell has always denied the charges and, though details of the trail have been hard to come by due to a gag order, the ones we have are fishy.

“The allegations are a product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may or may not have, or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country,” Pell’s lead attorney Robert Richter said.

Richter further said that the accusations were “not to be believed,” and were “improbable, if not impossible.”

Catholic News Agency reports:

Until the imposition of the gag order in June, Pell had been the subject of sustained media attention in Australia, prompting the order. The extent of hostile attention directed at Pell by several Australian outlets, even prior to the accusations being made, led to a public debate in some sections of the Australian media about whether it would be possible to find an impartial jury for the cardinal.

In October, two sources close to Cardinal Pell, members of neither his legal team nor the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, told CNA that the first hearing of the case had ended in a mistrial due to a jury stalemate. One source said that jury was deadlocked 10-2 in favor of Pell.

Although the gag order was issued, one source called the integrity of the proceeding into question. In remarks to CNA, he called the trial a “farce” and a “witch hunt.” He said that Australian prosecutors were determined to secure a conviction, despite the earlier mistrial. “They kept going until they got the jury who’d give them what they want,” the source told CNA.

The motivation to take down one of the highest-ranking Catholics in the world and the principle authority in Australia may be politically motivated. Pell has a long history of defending traditional marriage. In 1990, he said: “Homosexuality – we’re aware that it does exist. We believe such activity is wrong and we believe for the good of society it should not be encouraged.” In 2010, he advocated against Australia’s contentious Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 saying, “Marriage is a union that is publicly recognised, honoured and supported because of its unique capacity to generate children and to meet children’s deepest needs for the love and attachment of both their father and their mother.”

Pell also penned a book of essays on the Church and the state called God and Ceasar, in which Christ’s instructions to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21) remain the starting point for any reflections on Christianity and political life.

It seems that most of the evidence against Pell relates to his conservativeness as one Pell critic Barney Zwartz explained:

“A combative participant in Australia’s culture wars,” the ultraconservative Pell had long been a divisive figure in Australia because of his `relentless, overbearing’ style. He was ruthless in punishing priests who deviated from doctrine by advocating changes to Mass or supporting ordination of women.”

This is a volatile time and the laity’s desire to see a cleaned house should not overpower the desire for justice. In this case, we are skeptical that that’s what’s being done.