The “trial of the century” of Cardinal George Pell -- the Vatican’s “number 3” man and head of its finances - on sexual abuse charges has been passed by a Melbourne Magistrate to the Victoria County Court for adjudication. On April 30, Magistrate Belinda Wallington found there was sufficient evidence to justify a trial for the 76-year old former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, who has been placed on leave by Pope Francis to respond to the charges.
The case has been closely followed by the Australian and Italian press for the past three years, while the US and British press has also covered the spectacle. The coverage has been all over the map.
Some outlets, like The Australian, have done a thorough balanced job -- others like the New York Times have fallen short in their professional standards. Conservative Catholic blogs have long criticized the coverage of the Pell case as against the cardinal -- and part of the larger battle of doctrine being waged between progressives and traditionalists within the church.
Not unexpectedly, the Italian press has viewed the Pell case on advocacy-journalism lines - the anti-clerical or liberal papers have already found him guilty, the Catholic papers see him as a martyr to police misconduct, media bias and anti-Catholic sentiment, while the center plays it down the middle with a ‘too soon to tell’ what to think about George Pell approach.
When the charges surfaced last year, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) observed:
The centrist Corriere Della Sera newspaper noted the cardinal was "the highest representative of the Catholic Church every involved in such a case". The liberal La Repubblica warned "the shadow of pedophilia and rape returns to obscure the church". It described the cardinal as the "controversial kangaroo" and branded Australia as "a paradise of the orcs", saying in the past seven per cent of priests had been accused of sexual assault.
Today’s headlines from Italy follow this pattern. The lede in La Repubblica’s story “Abusi sessuali e pedofilia, il cardinale Pell rinviato a giudizio in Australia” (Sexual abuse and paedophilia -- Cardinal Pell indicted in Australia) states: