Saturday, 4 April 2020

Palm Sunday, A.D. 2020 (in time of pandemic)

In the Church’s liturgical year we approach the peak of salvation history. All that has been anticipated and promised is fulfilled through the Passion of the Christ.  

In a stark metaphor, the world today is reaching a peak in the infection models that are depicted everywhere in the media. These grim predictions come even as, collectively, we go through a valley of human dread – "the valley of the shadow of death" as the world confronts the Coronavirus (COVED-19), an evil and unseen menace which threatens millions.  

The Passion of Christ comes to pass in fulfillment of what the prophets had foretold as Jesus, himself, tells us in the Gospel according to Matthew (26:56).  

The work of our redemption is accomplished; the new covenant is written in the blood of Jesus’ whose broken body hangs upon the cross at the place called the Skull, an all too vivid image of human frailty and mortality.

During his Passion, Jesus is “counted among the wicked,” as Isaiah had foretold (Isaiah 53:12). He is revealed definitively as the Suffering Servant. The prophet announced the long-awaited Messiah whose words of obedience and faith ring out in today’s reading from Isaiah: "I was not rebellious, I turned not backward, I gave my back to those who struck me."

The taunts and torments we hear in these readings punctuate the Gospel as Jesus is beaten and mocked (Matt 27:31).  His hands and feet are pierced, even as enemies gamble for his clothes (Matthew 27:35). His enemies dare Jesus to prove his divinity by saving himself from suffering (Matthew 27:39–44).

Jesus remains faithful to the will of God. He does not turn back in his suffering for us and so today is with us in our fear and suffering. Jesus gives himself freely in submission to his torturers, confident as he expresses confidence in the words of the Prophet: “The Lord God is my help. . . . I shall not be put to shame.”

Having fallen into sin and death as children of Adam’s disobedience, we are set free for holiness and life by Christ’s perfect obedience to the will of God even as he faces the starkest of human suffering. (Romans 5:12–14, 17–19)

God greatly exalts Jesus as the conqueror of sin and death and so those baptized into his suffering and death are given the gift of salvation, resurrection and communion with God and his saints.

Following the example of Jesus in humble obedience in the trials and crosses of our lives, we know that we will never be forsaken. We know, as the centurion acclaimed: "truly [Jesus] is the Son of God." (Matthew 27:54)

Isaiah 50:4–7
Psalm 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24
Philippians 2:6–11
Matthew 26:14–27:66

Sunday, 22 March 2020

LENT IV -- Laetare Sunday
MARCH 22, A.D. 2020

Dear Friends,

In these very worrying times I want to thank you for your prayers, especially for all those who are called to assist the sick and their families.  We rely ever more upon prayer in this battle which is being waged at so many levels worldwide. Pray for fortitude in the weeks to come.

Special thanks to those at STM Toronto who have been faithful in their presence and in serving at Sunday Mass which has been temporarily suspended.  

This morning  I will celebrate our pro populo Laetare Mass privately at the dining room table in our apartment as we are joined in spiritual communion and in asking God's grace for our small parish and the world.

My prayer will be that as the rose (symbolized in today's liturgy) emerges from the death of winter, so we all will emerge from a Lent of spiritual and physical challenges to give thanks for the enduring grace of God and for the beauty of creation which is always a sign of the resurrection and of the eternal mercy of God.

May the sufferings of our Lord Jesus be joined with those of his people as we look for the light at the end of a long Lenten trial.

Faithfully in Christ,


And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded 
Into the crowned knot of fire 
And the fire and the rose are one.    

 T.S. Eliot quotes Dame Julian of Norwich 
in Little Gidding, The Four Quartets

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Due to COVID19 concerns:

Sunday Mass at STM Toronto 
is cancelled 
until further notice 
as well as 
Mass at local hospitals.

Monday, 20 January 2020


EPIPHANY II A, 2020                                                 
STM Toronto

Sacred Scripture tells us that Our Lord Jesus was sent to lead a new exodus — to raise up the exiled tribes of Israel, to gather and restore them to God. He came as Servant and Son.  More than that, Jesus is a light to the nations [something disputed in these days – yes, we proclaim that salvation is in the name of Christ Jesus] so that the light of God’s salvation must reach to the ends of the earth (Acts 13:46–47).  

The prophet Isaiah in today’s First Reading claims the Lord says: “You are my servant Israel in whom I will be glorified  . . . And now the Lord, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, says: “I will give you as a light to the nations.”

Before the first exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, a lamb was offered in sacrifice and its blood painted on the Israelites’ door posts. The blood of the lamb identified the homes of those who were in slavery and the Lord “passed over” but executed judgment on their slave masters (Exodus 12:1–23, 27).

In the new exodus, Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” as St. John the Baptist beholds Him in the Gospel today (1 Corinthians 5:7). He has come, Jesus says, to offer His body to do the will of God the Father (Hebrews 10:3–13).

The sacrifices, oblations, holocausts, and sin offerings given after the first exodus had no power to take away sins (see Hebrews 10:4). They were meant not to save but to teach(Galatians 3:24). In offering these sacrifices, the people were to learn self-sacrifice—that they were made for worship, to offer themselves freely to God and to delight in His will.

Only Jesus, the sinless One, could make that perfect offering of Himself. And through His sacrifice, Jesus has opened our ears to obedience, He has made it possible for us to hear the Father’s call to holiness, as St. Paul speaks in today’s Epistle: “to those who are sanctified in Christ.”

He has made us children of God, baptized in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). And we are to join our sacrifice to His, (just as we do in the Mass) “pray brethren that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable – we offer our bodies —our lives—as living sacrifices in the spiritual worship of the Mass (Romans 12:1) and in the Mass of daily living with and for others.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Christmas - Epiphany Masses


Tuesday, December 24

Early Sung Mass

5:00 p.m.



Sung Mass

December 29




Wednesday, January 1

Sung Mass

12:30 noon



Sunday, January 5

Sung Mass at 12:30 noon

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

New Year's Day, Sung Mass of Mary, Mother of God

Mary, Mother of God
Sung Mass

Wednesday, January 1
12:30 noon

Traditional English Language Liturgy
and Carols

Monday, 9 December 2019

A Pilgrimage to the Canonization of St John Henry Newman


As we prepare for the Season of Joy, it is helpful to look back once again at the year past and to recall the moments of grace along the way, moments which our Lord brings to us in so many ways in addition to the assured graces of the sacraments and the wonderful grace of the Church – the Body of Christ.  Yes, the Bride of Christ, despite her struggles with the world the flesh and the Devil, continues to nurture her children with hope along with faith and love.

Looking at our calendar, Jane and I are highlighting some of those moments this year. Of course, the year began with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God which we celebrated, as is our custom with the good folk of the Parish of St. Thomas More (STM) in Toronto. Though I am no longer the pastor or administrator of the mission parish, Jane and I are there most Sundays.  Jane oversees our hospitality hour after Mass each Sunday, a very important time for those who come from all over the GHTA and beyond to share in Divine Worship, The Missal, which is the distinctive liturgy of the Ordinariate, a mixture of traditional (BCP) prayers along with English Hymnal music.  ‘All in all, a unique offering for Catholics and others who join us.

Currently we have people attend who are from many Christian traditions, both eastern and western – a man from the Coptic Church of Egypt, a family of Croatian origin, our Italian/Scottish administrator, a young woman who is a PK from a Seventh Day Adventist family.  Over the years these folks have joined with Mennonite friends and even a few Anglicans who have found their way into the fullness of the Catholic Church.

In late January Annie and I explored some of the real estate possibilities in downtown Toronto.  The thinking is that the combined rents we pay with Kathryn and Efren would allow us to share a mortgage.  But because Toronto has some of the highest real estate values in North American, you can imagine the figures to buy even a modest triplex are quite astounding.  We continue to look, pray and discern.

The big event of January was Jane and Judy’s marking 140 combined years on the planet! People gathered from far and wide at the lovely reception room of 2 St. Thomas, a stone’s throw from the U. of T. and St. Basil’s Church.  This elegant and cheery space was provided by our good friend, Paola Leon, who has a condo there.  Annie, Kathryn, Efren, Julia, and Clare were the gracious hosts who managed the food and drink along with the decorations.  About 80 people attended during the afternoon event and the twins were duly launched into their eighth decade going strong! Jane still teaches most days.

I continue with chaplaincy work at the UHN (University Health Network) downtown hospitals, hearing confessions, bringing Holy Communion to patients and anointing large numbers, some of whom are recovering and others in prayer for their final journey to God. We chaplains truly see “all sorts and conditions” and it is a privilege to share these moments with many families.  

In February Jane and I took some time off to travel to the Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach, Florida for a week of retreat and rest.  The Archdiocese of Toronto maintains a couple of rooms there for priests needing a break from winter.  So, we took our initial flight as snow birds and very much enjoyed the seminary and the truly remarkable young men preparing for the priesthood who made us so welcome and with which we shared a lot in a few days.  Daily Mass, at which I concelebrated, and the Liturgy of the Hours marked the day for everyone in their bright and airy Chapel.  It was nice for both of us to not have to cook or do dishes. And we had the pool all to ourselves, as the seminarians said it was too cold to swim! Canucks.

In April a new head of the UHN mandated that we could celebrate monthly Masses in each of the six hospitals and so I, along with the three other priest chaplains, share in these celebrations which are for families and the staff as well as anyone who wanders in. This is a bit of a challenge logistically as only Sick Kids has a chapel, where I say Mass on Sundays at 9 am before heading west to STM and the 12:30 Sung Mass in the church in which we rent space on Roncesvalles Ave.

On April 27, Jane’s family gathered for the funeral of Aunt Judy (Echlin) Wilson in Huntsville.  Tony, Jane’s Mom, was there, now the last of that generation. At 92 she is going strong still swimming every day, sending off messages and browsing the web.  Quite remarkable.

On May 26, Jane and I marked our 40thanniversary with Annie and Kathryn acting as hostesses. Our landlords and good friends, Stephanie Martin and Andrew Sabiston, invited us to use their lovely back patio and newly renovated main floor for the day. The 26th was lovely. We were thankful that so many were able to attend and for many messages from those unable to join us. 

In June we celebrated the Patronal Festival of STM with the Sacrament of Confirmation and a full choir. The STM liturgies are streamed on YouTube, just go to  and push the red button. You can fast forward through the homily. 

August brought annual vacation time. It was initially a bit of a busman’s holiday as we went to Barry’s Bay for me to make a presentation on the Divine Worship liturgy at Our Lady Seat Wisdom’s Wojtyla Summer Institute’s “The Splendour of the Liturgy.” From there we went on to Shawville to visit with brother Steve and his family. Ayden just graduated from the University of Ottawa, Tynesha is a university student, and Dee Dee is in high school. 

From Shawville to L’Abbaye Sainte-Marie des Deux-Montagnes for a few days with our good friend and advisor Dom Charles Gilman, OSB (Fr. Chip).  He celebrated and I preached at the Sung Mass of the Assumption (August 15) for the nuns and others who attend the beautiful chapel on the hill in the bilingual town of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac. Fr. Chip translated the short homily and read it in French for those who do not speak English. The Benedictine nuns of this cloistered community are, for the first time, welcoming English-speaking postulants with the goal of becoming a thoroughly bilingual community.  They have moved to celebrating the liturgy in Latin with French and English readings.

On the way home we had a 40thanniversary treat with a stay in the Laurentians for a few days in Sainte-Adèle and traveling the countryside.  Taking the long way home, thus avoiding the busy freeways near Montreal, we went north through Mont-Tremblant and Mont-Laurier which neither of us had ever visited even though I grew up in the Ottawa Valley. Travelling south we once again came into the lush forests and rich farmland of the Valley and then through Renfrew and down to Peterborough to stay overnight in a hotel overlooking the Otonabee River. Home again, we had time to settle back in, just in time for the beginning of school and to reconnect with Newman Centre at the U of T where I regularly celebrate Mass to assist the Chaplain there. 

John Henry Cardinal Newman was canonized in Rome in October as St. John Henry Newman.  Annie and I were very privileged to attend on October 13. Jane chose to stay home to avoid the trans-Atlantic flight, squashed in like a sardine, and the crowds in Rome! It was a great joy to sit in the centre of St. Peter’s Square with 400,000 others on a cloudless Sunday morning and to hear the words of one my spiritual mentors pronounced with approval by the Magisterium of the Church.  I had never dreamed of being there and it was so meaningful to share the day and the trip with Annie. While there, I attended two related symposia at the Gregorian University and at the fabled Angelicum, leaving Annie free to explore Rome and the excellent shopping there, including the purchase of a red leather purse for her mom.

So another year rolls to a close and after yet another conference in Toronto, this one for the Ordinariate’s 10thanniversary, we begin a new year this Advent, thankful for the many blessings and graces of the past year.  God is so good . . . and always a surprise.  

Thursday, 28 November 2019


Celebrate the truth of the season in Toronto.


Christmas Eve Mass
Tuesday, December 24
5:00 p.m.

Traditional English Language 
and Carols

Tuesday, 19 November 2019


Your Eminence, Excellency, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ. 
I have been asked by the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society to, on their behalf, welcome all of you who have travelled to this celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Apostolic Constitution which, thanks to our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict and the ongoing support of the Holy Father, has become a part of the New Evangelization. 
In addition, we want to thank you, Cardinal Collins, for your initial and continuing support of the small communities of Anglicans and others who are finding their way into the full communion of the Catholic Church through the ministry of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. 
I have to smile as I think of the various paths that have brought us here in late 2019. I am, like many now living in Toronto, an immigrant, a Montreal-born Expos fan – a transplant. So, for our American visitors I feel compelled to mention that until the 1960s Montreal was the largest city in Canada. In recent years Toronto has come to be the largest city and to consider itself the centre of Canada (if not of the universe). 
It is now almost 14 years since I first contacted the newly appointed Archbishop Collins (transplanted from Edmonton to Toronto) to inquire about the possibility of ordination and ministry in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Little did I know, at that time, of the prayerful call to unity which was, even then, in its final planning stages in Rome. This planning would result in the ground-breaking invitation to Anglicans and others to cross the Tiber and, for me and other clergy, to serve as Catholic priests while retaining and building upon the Anglican patrimony within the embrace of the Holy See. 
This was a truly ecumenical break-through which continues to shape the future of dialogue with other Christian bodies. In the next 10 years we must pray and work for the extension of our mission and the new evangelization not only through beautiful language and music but, as George Weigel has put it so well in his latest book, commitment to truth and goodness as well – clear teaching with pastoral concern and outreach. 
On this special occasion I have been asked to offer a patrimonial toast of loyalty this evening in recognition of the work of your Eminence and so many others. Thinking about this, it came to me that no better toast could be offered than the one traditionally offered by Dr. Healey Willan, the great Church musician and another transplant to Toronto. 
Dr. Willan was famously noted for his self-description as: English by birth, Canadian by adoption, Irish by extraction, and Scotch by absorption. 
I invite you, then, to raise your glasses and to join with me in a toast to Our Lady, Queen of Heaven and our Lady, Queen of Canada.
Fr. John Hodgins

Monday, 4 November 2019

Remembrance Sunday Requiem Mass, November 10

Traditional English Catholic 
according to 
12:30 Sunday, November 10 

The Catholic Parish 
of St. Thomas More 
263 Roncesvalles, Toronto.
Refreshments follow.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Canonization of Saint John Henry Newman

I am still processing the week in Rome to celebrate our great patron St. John Henry Newman whose life and work have fascinated me from my teen years.  I studied his work while at the Toronto School of Theology in the early 1980s with Fr. Dan Donovan of St. Michael's University.  I believe there were more Anglicans in the class than Catholics. A number of us crossed the Tiber at various points.

Newman was certainly a kindly light for me and I have often taken courage from his unwavering stand for truth in the face of the "liberalism" which he rightly perceived as an existential threat to the human society.  Fortunately the Church has our Lord's promise that these forces of darkness (gates of Hell) cannot prevail against the One, hHoly, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

For photos and a summary of some of the events you can go to:

Newman and Anglicanorum Coetibus symposia

Fr. Jack Barker and Toronto at AC Conference Nov. 15 - 17

Fr Jack Barker is a pioneer of Christian unity by leading Anglicans back to full communion with the Holy See.

Following is a posting by the AC Society about the symposium celebrating 10 years since the proclamation of the apostolic constitution ANGLICANORUM COETIBUS.

barker et al

Father Jack Barker (left), keynote speaker [the] ninth conference on the Anglican tradition in the Catholic Church, has been called by Bishop Steven Lopes of the Ordinariate a “pioneer of the Pastoral Provision”. Trained in classical piano, physics and engineering, and in Anglican seminary programs in both England and the US, Fr Barker has been involved in the Anglican movement into the Catholic Church over the decades.

Involved for years with the American Church Union under the leadership of Canon DuBois, he and others formed Anglicans United, a group of catholic Anglicans that entered into a relationship with the Holy See that ultimately helped to bring about the Pastoral Provision. Later on, Fr Barker wrote about how the Pastoral Provision came about in his fascinating “Early History of the Anglican Use”.

Fr Barker has done us a real service in recording this history of how we came to be given a “pastoral provision for former Anglicans thereby ensuring their identity and the preservation of elements of their worship” and how the Holy See would open the Catholic priesthood to “even those Anglican priests who were married.” One of the more poignant moments in that history is the passing of Canon DuBois, who died in June, 1980, “with the dream of corporate reunion yet to be realized”, but who was “individually received into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church prior to his death. During his illness private assurances were received from Rome that the petition would be approved.”

It took a few years for the implementation of the provision to begin to be worked out, but Fr Barker led members of his congregation into the Catholic Church in 1986, after which he ran a Catholic charitable organization, studied in Catholic seminaries, and was ultimately made a Catholic priest.
Now helping with the ordinariate community of Our Lady of Grace, Fr Barker has worked closely with Mgr Steenson and Bishop Lopes since the early days of the North American ordinariate.

Further details on Father Barker’s life and many years of service to catholic-minded Anglicans, to Catholics of the Anglican tradition, and to the wider Church can be read in his biography below. Father Barker will be speaking on the Anglican tradition in the Catholic Church, its history and its potential, at our upcoming conference and we encourage everyone to register now. Spread the word!
Born in 1941 in South Dakota and raised in southern California. A graduate of Hawthorne High School with highest honors. Bachelor’s in Physics from the College of Letters and Science at U.C.L.A. in 1963. He is trained in classical piano.
Under the sponsorship of a South African Anglican bishop, he attended Anglican Seminary at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, Yorkshire, England beginning in 1963. He received the General Ordination Examination certificate of the Church of England in 1965.
Because of the political realities in South Africa at the time it was recommended that he return to Los Angeles rather than be ordained and work in the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman. He applied to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and continued studies at Bloy Episcopal School of Theology. During this time he worked as an engineer in the Space Program at Hughes Aircraft on Project Surveyor, a precursor to Apollo Moon landings.
In 1970 he was ordained Deacon and then priest by Rt. Rev. Francis Eric Bloy at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles. In the Fall of 1970 he was asked by Rev. James Jordan, jr. to come to St. Mary of the Angels as an associate and continue as a “worker-priest.” In early 1971 Father Jordan died suddenly of a massive heart.He was eventually installed as the Third Rector by Rt. Rev. Robert Claflin Rusack the Coadjutor bishop of the LA diocese.
From the beginning at St. Mary’s he became involved with the American Church Union (ACU) which was under the direction of its famous Executive Director Rev. Canon Albert Julius DuBois, affectionately known as “Mr. Catholic” in the Episcopal Church. Following the Minneapolis General Convention of 1976 he and Fathers Barker and Brown formed “Anglicans United” to lead the way in finding a new home for catholic minded Episcopalians.
The AU represented many former Episcopal parishes throughout the USA. Canon DuBois was invited to Rome for conversations about the possibility of former Episcopalians entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. He had a heart attack and Fathers Barker and Brown went in his stead.
Finally in 1986 many members of St. Mary of the Angels together with 100% of St Matthias formed a new combined parish and where all were received into the Catholic Church at a single Mass celebrated by a Roman Catholic priest who was part of what was known then as the Pastoral Provision. The remaining congregation at St. Mary’s became a part of the continuing Anglican movement.
Father Barker went on to run Catholic Charities in Nevada for two years and in 1989 was accepted into the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino where he attended the local seminary for one year of orientation and then two years of graduate level studies at St Patrick’s Pontifical Seminary in Menlo Park, California. He received the Masters in Divinity in 1992 and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of San Bernardino by Most Rev. Philip Straling the first bishop of that diocese.
He served two years as an assistant at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary and was pastor for nine years at St. Francis of Assisi in la Quinta; finally, he served twelve years at St Martha’s in Murrieta.
After a year and a half of candidacy he made his vows as an Oblate of the Order of Saint Benedict with the Abbey of St. John’s in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He is now retired in Murrieta and provides supply services to local Latin Rite parishes and helps at Our Lady of Grace Ordinariate Community. 

Note: Fr. Barker was unable to attend the Toronto Conference but the text of his address was read out to those gathered and is available through the AC website:

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Disgrace of Australia

The following article by George Weigel is a further reflection upon the heretofore unimaginable perfidy of many in the legal system in Victoria, Australia. 

Was it mere coincidence, or perhaps Providence, that Catholics around the world read Psalm 94 at Midday Prayer on August 21, hours after an appellate panel of three judges announced a 2-1 decision rejecting Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of his conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse”? For there, the Psalmist laments legal perversity in a query to God that certainly must have struck some as resembling what had just happened in Melbourne at the Supreme Court of the state of Victoria:

Can judges who do evil be your friends?
They do injustice under cover of law; They attack the life of the just and condemn innocent blood.

To note this striking parallelism of legal and liturgical timing is not to suggest that any of the judges on the appellate panel are evil people. But two of them, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Judge Chris Maxwell, manifestly did something unjust under cover of law, in denying Cardinal Pell’s appeal and failing to acquit him of charges that had been shown on numerous occasions to be beyond the realm of plausibility. And the most devastating criticism to that effect was leveled, not by friends of the cardinal or fellow-Catholics, but by Judge Mark Weinberg, whose dissent from the opinion of his two colleagues on the appellate panel shredded their claims and logic in such a decisive way as to set up what one must hope will be a successful appeal to the High Court of Australia, the final legal arbiter.

Judge Weinberg is recognized by knowledgeable students of the Australian justice system as the premier criminal-law jurist in the country. His brilliant, two-hundred page dissent should be read in full, but here are several crucial citations:

On the complete lack of corroboration of the complainant’s charges: In Pell’s criminal trials, the “prosecution relied entirely upon the evidence of the complainant to establish guilt, and nothing more. There was no supporting evidence of any kind at all. These convictions were based upon the jury’s assessment of the complainant as a witness, and nothing more.” That same tactic, Judge Weinberg noted, was adopted by the prosecution at the appeal hearing in June.

On the utter implausibility of the complainant’s description of the alleged abuse: “…the complainant’s account….seems to me to take brazenness to new heights, the like of which I have never seen…I would have thought that any prosecutor would be wary of bringing a charge of his gravity against anyone, based upon the implausible notion that a sexual assault of this kind would take place in public, and in the presence of numerous potential witnesses. Had the incident occurred in the way that the complainant alleged, it seems to me highly unlikely that none of those many persons present would have seen what was happening, or reported it in some way.”

Therefore: “To my mind, there is a ‘significant possibility’ that the applicant in this case [Cardinal Pell] may not have committed these offenses.” Which was, on my reading of it, Judge Weinberg’s way of saying that the convicting jury erred grievously in meeting the established legal standard of guilt being proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore the guilty verdict should have been vacated by the appellate court and the cardinal acquitted.

A Question of Presumptions?
Let us stipulate, as the lawyers say, that Chief Justice Ferguson, Judge Maxwell, and Judge Weinberg are all intelligent people. How is it, then, that two of them can look at the same sequence of events as Judge Weinberg – then-Archbishop Pell bolts from a procession at the end of High Mass in the Melbourne cathedral, escapes the notice of the other clergy in the procession, culls out two choir boys, sexually abuses them in six or eight minutes while fully vested, and then returns to the front of the cathedral to greet worshippers, all of which escapes the notice of anyone else and about which nothing is said for two decades – and come to such a radically different conclusion than that reached by Australia’s pre-eminent authority in criminal jurisprudence?

Several possibilities suggest themselves.
The first is that the charge of sexual abuse, however prima facie implausible, now trumps the traditional legal standard in the Anglosphere that innocence is presumed until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A close reading of the majority opinion supports the fear that this standard was effectively reversed in Cardinal Pell’s case, such that the onus was on him to prove his innocence. In the summary of the majority opinion she read from the bench, Chief Justice Ferguson insisted that the complainant who made the charges against the cardinal was a credible witness who seemed not to be lying.

But what, one wants to ask, about the many witnesses for the defense, who insisted that not only were the charges false but that such things simply could not have happened under the circumstances described? Chief Justice Ferguson nodded to their testimony, but the majority opinion makes clear that, in classic Orwellian fashion, some witnesses were more equal than others. This is perverse. Yet it fit neatly with attempts to get the cardinal’s liturgical master of ceremonies to state that it was theoretically possible that, on occasion, he mightnot have been right next to Pell before, during, and after Mass, decades ago. That theoretical possibility was conceded as purely theoretical, but the m.c. insisted that he had no positive recollection of its ever being the case and that his disappearance from the archbishop-celebrant’s side was very, very unlikely. Yet it now seems from the majority opinion that a theoretical possibility was turned into positive evidence of Cardinal Pell’s guilt, despite what Judge Weinberg noted were the “discrepancies….inconsistencies…and [lack of] probative value” in the complainant’s testimony.”

The second, and not necessarily unrelated, possibility is that Chief Justice Ferguson and Judge Maxwell were influenced in their reading of the evidence – or, in this case, lack thereof – by the assumption, widespread in the Australian media, that any Catholic cleric charged with sexual abuse, if not overtly presumed guilty, should at least be treated as such. That perversion of the common law tradition may be based on anti-Catholic bias (as it surely is among such horrors as Australian television talking-head Louise Milligan, author of a libelous book about George Pell). Or it may be based on a genuine revulsion at ecclesiastical cover-ups of sexual abuse and the fear that, if one prominent cleric “gets away with it,’ others may get away with it down the line. But whatever its roots, this presumption-of-guilt against a class of individuals has far more in common with Stalin’s persecution of the Kulaks and his other class and political enemies than it has with any recognizable notion of justice in the English-speaking world.
This second possibility is amplified by the utterly toxic public and media environment that has surrounded George Pell in Australia for decades. Americans and other Anglophones with no direct experience of this cannot really grasp how poisonous the atmosphere has been, for there is no analogue to it anywhere else in the Anglosphere. Moreover, this lethal toxicity is not a by-product of the free-for-all that is the Internet and the blogosphere, but antedates the Web and social media by decades. And it is prevalent, not just on the fringes, but at the very epicenters of Australian journalism and commentary. The suggestion implicit in the majority decision rejecting Cardinal Pell’s appeal – that this atmosphere had no discernible effect on the jury that found the cardinal guilty – beggars the imagination: not least because the trial in which Pell was convicted by a 12-0 jury ballot followed a first trial that ended with a hung jury that voted 10-2 for acquittal.

All of which suggests the strong possibility that Chief Justice Ferguson and Judge Maxwell read the situation far differently than their more distinguished colleague in criminal law, Judge Weinberg, because of distortions in the lenses by which they were reading. And those distortions produced a grave reversal of both the presumption of innocence that is the foundation of criminal law in the Anglosphere, even as they obviated the requirement that the burden of proof rests on the prosecution to persuade jurors beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Next Phase
This story is not over, by any manner of means. And as the story continues – with further investigation of the credibility of the complainant, further inquiry into the Victoria police fishing expedition against Pell that began two years before a complainant was found, and further consideration of Judge Weinberg’s devastating critique of his colleagues’ rejection of the cardinal’s appeal – it seems to me that, with a potential judgment on all this by the High Court of Australia looming on the horizon, friends of justice in Australia must now come forward with an unambiguous statement of what has long seemed obvious to many others around the world, but which has rarely been said by political, legal, and Catholic leaders Down Under: George Pell is an innocent man who was falsely accused and has been unjustly convicted of crimes he did not commit. It is not George Pell who is in the dock, now, but the administration of justice in Australia. And the only way to restore justice is for Cardinal Pell to be vindicated by the highest court in the land.

This simple but entirely defensible statement should be repeated, again and again, by responsible leaders in every professional field in Australia, and indeed by anyone and everyone Down Under who is willing to stand for the truth.

To repeat an image I have used before: this is Australia’s Dreyfus Case, and if Australia cannot find it within itself to vindicate justice by acquitting George Pell, then 21st-century Australia will find itself condemned by history to that ignominy in which the biased and mad persecutors of Alfred Dreyfus in the nineteenth century—bigots and hysterics who are global symbols of justice scorned and trampled upon – now find themselves.

Published in The Catholic World Report on August 22, 2019