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Awaiting Justice: The Patience of Cardinal Pell
One of the most popular and widely known legal maxims in this country is the idea that “justice delayed is justice denied.” The origins of the phrase are unclear. It is sometimes attributed to the 19th century, but earlier versions of it exist as well, going back to the Magna Carta and even perhaps earlier. The principle, of course, holds that to delay justice is itself an injustice. Victims are due a speedy resolution and redress of injustice in any just legal system.
Understood thus, there is, of course, a great deal of truth to the expression that I have no wish to deny. A just legal system does indeed bear the obligation to grant justice in a timely fashion. And yet, there is something missing in the phrase as well.
I had occasion to reflect on this with the recent sudden death of Cardinal Pell, the great Cardinal of the Catholic Church who himself had suffered such great injustice at the hands of the Australian legal system. Cardinal Pell was charged and eventually convicted of sexual abuse in Australia. An initial trial failed after the jury could not reach a verdict and a second trial convicted him. The Cardinal spent over a year in prison before Australia's highest court unanimously overturned the conviction and finally acquitted him. He had spent that year in solitary confinement, unable to say the Mass, and with only an hour outside each day.
The charges were absurd from the beginning, a fact that has been well traced. If anyone had justice delayed to him, that man was surely Cardinal Pell. And yet, the Cardinal was of good cheer. His reports of his time in prison are both inspirational and encouraging. In one place, he wrote:
My Catholic faith sustained me, especially the understanding that my suffering need not be pointless but could be united with Christ Our Lord’s. I never felt abandoned, knowing that the Lord was with me—even as I didn’t understand what he was doing for most of the thirteen months. For many years, I had told the suffering and disturbed that the Son of God, too, had trials on this earth, and now I myself was consoled by this fact. So, I prayed for friends and foes, for my supporters and my family, for the victims of sexual abuse, and for my fellow prisoners and the warders.
How many could bear injustice so well as Cardinal Pell!
And then, after he finally had his conviction overturned, he suffered a heart attack and died. One cannot but feel sad and sorry for him, and may even be tempted to feel a certain anger at the injustice he suffered for so long.
Yet, the Cardinal himself seems not to have felt that way. How could he have avoided resentment,knowing he was the victim of such a miscarriage of justice? How could he have such serenity despite knowing that he was suffering from delayed justice? For by worldly, legal standards, the Cardinal’s justice was delayed, hence, denied. Now that he has passed away, the Australian court will never compensate him for his 13 months of unjust imprisonment. Those who wronged him–false accusers, false protectors, media, judicial system and more–will never, in this world, meet justice for it. And yet, no doubt knowing all this, Cardinal Pell remained serene.
For the answer to that, we must look not only to his own words, “my Catholic faith sustained me,” but also to the words of the also recently deceased Pope Benedict XVI, whom the Cardinal respected so much. In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict, wrote that:
To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope. Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so.
Surely, this is what sustained Cardinal Pell for so long: the confidence that, in the end, Justice comes not from a flawed and corrupt legal system, but from a God Who is the Source of justice, and and Who will redress every wrong done in this world.
For while it is true that legal systems have a duty to enact justice without delay, it is also true that they will often fail, for we live in a fallen world. Therefore, the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” is false. Such a belief, based on the idea that humans are ultimately responsible for enacting justice, leads only to disillusionment, resentment, and despair.
For we do not ourselves create justice. Justice, as Pope Benedict taught us, cannot be created by human beings, but only by God. In faith, we are confident He will do so. Cardinal Pell had that faith. His faith is a lesson and example for us:to pray for our friends and enemies, and to trust in the justice of God.