Singapore’s former foreign affairs minister George Yeo doubled down on his public comments extending support for Cardinal George Pell — the Roman Catholic Church’s former treasurer and most senior official to be convicted of child sexual abuse.
In June 2017, Pell was charged in Victoria, Australia, with multiple historical sexual assault offences; he denied all charges. In Dec 2018, Pell was found guilty of five sexual abuse charges involving two boys in the 1990s. His bail was subsequently revoked and he was remanded, with his sentencing scheduled for this Wed.
In a recent interview with Singapore-based Internet media company Mothership.sg, Yeo said: “He has strong grounds for appeal against his conviction…I do believe he is innocent on the basis of what I know of the case and of the man.”
Expressing his belief that Pell “is innocent on the basis of what I know of the case and of the man,” Yeo added that he is praying that “the Appeals Court will find in his favour.”
News of Pell’s Dec 2018 guilty verdict was only published in Australia and widely around the world on Feb 26, 2019, when the judge’s media gag order on the case was lifted after prosecutors had dropped a second set of criminal trial charges due to evidence issues. The gag order had been enacted to prevent influencing potential jurors in the subsequent criminal trial that had been slated for April 2019.
Yeo first expressed support for Pell in a public Facebook post published earlier this week. Asserting that Pell’s “recent conviction and imprisonment filled me and many others with pain,” Yeo had written that he was praying “that Cardinal Pell will be acquitted in the appeal.”
With court suppression orders of this level having come about due to huge worldwide interest in the case and nine months of regional media silence, Yeo’s post drew intense flak from Singaporeans who have blasted him for his support of someone convicted of child sexual abuse. Asking why he is defending a “paedophile,” netizens have criticised Yeo for his “blind faith” in Pell.
In response to this backlash, Yeo told Mothership.sg: “I understand some of the angry comments to my FB posts because of the widespread revulsion against the sexual abuse of minors in Australia and other countries and the cover-up by the church hierarchy”.
In the interview, Yeo proceeded to stress that the Catholic Church’s head Pope Francis is “determined to stamp out” the issue of sexual abuse of minors in the Church. He added that the Christian denomination’s Singapore leader Archbishop William Goh asserts that there is “no cover-up” of allegations of abuse against Catholics in Singapore.
Yeo did not explain why he is praying for Pell’s acquittal instead of praying for a just outcome.
Instead, he urges the Singapore Catholic Church to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect minors from child sexual abuse, look after victims and ensure that justice is carried out.
Interestingly, Yeo has been listed as a contributor to Mothership.sg. The Mothership interview with Yeo was written by the website’s managing editor and deputy managing director, Martino Tan.
Tan, a former civil servant who has been credited for helping to start Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook page, says in his byline that he was named after the Vatican’s first ambassador to Singapore.
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