Cardinal Pell is being held in a prison in Melbourne, Australia. He awaits his sentence on March 13. He has appealed against his conviction on five counts of sexual abuse, allegedly for acts committed in 1996 or 1997. What has happened has shocked and hurt many people, especially Catholics. The general feeling is one of disbelief and surprise.
Nine months ago I had lunch with Cardinal Pell in a simple restaurant near his home in Sydney. From what I have read these days in the press, I realize now that he was already aware of the accusations formulated by the former choir member of Melbourne Cathedral. At lunch we talked, among other things, about the reason for his return to Australia; he told me that he wanted the truth to come to light, as he has repeated many times. And the truth, as he has also repeated on countless occasions, is that those events never took place. During that meal I realized that he was already prepared to suffer what is now a reality.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported (5 March) that Cardinal Pell’s experienced and highly successful barrister Robert Richter will not be part of the team acting on behalf of the Cardinal in the appeal against his conviction. Richter is quoted as saying he does not have ‘sufficient objectivity at this stage’.
‘I am very angry about the verdict,’ he told The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, ‘because [the jury’s decision] was perverse’. He went on to say, ‘I think the man is an innocent man and he’s been convicted. It’s not a common experience.’
It was rare show of public emotion from one of Australia’s leading criminal lawyers, who usually comes across as unflappable in his devastating defence of his clients.
Robert Richter’s reaction says much about the process of Cardinal Pell’s conviction.
With the exception of Alan Jones, 2GB’s presenters have been disappointing in their commentary on the Pell conviction about which I will have more to say in subsequent comments. Jones’s comment made on his Sky News program is brilliant for its succinct coverage of the main points of Cardinal Pell’s defence.
Multiple charges made against Cardinal Pell for historic sexual abuse were scheduled for a committal hearing in March 2018. Some charges were withdrawn before the hearing and some during the hearing. Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed all but six of the charges, five by the one complainant. Those six were to go to trial. In February 2019, the one charge by one complainant was withdrawn by the prosecution. There was no hope of conviction.
Magistrate Wallington dismissed the charges, reported Peter Westmore (News Weekly (5 May, 2018), where there was a ‘fundamental defect’ or ‘where you get to the point where credibility [of the complainant] is effectively annihilated’. Wallington therefore allowed a wide margin of credibility to the charges. That wide margin of credibility was evident when the public got to know the detail of the five charges that went to court (see Police interview shows accusations nutty and impossible). Wallington commented about those she dismissed:
The Age newspaper, which has been in the forefront of the unrelenting and unmerciful media attacks on Cardinal Pell, posted excerpts from the police interview with the Cardinal on youtube (see below) detailing the charges for which he was convicted last December. I offer an analysis of the complainant’s claims.
We first see the Cardinal listening attentively to the police interviewer as he reads an account of the boys’ action that led to the alleged abuse. The boys found their way to the sacristy at the back of St Patrick’s Cathedral. The Cardinal interrupts to ask which sacristy the interviewer is talking about, that is, in which sacristy the boys found the altar wine, the Archbishop’s sacristy or the priest’s sacristy. The Cardinal now wears a sceptical expression. The interviewer is stumped for a moment. He obviously doesn’t know there was more than one sacristy. The interviewer says it was presumably the Archbishop’s sacristy where Pell at the time would have vested and unvested. This is the first howler. The Cardinal says no wine is kept in the Archbishops’s sacristy.
George Cardinal Pell was charged last week with multiple counts of sexual abuse of children. He currently resides in Rome, tasked with cleaning up the Vatican finances. In the coming weeks he will fly to his native Australia, where he vows to fight all charges. His successor in the see of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, advises letting the justice system take its course.
Australian civil authorities have yet to announce the number and nature of the offenses with which Pell is charged. But allegations against Pell have been accumulating for years. He stands publicly accused of complicity in a sex abuse coverup in the diocese of Ballarat in the 1970s and early 1980s; complicity in a sex abuse coverup in the archdiocese of Melbourne in the late 1980s and 1990s; and various counts of child molestation, assault, and indecent exposure, from 1961 through 1997.
Milligan does not attempt to conceal her hostility to the Catholic Church. She recalls her Catholic girlhood with a shudder. When she can, she quotes her sources disclaiming any vendetta against the Church. But she is equally happy to quote a source, for instance, who recalls that his mother “took her shoe off and hit me in the face about six or seven times and said I was dirty”—in accordance, he says, with the “Catholic system.” Whenever she can, Milligan associates Catholicism with the victimization of children.
Gerard Henderson in his Media Watch Dog No. 365, 16 June 2017 commented on two reviews of Louise Milligan’s ‘book’ CARDINAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF GEORGE PELL. It is curious that I have not being able to find Peter Craven’s critical review in the Fairfax media on the internet.
Media Watch Dog No. 365, 16 June 2017 IN WHICH PETER CRAVEN (FAIRFAX MEDIA) & GERARD WINDSOR (THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN) AGREE THAT LOUISE MILLIGAN’S BOOK CARDINAL IS A PERSONAL “ATTACK” MOTIVATED BY “ANIMUS”
According to MUP chief executive Louise Adler, Louise Milligan’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Pell (MUP, 2017) is a work of “forensic and meticulous research” and an “important contribution to the community’s understanding of the Catholic Church’s response to child abuse”.
According to ABC editorial director Alan Sunderland, the public broadcaster stands by the reporting of Cardinal George Pell by Louise Milligan – one of the ABC’s star investigative reporters – on the 7.30 program on 27 July 2016. Much of the material in the 7.30 program appears in Cardinal.
This is the letter,
published in The Australian on 24 May 2017, by former senior
Victorian Crown prosecutor Geoffrey Horgan SC:
No fair trial for Pell
I write of concerns
expressed by organisations and individuals as to whether Cardinal Pell, should
he be charged, could receive a fair trial in Victoria (“Pell publicity an abuse
of process, warns Pearson”, 20/5).
I was a crown prosecutor in
Victoria for nearly 20 years until my retirement a few years ago. I prosecuted
many high profile cases.
Never have I seen such
vituperation and opprobrium directed against anyone as I have seen in the press
directed against Cardinal Pell over many months, if not years. While criminal
lawyers would always say that no person can be untrialable, it seems to me that
there is no chance Cardinal Pell could ever receive a
fair trial, so poisoned has the public’s mind been.
That result is tragic both
for the Cardinal and his accusers.
George Weigel Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center has followed up his previous condemnation of Cardinal Pell with the following bringing into question Australia’s system of justice.
Has it occurred to anyone else debating the perverse verdict rendered against Cardinal George Pell, which convicted him of “historic sexual abuse,” that the cardinal did not have to return to his native Australia to face trial? As a member of the College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church and a Vatican official, Pell holds a Vatican diplomatic passport and citizenship of Vatican City State. Were he guilty, he could have stayed put in the extraterritorial safety of the Vatican enclave, untouchable by the Australian authorities. But because Cardinal Pell knows he is innocent, he was determined to go home to defend his honor—and, in a broader sense, to defend his decades of work rebuilding the Catholic Church in Australia, the living parts of which owe a great deal to his leadership and courage.
Cardinal Pell and I have been friends for over fifty years, and in the past two and a half decades of that friendship I have been appalled at the calumnies to which he has been subjected, in both the hyper-secularist Australian media and in Church circles determined to hang on to their dreams of post–Vatican II revolution.
Jailed Cdl. Pell is victim of anti-Catholic witch hunt, critics maintain
MELBOURNE, Australia, February 28, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A number of commentators have denounced Cardinal George Pell’s prosecution and conviction of sexual assault as an anti-Catholic witch hunt instigated by media and police.
Pell was taken to a maximum security prison Wednesday and will be held there under protective custody until his March 13 sentencing on five convictions of sexually abusing minors, reported the Guardian.
The 77-year-old prelate was found guilty by a jury in December of sexual abusing two 13-year-old choir boys some 22 years ago, and could face up to 50 years in jail. His lawyers have filed an appeal they will pursue once Pell is sentenced.