Christopher Akehurst, Quadrant, 11 February 2020
The new legal year began this month with various ceremonies, among them the traditional celebration of a “Red Mass” in the Roman Catholic cathedrals of the state capitals. In Melbourne, the judges and lawyers who attended St Patrick’s must have pondered the strange combination of circumstances that have made that imposing Gothic building the alleged locus delicti of Australia’s most publicised and divisive legal case in living memory; and have seen Cardinal George Pell, the prelate whose archiepiscopal seat the cathedral once was, convicted for child sexual abuse – offences committed, it is said, in a sacristy just across the transept from the assembled jurists participating in the Mass.
The Pell case is one of those indicators, like climate change, of where one stands politically. The Left is pretty much anti-Pell en bloc, not so much for any privileged access to evidence, but because he is a conservative, someone who can therefore do no good – just like President Trump, who even if he could somehow fulfil the leftist dream and abolish “global warming” overnight would get no thanks for it. Those who have publicly stated their belief in Pell’s innocence tend to be conservative (Pell’s two most eloquent champions have been Keith Windschuttle, Editor-in-Chief of Quadrant, who has dissected the evidence with a forensic skill unusual even in the highest levels of the legal profession, and columnist Andrew Bolt) but they believe him not because of shared political or other views but because conservative thinking requires good reasons for its conclusions and is not swayed by shallow emotionalism and the shouts of the mob, and the evidence adduced against Pell is about as far from conclusive as any evidence accepted by an Australian court could ever have been.
On March 11, the full bench of the High Court will come together to hear the long awaited appeal by Pell, former Archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, then cardinal in charge of reforming (i.e. cleaning up) the finances of the Vatican, now prisoner no. CRN 218978 at Barwon, Victoria. When it does, the hearing will push whatever is obsessing the media at the time – coronavirus, the horrors of a Trump re-election, the collapse of the British economy after Brexit (that’ll be the wishfully thought-up fake news from the Nine media and the Guardian) off front pages round the world.