ABC’s Louise Milligan writes politics like a novelist

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

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.

As MWD readers are aware, ABC journalist Louise Milligan has gone into “No Comment” mode and refuses to answer any questions concerning her book Cardinal (see the Documentation segment today).  Instead, Ms Milligan and the ABC have sought protection from Louise Adler at MUP. This despite the fact that large parts of Cardinal were researched by Louise Milligan during ABC time and the author used her ABC email account when writing the book.

Originally Cardinal was scheduled for release on 1 July 2017.  However, the publication date was brought forward to May. This was convenient for an author unwilling to defend her work.  It meant that none of the interviewers who discussed Cardinal with Ms Milligan around publication day had time to read the book in full. Some showed no evidence of having read any part of Cardinal.

On account of the premature release of Cardinal, reviews were published sometime after the book was published.  Unlike many of the ABC presenters who gave soft interviews to their work colleague, the reviewers had time to read and analyse the Cardinal.  Here’s what they had to say last Saturday.


Peter Craven’s review in The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times (10 June 2017) was titled “Leading the case for the prosecution”. Peter Craven is not a Catholic in the Pell tradition but he was brought up a Catholic and understands church history and theology.

From the beginning of his review, Peter Craven makes clear that – contrary to Louise Adler’s assertion – Cardinal is not a product of forensic and meticulous research, but rather of animus.  He writes:

 A lot of people are gunning for George Pell, and Louise Milligan is chief among those who would have him shot. Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell – its publication brought forward by eight weeks – is a 384-page attempt at a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cardinal does not depict the fall of George Pell though Milligan seems to think it is devoutly to be wished.

She begins with a portrait of “The Kid”, who is the source of a new complaint, one which, if upheld, would destroy the cardinal. “The Kid… [has] PTSD eyes… the look of a dog which has been left alone for weeks in a yard which has been concreted over. The PTSD are quick to tears.”

The fictionalising technique and the heightened colour are characteristic of this book that follows in the wake of the accusation that Milligan sensationally put to air on the ABC’s 7:30 in 2016 but climaxes with the new details of The Kid’s story which we have to wait until the end to have revealed.

Peter Craven comments that Louise Milligan “does not give the impression of being well versed in either questions of theology or law”.  He could have added that Cardinal is also weak on history.  Craven maintains that “Milligan, with the fervour of a lapsed Jansenist leaves no stone unturned in her attempt to implicate Pell”. (For those not well versed in church history, Jansenism was a movement of primarily French Catholics which was highly conscious of Original Sin and sin resulting from a weakness of the flesh).

As to Louise Milligan’s assertion about George Pell’s alleged crimes, Peter Craven makes the unfashionable – but accurate – assessment:

On questions of personal abuse she is relentless. She rehearses in vast detail the accusations of people who allege that as a young priest at a swimming pool in Ballarat, as he hurled boys over his shoulder to their delight, he was in fact touching them intimately. She is utterly undeterred by the fact that some quantity of these people, damaged by other ghastly abuse, went on to lives of addiction and domestic violence.

Yes, she’s right that this doesn’t necessarily discredit their testimony but nor does it do much to authenticate it. Frank Costigan QC said to Geoffrey Robertson once on one of his Hypotheticals that he would not challenge someone because he was “one of life’s unfortunates” but he would if he thought his testimony was coloured by drugs.

And Pell does seem to have been an abiding phantom of predation for a lot of people simply because he’s taken to be the embodiment of the arrogance of the Church, a role his self-confessed “wooden” manner suits him for all too well.

The reiterated story of him not rushing to get dressed in a hurry after he’d been surfing with some boys at Torquay, to the puritanical appal of some chap running the club, is absurd. If so, so what?

Then there is the final charge concerning The Kid. Two boys with scholarships to St Kevin’s required to sing in the St Patrick’s cathedral choir in return. Pell, the Archbishop of Melbourne who has already initiated the Melbourne Response [to handle clerical child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Melbourne] and is destined for the red cap, for Sydney and the Vatican, is supposed to have caught them in a forbidden room in the cathedral and insisted on oral sex.

If the charge were true, this supreme politician for the Lord, the man who awed the media with the words, “I’m here to object to ‘Piss Christ’,” and who has raged like a wildfire at Vatican financial corruption, would be a madman as well as a criminal. The other boy is now dead (tragically, of an overdose); none of the other choirboys back up the claim.

Peter Craven’s criticism of Cardinal goes to Louise Milligan’s role as a hyperbolic and flowery writer. Here is his conclusion:

Louise Milligan’s Cardinal also has plenty of inaccuracies ranging from St Kevin’s uniforms to clerical titles. She is the diametrical opposite of Helen Garner in her famous trial books: instead of presenting herself as an unreliable narrator – full of doubts and flaws – she is a writer of flaming convictions and sensationalist prose who backs her intuitions in the face of any notion of evidence or scruple. The upshot is a racketing case for the prosecution. One can only hope to God that in the present climate people will be capable of realising this is a case being mounted for a witch trial.


In the introduction to his review of Cardinal in The Weekend Australian (10-11 June 2017), Gerard Windsor writes that he is “a practising, albeit sinful, Catholic” – and adds that he has “crossed swords in print with George Pell”.

In short, Gerard Windsor is a long-term critic of Cardinal Pell. This is clear in his review.

For example, Windsor states that “a large number of boys have claimed that Pell groped them regularly in the Eureka Pool” in the late 1970s and “that he had a habit of standing naked in the dressing shed for a long time while he talked to them”.

This statement is inaccurate.  Louise Milligan cites three boys who as men claimed that (Fr) George Pell touched them improperly in the middle of the Eureka Pool some four decades ago. This is a long way short of “a large number”.

Also, a “large number of boys” have not claimed that Pell had “a habit of standing naked in the dressing room shed for a long time”.  This is essentially a charge of one adult man who claimed that he saw Pell on one occasion standing naked in a dressing room in Torquay some three decades ago.  In Fairfax Media, he identified George Pell as being the “local priest” at the time.  George Pell was never a local priest in Torquay.  This contradiction is rationalised away in Cardinal – despite the fact that it raises the issue of mistaken identity.

Gerard Windsor also accepts Louise Milligan’s claim that George Pell, when Archbishop of Melbourne, was not the first member of the Hierarchy to address the issue of clerical child sexual abuse when he set up the Melbourne Response in 1996 – three months after he took over the job from Archbishop Frank Little.

In Cardinal, Milligan argues separately that (i) George Pell was not the first member of the Catholic Hierarchy to act against clerical child sexual abuse and (ii) that he broke ranks by introducing the Melbourne Response in 1996 before the other archdioceses and all the dioceses in Australia set up Towards Healing in late 1997.  Milligan and Windsor can’t have it both ways.  The fact is that Pell moved first because his fellow bishops were too slow to act.

In spite of the fact that Gerard Windsor is sympathetic towards Louise Milligan, even he has to concede that her work is biased.  As Windsor puts it:

“virtually all” Louise Milligan’s “witnesses are for the prosecution”.

the book Cardinal is an “attack” and

in “the second half” of Cardinal, the author’s “animus against Pell starts to show”.

While conceding that he has no idea of the accuracy of the case against Cardinal Pell, Gerard Windsor does query the claims of Milligan’s witnesses for the prosecution:

The jury, as they say, is still out on all these accusations. Individual stories have their puzzling, even questionable elements. Two boys at the same time in a room in his own cathedral? How easily does one ‘‘walk past the open door of the presbytery’’ and see ‘‘the aftermath of a rape’’? If you’re throwing boys into the air in a pool, is it easy to make sure your hands touch only non-private parts of their bodies?

Gerard Windsor’s position is that Cardinal Pell “has no future at all” as a “Catholic leader, arbiter and model” – in view of the “damning character vivisection” of him as a public figure.  Here Windsor seems to be saying that Pell has been found guilty on the basis of public opinion.  However, the strength of this review is that one of Pell’s vehement opponents concedes that Louise Milligan is part of the anti-Pell attacks.


The critique of Cardinal by both Peter Craven and Gerard Windsor demolishes the position of Louise Adler at MUP and Alan Sunderland at the ABC that Louise Milligan’s work is objective.  The problem is that Ms Milligan’s animus towards the Cardinal is so great that she is incapable of writing an objective account of either George Pell or the crisis of historical child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

Yet much of Louise Milligan’s time in researching her biased book Cardinal   was paid for by the Australian taxpayer.