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Cardinal Pell Charged by Police: Is a Fair Trial Possible?

July 1, 2017

Cardinal Pell Charged by Police: Is a Fair Trial Possible?

Cardinal George Pell speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra in October  2007, on the subject of World Youth Day.

A Brief History of Pell

Long before the Victorian State Police charged Cardinal Pell on summons it had been leaking stories for a number of years.  Charges did not appear when the police started dropping hints to a media that contained voices that more than happy run with the stories.

Even before the media attention erupted over the pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church the primary focus of all attention and derision has been George Pell.  After being promoted to the position of Arch Bishop of Melbourne a number of LGBT activists lined up wearing rainbow sashes to receive communion from what was then Arch Bishop Pell. Communion was refused for obvious reason and as a result, a storm of editorial and media condemnation followed.  This was just an introduction to Pell’s the public condemnation that would receive for the rest of his career.

When the scandal of sexual child abuse became a major media issue the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennet met with Arch Bishop Pell to fix what was happening.  The Melbourne Response to Child Abuse was drawn up under Pell’s  orders to provide a permanent solution what had been allowed to grow unchecked under his predecessor.  As far as his hostile critics in the media were concerned this just a cynical attempt at a cover up.  This is despite that fact that the Melbourne Solution was the first such program in Australia and became the model for other programs that have been successfully implemented around the world.

Despite his success in tackling the scandal head on Arch Bishop Pell found that was subjected to his own strict guideline when a complaint of sexual abuse was lodged against him.  As a result stood down from his official duties as the matter was investigated.  How did the mainstream media handle this?  Some were salivating with anticipation that their ideological enemy was about to be taken down in a grubby sex scandal.  Many of his detractors presumed his guilt whilst they ignored evidence and the right to a fair trial.  George Pell had been accused so he must be punished and humiliated publically.  The only problem with such a thorough trail by is that the accusations turned out to be false and Arch Bishop Pell was completely exonerated of all charges.  All evidence about the crime hinged on Pell being at a particular place at a particular time and when he was able to produce records that proved he was elsewhere the case fell apart.

There was no media apology for Pell.  Those that so ruthlessly prosecuted his case through editorial and speculation about his career being dead would never be convinced that he did not deserve punishment.  In this case, Pell’s worst crime was not just being innocent of sexual abuse but he was guilty of making a fool of those who were hoping he was finished.

Some years after this episode Arch Bishop Pell was promoted by the Vatican to the rank of Cardinal.  Controversy continued to dog his life.  Some in the press such Fairfax columnist Barney Zwartz was forced to give public apologies when he falsely claimed that that Cardinal George Pell is “tainted by sex abuse scandals” and “long dogged” by allegations of sexual abuse against him.  Author Dr. Paul Collins was also forced to apologize when it was revealed that he was the source of Barney’s editorial.  In 2013 Lawyer, columnist and television personality David Marr produced a hatched job in a quarterly essay titled ‘The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell.  In the case of Barney Zwartz, he is from a Protestant denomination and is a persistent critic of Catholicism in general and the Cardinal in particular.  Paul Collins is an ex-Catholic priest who is ideologically opposed to many Orthodox practices and beliefs of the church. David Marr is an unhinged left-wing atheist gay-rights activist who has been hostile to George Pell for decades.  Such people cannot be convinced that anything the Cardinal does or says is anything but evil. This is just the tip of the ‘Hate Pell’ brigade in the media.

None of these critics are unique in the Australian Media Landscape. The National Broadcaster ABC and Fairfax News are bursting at the seems with hit pieces on the George Pell.  When he was called to appear before the Australian Royal Commission to Institutional Sexual Abuse he was derided by media and politicians alike for being too ill to travel.  JJJ FM Radio (a branch of the ABC) and a TEN Television news program both aired in full a derogatory song by a washed up comedian Tim Minchin that called Cardinal Pell ‘scum’ and the line “Go home Cardinal Pell, I’ve got a nice spot in hell, with your name on it, so I suggest you toughen up and go”.  Federal Opposition leader of the Australian Labor Party, Bill Shorten said at the time,  “… he should be back and co-operate with the royal commission.”  The cardinal had already offered to appear via video link as he done so in the past.  Pell did appear before a special televised sitting of the Royal Commission in Rome and was grilled relentlessly over 4 days.  After his testimony, his critics had not much to say.  There was no great reveal, not damning evidence and Cardinal Pell was welcomed but the alleged victims of abuse to speak with them afterward.  In other words, those who were hoping for the head of the Cardinal were left disappointed and embarrassed by their enthusiasm.

More recently an ABC journalist Louise Milligan has published a book titled “Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell“.  The book has been criticized from several sources as being little more than a polemic against Cardinal Pell replete with questionable sources, unsubstantiated accusations, and errors.  Media Watch Dog columnist, Gerard Henderson, has tried to contact the Milligan to explain the lack of evidence in her book.  So far the author has refused and instead chosen to do soft interviews with her co-employees at the ABC Broadcast Network. With charges being brought against Cardinal Pell by the Victorian Police Louise Milligan’s publisher, Melbourne University Press has withdrawn her book from sale.  Strangely, the book is still for sale online via Amazon.

With serious charges against Cardinal Pell pending before the court, the Director of Public P{rocecution has issued a warning to the media against irresponsible reporting and comment.

The DDP John R Champion S.C is being careful to ensure that media partisan report does not lead to an unfair trial.

Just one day later Barney Zwartz, pens an attack piece on Cardinal Pell titled: Cardinal George Pell: Charges of historical sex offences will define Vatican official’s legacy. In this editorial, Barney opines that Pell is “man who authored his own tragedy”.  That one Pell’s “failures of empathy and compassion, his inability to look victims of abuse in the eye.” Regarding the Police,  he claims: “in the end, their (the Police) decision must have been based on their assessment of the probability of conviction.”  You get the image that Barney just cannot wait for a guilty verdict to handed down.

In many ways the charges against Cardinal Pell are unique and damaging.  Even if he is acquitted, no one knows how the damage to his reputation and position will be.  If found guilty…? This is an unprecedented situation that will have long lasting ramifications beyond just Cardinal Pell himself. In returning to the question that I asked in the title

Editorial Comment:

The case is yet to be heard in a court of law and thus prejudging the verdict is not just inappropriate but a miscarriage of justice.  The best outcome is for a fair and decisive verdict.  Expecting a sensation-hungry media to comply with the DPP’s wishes may be too much.

No comments on the article please. For obvious reasons.

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