Were Archbishop Costelloe’s comments on Cardinal Pell unjust?

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Rocco Loiacono

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Rocco Loiacono

12 January 2023

6:00 AM

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe is the Catholic Archbishop of Perth. He is also President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. On the morning of January 11, following the death of Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop Costelloe gave an interview to Gary Adshead on Perth radio station 6PR. Here is the link to the program podcast.

Archbishop Costelloe’s interview, which follows that of Andrew Bolt, commences at 15:42 of the podcast. I wish to draw to readers’ attention to a couple of comments.

At around 21:40, Archbishop Costelloe states that we should be sensitive to those who have suffered at the hands of the Church, since Cardinal Pell’s death will ‘bring it all back for them’ and a ‘frenzy’ must be avoided.

He also makes some other comments that when the Cardinal was charged he had to ‘step back’ and ‘believe totally in the judicial process’.

Before I go on, two things must be said. First, I am not in any way denying child sexual abuse is one of the most horrible of crimes. Each recount by survivors makes me sick to the stomach and their quest for justice and healing (the importance of the role of Confession in this regard I have discussed in another forum, for anyone who is interested), is nothing short of admirable. Secondly, the Catholic Church has acknowledged the grave errors of the past in dealing with child sexual abuse that caused so much harm to so many innocent people. However, over the last 20 or more years, the Church has actively reached out to survivors, offering them support, as well as putting in place policies and practices to provide the safest environment possible for children. Cardinal Pell, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s, was the first in Australia to enact a comprehensive redress program for survivors of abuse at the hands of the clergy (known as the Melbourne Response) that has been replicated across Australia and the world, and not just by the Catholic Church.

That being said, Archbishop Costelloe seemed to forget that it was Cardinal Pell who implemented the Melbourne Response. Worse, he ignored the fact that Cardinal Pell spent 405 days in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Let’s not forget he was released from jail on April 7, 2020 after the High Court, by a 7-0 margin, quashed the five convictions, which were made, originally, on the testimony of a single complainant.

Archbishop Costelloe also seemed to have forgotten in the interview that Cardinal Pell had no ‘victims’, only complainants. His comments were in the same language and at the same low level that many who pursued Cardinal Pell relentlessly (yes, that was worse than a frenzy) made on Twitter following the Cardinal’s death.

‘George Pell is dead. This will be a very triggering day for a lot of people. Thinking of them,’ Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan, tweeted.

‘Thinking of the victims and their families who were treated so appallingly by this man and his lieutenants over many decades’, wrote Suzie Smith.

News.com.au contributor Nina Funnell said her thoughts were also with survivors of abuse at the hands of the Church.

‘Today I remember every victim and survivor of child sexual abuse who was harmed by him & every paedophile he covered for,’ she tweeted.

‘Today I remember all those victims who are no longer with us. And I stand with all those survivors who still are.’

Maybe Archbishop Costelloe needs to refresh his memory about this terrible chapter in Australian judicial history, and what better place to do that than Cardinal Pell’s Prison Journal, the first volume of which was published at the end of 2020.

As Goerge Weigel wrote in the introduction to that volume, close students of Pell v The Queen (to this end, readers will find Keith Windschuttle and Gerard Henderson’s works on the matter very informative, if they have not consulted them already) knew that the case ought never have been brought to trial. The police investigation leading to allegations against the Cardinal was a sleazy trolling expedition. Remember that Victoria Police held a press conference in which they called on people to come forward to make allegations against Cardinal Pell?

The magistrate at the committal hearing was under intense pressure to bring to trial charges that were weak, and at the trial, Crown prosecutors produced no evidence that the alleged crime had ever been committed, basing their evidence, as I noted above, on the testimony of one complainant, testimony that was shown to be inconsistent and deeply flawed. There was no corroborating evidence at all in this regard, however, several witnesses, including the then Archbishop of Melbourne’s Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, insisted under oath and during cross-examination that it was impossible for the events to have unfolded as the complainant alleged. Fr Frank Brennan, a Jesuit and a lawyer, but in no way aligned with Cardinal Pell on theological matters, wrote consistently of the sheer impossibility of what was alleged to have happened actually happened. Fr Brennan attended each day of the trial and subsequent appeals.

Justice Mark Weinberg, in his dissenting Court of Appeal judgment, wrote tellingly of the reasoning of the majority in overturning the fundamental principle of beyond reasonable doubt, since it was based purely on sentimentality in making a complainant’s credibility the decisive factor – all that counted now was that a complainant was sincere in making allegations. This judgment was decisive in the High Court overturning Cardinal Pell’s conviction.

Cardinal Pell could have stayed in Rome to avoid extradition, but he chose to return to Australia to face the mob baying for his blood, but most importantly, to prove his innocence. He took his stand, as Wiegel wrote, on the truth, confident that the truth is liberating in the deepest meaning of human freedom.

Archbishop Costelloe’s comments were weak, unjust, and, given his role as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, disgraceful. Cardinal Pell has already suffered the frenzied judicial and media persecution/assassination despite him being an innocent man.

If Archbishop Costelloe cannot understand this, he should resign his position as President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Dr Rocco Loiacono is a legal academic, writer and translator

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Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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