Witch hunts are not ‘justice’

Dana Pham

Getty Images

Dana Pham

22 January 2023

7:00 AM

I knew it! And if we were all honest with ourselves, we knew it.

There is an uncomfortable reason why many social media users chose not to say ‘Vale, Cardinal Pell’. But about me first…

Up until the start of the first national lockdowns in Australia, deep down in my heart I knew all along that the High Court of Australia would quash his conviction. Disclosure – I’m Anglo-Catholic, but bias with good cause for said bias is indeed, good bias.

Also disclosure, I failed on the cardinal (no pun intended) virtue of fortitude: I kept my mouth shut during the miscarriage of justice against Cardinal Pell for fear of being accused of being a ‘paedo sympathiser’ (to be clear, I hate paedophiles). I regret (conveniently) my cowardice on this matter.

Admittedly, I disliked Cardinal Pell’s theology and social views at one point – I was a lapsed Catholic. But just because one doesn’t like someone, or one dislikes their views, doesn’t mean they deserve to be convicted on evidence that many observers felt failed to meet the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ threshold.

That said, it was nice to finally see the criminal justice system at work, instead of the ‘social justice’ system. In the English-speaking world criminal courts of appeal don’t ask whether an applicant committed the offences. Rather, they ask, inter alia, was it open to a jury to convict given the evidence (reasonable doubt, anyone?).

The eventual overturning of the Pell conviction was not a slap in the face for victims of sexual abuse. Rather, it was a recognition that there was a failure in the system. The need for justice shouldn’t be appeased by punishing the wrong person just because he’s a member of the class of people many would love to punish.

I’ve seen sexual assault trials thrown out of court on stronger evidence than what Pell was originally convicted on. Some criminal convictions turn out to be a miscarriage of justice. The High Court’s finding here were an indictment against jury trials in contemporary times, especially for high-profile cases. And I’m not just saying this because of some of the unhinged meltdowns from those who were angry that Cardinal Pell got off without reading the judgment or understanding the well-founded reasoning of the High Court.

There were too many people, including some media commentators, who blindly wanted Pell to be found guilty. Instead, he became the victim of a witch hunt. Some say that human tribalism is natural and that we’re all wired to try and make events fit into ‘grand narratives’ in a way that validates them. Even if we can’t always be certain about what actually happened.

On that note, the ‘priests are paedos’ trope carries a lot of currency amongst people angered by church child sex abuse scandals. All child sexual abuse crimes are abhorrent, yet the evidence shows that a child is at the same (or more) risk of being abused within a secular organisation, like a public school or youth group, as a religious one. Predators seek out positions of influence and trust regardless of whether they’re religious in nature or not.

Similarly, there’s a tendency in some religious groups to view allegations of abuse as being an attack on the faith and Church as a whole rather than aimed at a possible abuser. This kind of attitude is partly why the Church worldwide, including that under Pell, handled some historical complaints of abuse in Catholic institutions very poorly. That many abusers were simply moved on to other parishes is something they should rightly hold their heads in shame for. But neither polarised attitudes, however passionate, serves the interests of truth or justice.

Vale Cardinal Pell, whether some like it or not.

Dana Pham is a Catholic liberal arts student at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: