In a long interview with Sky News after Cardinal Pell’s acquittal by the High Court, Father Frank Brennan SJ, who had always expressed scepticism about the original verdict, went over the reasons for the paramount decision. But right at the end, he added:
And let’s, above all, spare our thoughts for Mister J. He gave a very moving statement there yesterday about getting on with his life, but knowing that there are dark periods …
Brennan also spoke of the great psychological burden heaped on J by the incompetence of the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions in pursuing a case so ludicrously improbable it should never have been investigated in the first place. This was a convenient, if unsupportable, way of maintaining the socially mandated “believe the victim” stance whilst simultaneously finding third parties to blame for the fiasco. Brennan wasn’t alone in giving J a pass. Chris Kenny made similar comments, while the ABC reported that Melbourne’s Archbishop Comensoli said he was “relieved” that the legal system had finally acquitted Cardinal Pell but added, “But at the same time, my heart went out to J and his family.”
Nor was he alone. Archbishop Mark Coleridge issued a statement on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. It included:
Today’s outcome will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the Cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process. We also recognise that the High Court’s decision will be devastating for others.
Many have suffered greatly through the process …
Archbishop Coleridge finds many who have suffered as a result of the first trial, the second trial, the first appeal and the final appeal. I also find many who suffered, but the one who suffered most of all was Cardinal George Pell.
The bishops and Father Brennan were not alone in praising J for his “moving statement”. Clearly, that statement needs to be interpreted for the innocent of heart and the naive. Here it is, with my comments exploring the subtext.
I respect the decision of the High Court. I accept the outcome.
Because it can’t be taken any further.
I understand their view that there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court beyond all reasonable doubt that the offending occurred. I understand that the High Court is saying that the prosecution did not make out the case to the required standards of proof.
Pell did it, but they just couldn’t nail him.
It is difficult in child sexual abuse matters to satisfy a criminal court that the offending has occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is a very high standard to meet—a heavy burden. I understand why criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.
Marvel at J as he defends the criminal justice system that ultimately let him down. The courts must be free to make mistakes, he says, even if a guilty man gets off. Admire him for acknowledging as much, even to his detriment.
No one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due and proper process. This is a basic civil liberty. But the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.
The selflessness is being laid on with a trowel.
That’s why it remains important that everyone who can report to the police does so. I would hate to think that one outcome of this case is that people are discouraged from reporting to the police.
Think of the poor lawyers missing out on all that work and their cut of the settlements.
I would like to reassure child sexual abuse survivors that most people recognise the truth when they hear it.
Unfortunately for J, the High Court, not being “most people”, recognises falsehoods and impossibilities.
They know the truth when they look it in the face. I am content with that …
And so J’s statement goes on (and on and on).
The simple reality is that the anonymous J made up the story about Cardinal Pell. That he is a liar can be said now, thanks to the High Court, but this recognition of a fabulist has been strangely missing from all of the public commentary I have read. J’s first statement, after Pell’s original conviction, and second, after the failure of his appeal in Victoria, as well as this most recent one, must all be read with Cardinal Pell’s innocence in mind. In that light they can be seen as masterpieces of deceit and misdirection.
Witness J’s lawyer is Vivian Waller. According to her bio at Waller Legal (motto: “In pursuit of justice”), Waller has a PhD from Melbourne in “civil claims for compensation for childhood sexual assault”.
J’s second statement has this:
I have not instructed any solicitor in relation to a claim for compensation. This is not about money and never has been.
Well, given J’s proclaimed integrity, we can cross that motive off the list. I guess it is just one of those mysteries. Yet despite insistence that money was never a motivation, there are conclusions we can reach, and then there are unnecessary speculations that are gross overreach. Father Brennan’s comments, cited above, continue:
… and my regret is, those dark periods—sure, in the first instance they came because of some dreadful priest who abused him out in the suburbs or whatever, and I’m a Catholic priest, and I have to bear some responsibility for that.
Who is this priest, as anonymous as J himself? He is conjured into existence in another attempt to reconcile the innocence of Cardinal Pell with the ineluctable necessity to “believe the victim”. J cannot be believed in respect of Cardinal Pell, so “some dreadful priest” is invented. It is reasonable to assume that, if this suburban monster actually existed, J would have identified him, would he not? J was, after all, so very definite about the circumstances of the Cardinal’s purported predation, including the location, the timing (with the help of a little Victoria Police coaching), the robes of the archbishop (more or less), and so forth.
J’s paean to his deceased mate was even more expansive in his second statement, after the dismissal of the Victorian appeal.
After attending the funeral of my childhood friend, the other choirboy, I felt a responsibility to come forward. I knew he had been in a dark place. I was in a dark place. I gave a statement to the police because I was thinking of him and his family.
The idea of going to the police came to J, not during the inevitable long decline of his heroin-addicted friend, when a valid complaint might have been helpful, but at the friend’s funeral. Imagine that! Dead men tell no tales, but they can be recruited into a lie with no risk of being tripped up by differences in the telling and the whole thing coming apart under cross-examination. To do such a thing—drawing a dead friend into an edifice of perjury—could only be the action of a man devoid of any concern for the suffering of others, especially for the dead man’s family, whose sense of outrage could be readily manipulated. And most especially of the man enmeshed in that web of lies, with his career, financial security and reputation in ruins.
J lied. He maintained those lies, and he retailed those lies under oath with vigour and conviction. This is not some rare phenomenon. We all have encountered and will encounter talented liars and been taken in by them. But now that the truth about the allegations has been laid bare by the High Court, there is no excuse for continuing to excuse J, if for no other reason than that by doing so Cardinal Pell is implicitly, in the eyes of those lacking Father Brennan’s Jesuitical sophistication, condemned as a paedophile who has escaped justice.
There has been one outstanding victim in all of this: Cardinal Pell. Meanwhile, having tied up the courts for years and wrought chaos across the social and religious landscape of Australia, J continues to hide behind the suppression of his identity; to hide behind his lawyer; to hide behind his family. Come on out, J. Break cover. Show yourself. Let your millions of fans get to know you, know the things you’ve done, the people with whom you’ve interacted.
Cardinal Pell had a place to hide but chose to return home from the Vatican, trusting, unwisely, to his day in court. Trusting, unwisely, in the Victorian Court of Appeal. Trusting, finally and triumphantly, in the High Court.
Now it’s your turn, J, if you are man enough to take it. Come out to your public. Maybe Tim Minchin will even write a song about it.
Peter West contributed “The Burden of Proof and the Pell Case” to the March issue.
Australians don’t drink Fosters, wear crocodile-tooth hats or hop around in a kangaroos’ pouch… but there are some stereotypes about Aussies that are true. From the laid-back larrikin attitude to the bone-dry sense of humour, this is what visitors to Australia love about the locals.
There’s no one that Aussies love more than the larrikin, the archetype of a good-hearted person who thumbs their nose at authority and isn’t afraid to bend the rules. Australia’s pre-eminent historian Manning Clark sums up the larrikin as someone who loves “mocking pomposity and smugness, taking the piss out of people, cutting down tall poppies… larger than life, sceptical, iconoclastic, egalitarian yet suffering fools badly, and, above all, defiant”. Or, put simply in the local parlance, a cheeky bugger – and there’s a liberal dash of that quality in every Aussie.
Not dopey, but simple. Nothing makes an Aussie happier than a barbecue with their family, a day at the beach with their mates, a beer at the cricket (preferably watching the Australian side rout the Poms in the Ashes) – simple pleasures rather than anything more extravagant. This distaste for pomp and privilege is probably that larrikin anti-authoritarian streak shining through again.
Australian people are diverse
To borrow a line from Australia’s de facto national anthem ‘I Am Australian’, we are one but we are many, and from all the lands on earth we come. And that’s not simply some twee lyric – the 2016 Census confirmed that Australia boasts a higher percentage of its population born overseas (26%) than New Zealand (23%), Canada (22%), the US (14%) and the UK (13%). The culture of Australia’s Indigenous people has thrived for millennia, and waves of immigrants from every corner of the globe – originally Britain and Ireland, then Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa – have produced one of the most successful multicultural societies on earth.https://www.youtube.com/embed/rjkrjYitgeA?feature=oembed
Australian people are tolerant
More than six million Australian residents were born overseas – from Nepal to the Netherlands and every patch of turf in between – and that diversity demands tolerance. Sure, Aussies aren’t perfect, but they have learned plenty from the generations of immigrants that have built such a successful multicultural nation. You also won’t find many countries with a more vibrant LGBTQIA+ scene than Australia – one of the most beloved national icons is a bloke in a dress and one of the country’s favourite films follows a group of drag queens on a road trip across the outback.
And the good genes don’t end there – the fact that Australians are capable of surviving on an island crawling with sharks, crocodiles, snakes, spiders, jellyfish, drop bears, and any number of other terrifying creatures that are itching to send them to an early grave is survival of the fittest stuff that Charles Darwin himself could’ve written a book on.
In the realm of travel-writing cliches, “friendly locals” is right up there with “hidden gem” and “off the beaten track” with the very most tired. But however worn out that phrase might be, when it comes to describing Australians, it’s utterly accurate. Aussies aren’t anywhere near as outgoing as, say, Americans, but are equally as approachable – start with a smile and a “G’day, mate” and you’re well on your way to a new friend.
Australian people are loyal
The concept of loyalty obviously isn’t unique to Australia but ‘mateship’ – an idiom based on the popular term of address ‘mate’, and a term that evokes a spirit of loyalty, equality and mutual support – is one of the country’s most deeply cherished values. So cherished, in fact, that the government defines the word in the official resources supplied to aspiring Australian citizens: “Australia has a strong tradition of mateship where people help and receive help from others voluntarily, especially in times of adversity… A mate can be a spouse, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son or a friend. A mate can also be a total stranger.”
At the Anglican service I attend each Sunday, my church currently draws only about only one-third the number of people as compared with pre-COVID times. Precautions are taken. There is ample space and pews are marked to ensure social distancing, procedures are in place (e.g., no pew-by-pew collection, ‘peace be with you’ via hand signals) to minimise the possibility of transmission, most people wear masks, hand sanitizer is available, the names of those attending are recorded, no singing is allowed by government edict, and the pews are wiped down with disinfectant after each service. Yet still they don’t come.
Why is that? The answer is clear. Such alarm has been created by governments, their public health gurus, and by most of the media that many people have a quite distorted and grossly exaggerated view of the virulence of the virus. You can do what you like to engender particular calm but it is trumped by general alarm.
Notice, even conservative commentators add weight to the alarm. So far as I can tell, only Alan Jones stands apart, with an honourable mention going to Andrew Bolt. Quarantining, social distancing, testing and contact tracing are all promoted. It’s got to be serious. Hasn’t it? Sure, they only go a small part of the way with Despot Dan. But they travel in the same misdirection.
There is no evidence that the virus can be stopped. The time pattern of death from COVID-19, so far as the figures can be relied upon, follows a similar pattern regardless of the extent of lockdowns, quarantining, social distancing, mask wearing, etc. There is a sharp upsurge as the virus does its work on those susceptible – the aged with co-morbidities – and then the death rate tails away once the virus meets up those with the ability to fight it off. The discovery rate of new infections, largely as a result of increased testing, is an irrelevancy; and more so, if testing, as is now suggested, picks up the remnants of past infections among those who are well.
For illustrative purposes this is a graph of deaths per million in the UK and Sweden, but a similar pattern applies across all Northern hemisphere countries.
Essentially, deaths are the only thing that count and they are now trivial in number. But not if you want to keep everyone alarmed. Reporting very few deaths simply doesn’t do the job. To be clear. It is essential to keep people alarmed. The costs and destruction have been too great to ever concede that we haven’t been under, and still face, an almost existential threat.
Time will eventually produce a kind of perspective. When we look back on this year in some years’ time it might be hard to distinguish any noticeable lift in the overall rate of death. Perhaps a short-lived blip. At the same time, the political machines will have been out in force concocting and giving currency to the storyline that a health disaster, at least on the scale of the Spanish flu, was averted only by wise governments applying tough medicine. And, with the media onboard, it will be a bagatelle.
And what of the factual perspective: This disease was very selective. It killed the old and ill who, on average, had only a little time left. And it left those not in this category alive and kicking. Yet, governments delivered the worst of worlds. Those in aged care bore the brunt of deaths. Those who were healthy and under no risk from the virus bore the brunt of being thrown out of work or of having their businesses destroyed.
The factual perspective will have few fans. Even Donald Trump, a true hero, single-handedly holding back the onslaught on our civilisation, is heavily invested in the storyline. Just listen to him. He is still saying that over two million Americans would have died without the lockdown. Sweden rather ruins the script, but who really cares about a few million Swedes in a land far away of which we know little. Show your support Donate Now
The Victorian government has devised a new solution to mental health problems. Using legislation under its “State of Emergency”, the police now arrest and fine persons suffering mental health problems who try to make any form of public outcry over their afflictions. The premier, Daniel Andrews, has set the fine at $1650 per incident. Keep trying to complain about your depression or mental illness, and the police will fine you again and again.
Victoria’s state capital, Melbourne, has for months been experiencing an unprecedented mental health crisis. The Lifeline service has handled more telephone calls per day than ever in its entire history. Suicides in Melbourne are at all-time peak levels. Other counselling services report a tsunami in callers afflicted by depression and related problems, while social media is awash with escalating incidents of domestic violence and self-harm.
This mental health crisis is the direct outcome of the Victorian government’s heavy-handed strategy to control COVID-19, the toughest in the Western world. But it seems to have caused more health problems than it is geared to prevent.
It is no exaggeration to say daily life is more tightly controlled in Melbourne than in Pyongyang. For months now, Melbourne residents have been in effective home detention, most businesses having been forcibly closed by government decree. Many will never reopen. Apart from the few still employed, residents are permitted to leave their home only for a single hour each day. As well, the entire metropolitan area has been under nightly curfew from 8.00pm to 5.00am (this was broadened a week back by an hour to 9.00pm to 5.00am). Any travel apart from that required by employment, is limited to 5 kilometres from home. Venturing beyond 5 kms incurs a $1650 fine, while those caught outside suburban Melbourne get $5000 fines.
When enjoying their single daily hour outdoors, Melburnians can only either shop or exercise, and there are more restrictions on how and where to do so. Most shops are shuttered, while certain parks and beaches are closed. Local authorities have taped off benches and public seating in shopping strips and parklands; and cameras have been installed in some parks to monitor people exercising. Uniformed police move on anyone who stops walking, sits down, or talks with others, threatening them with $1650 fines or arrest.
It is illegal to stop and talk with others in any public place, even if social distancing is being observed and masks worn. Talking with someone is classified as a “gathering” and also incurs a fine of $1650 or arrest. Even in North Korea people are permitted to talk to one another.
After nearly six months of this the Black Dog has truly settled in Melbourne. The government runs constant advertising in local media advising residents to seek assistance if they have mental health problems or depression, but the cause of the crisis is not lifted. Social media is most revealing, for there has been widespread talk there of making a noise publicly, expressing their hurt, and highlighting the soaring self-harm and suicide rates.
Three attempts to hold a demonstration have been made during the last month. Far from showing compassion, the Andrews government have treated all as instances of politically-motivated civil disobedience. Those who have been suffering, the victims of this government instigated mental health crisis, were treated roughly by uniformed police, arrested, and fined. Their anxious banners (slogans included “Open the Churches”, “We Bleed”, “Stop Suicides”) were confiscated and destroyed.
Watching Victoria’s premier at a recent press conference a memory suddenly sprang to mind. His blasé dismissal of protestors who were so clearly suffering echoed the demeanour of Madame Nhu, First Lady of South Vietnam during my youth, famous for saying “Power is wonderful, and total power is totally wonderful.” I found myself recalling Madame Nhu’s smiles when buddhist monks committed suicide by self-immolation, how she dismissively called these needless deaths “buddhist barbeques”.
I watch Melbourne each day and feel profoundly disturbed. Compassion is dead here. Life in this city has become a slow suicide.
Shortly after this essay was published, Premier Andrews ended his curfew and restored the right of anglers to drop a line, but only for two hours a day. Golfers, however, were not so blessed. For more, read on ….
Today, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews did another of his star turns before the Melbourne press corps, announcing that he would be granting his subjects a number of reprieves from the arbitrary, largely unexplained and all too often capricious rulings on what is and what isn’t permitted.
As of tomorrow, for instance, those who reside within 5km of a body water can do some angling, albeit for no more than two hours every day. Golfers, however, must continue to leave their clubs in the closet. Why? The Premier rabbited on about the danger of COVID-soaked crowds assembling on fairways, but the key indicator of his explanation’s worth and the speaker’s veracity was that his lips were moving.
And finally the hated curfew has been scuttled. Premier Andrew’s beneficence? No doubt he would wish his subjects to conclude as much, but like so much else in his disastrous handling of the COVID outbreak and subsequent efforts to unshoulder the blame for some 800 deaths, deviousness would seem once again to be afoot.
Tomorrow in the Supreme Court the documents and modelling detailing the rationale for the curfew — if indeed there was one — are to be revealed.
Not so long ago many might have dismissed it as the ravings of a man in the grip of terminal paranoia. Today, with Victoria’s economy in ruins and fines for defying Premier Andrews’ will now standing at $5000, being paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
In my book, The Great Koala Scam, I make the following observation. “Koalas are a rare species in healthy forests. Where they are plentiful, their numbers must inevitably crash, and fires will inevitably explode.”
In 2019, I gave evidence to this effect before a NSW parliamentary inquiry examining koala populations and their habitat, also providing photos of a young male koala in a chronically declining forest south of Eden, where the “experts” say koalas are extinct. I explained to the committee that they are actually irrupting in that area because the declining trees are constantly turning over soft young foliage that is highly nutritious and palatable to koalas. My photos illustrated heavy litter and lack of green vegetation — biodiversity, in other words — on the ground and a dense, tall shrub layer with suspended dry litter reaching into the thin tree canopy.
I explained that these explosive, three-dimensionally continuous fuels would feed unstoppable firestorms and ember showers when ignited during severe weather. This came to pass on New Year’s Eve and the nearby town of Mallacoota was devastated. The highway was closed for weeks, but after it reopened, I went back to the same spot and photographed exactly the same scene as before the holocaust. I provided ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs of the same stand of trees. The committee didn’t publish them in its report, released on June 30, which contained only this reference to my evidence:
His evidence was that grazing, burning and logging keeps forests healthy and thus, increases koala populations.
I suppose I should be grateful that no more of my evidence was misconstrued. The committee’s findings indicate that the mainstream parties – Red, Green and Blue — are of a single mind on environmental management. As a consequence koalas, and the very bush itself, face a grim future. However, as an irruptive species, the koala is in no danger of extinction.
As I told a reporter upon the 2017 publication of my peer-reviewed paper in the CSIRO journal Wildlife Research, “We don’t need to manage any individual species. We need to manage the bush properly. If we can restore healthy bush we will restore sustainable low-density koala populations. The idea that you can take a piece of relatively undisturbed bush and put a line around it and call it a national park and everything is sweet — it just doesn’t work.’’
Unfortunately, the committee was gulled by the usual suspects, most particularly those imbued with a dark green romanticism that subscribes to the view that the bush, left to its own devices, will “revert” to a pristine wilderness — a wilderness that has not existed since indigenous hands and fire sticks changed the landscape forever.
Below are the inquiry’s findings and my commentary on them:
Finding 1: That, following the 2019-2020 bushfires and the general trend of population decline, the current estimated number of 36,000 koalas in New South Wales is outdated and unreliable.
Koala experts, by their own admission, made up the numbers: “A quantitative, scientific method for deriving estimates of koala populations and trends was possible, in the absence of empirical data on abundances.”
Finding 2: That, given the scale of loss to koala populations across New South Wales as a result of the 2019-2020 bushfires and without urgent government intervention to protect habitat and address all other threats, the koala will become extinct in New South Wales before 2050.
The 2019-20 gigafires show that creating national parks does nothing to protect koala habitat. In fact it is quite the reverse. Frequent mild burning is needed to protect all habitats. Koalas are of the least concern because they are an irruptive species that bounces back quickly from high intensity fires. For example, populations irrupted within two decades of the 1977 wildfires in Sydney’s water catchments and the 1980 wildfires near Bega.
Finding 3: That logging in public native forests in New South Wales has had cumulative impacts on koalas over many years because it has reduced the maturity, size and availability of preferred feed and roost trees.
In 1991, scientific research on the north coast showed that koalas were associated with dense regrowth forests created by intensive logging. By 2017 koalas had increased in declining, unburnt and unlogged forests so that they were in unnaturally high densities right across the region.
Finding 4: That the fragmentation and loss of habitat poses the most serious threat to koala populations in New South Wales.
This poses the question: Why then did the inquiry find that they have suddenly become extinct in The Pilliga, where they were supposedly protected in a huge reserve?
The answer: They were in unsustainably high densities and, inevitably, those populations crashed during the Millennium Drought, just as they had previously done in droughts around the Great War. That was the first time they supposedly became extinct in The Pilliga.
Finding 5: That the future of koalas in the wild in New South Wales cannot be guaranteed unless the NSW Government takes stronger action to prevent further loss of koala habitat.
In 1844, naturalist John Gould reported that koalas were “nowhere very abundant” and could “rarely be detected”. He predicted their extinction. Instead, they increased in the dense young forests that grew up with disruption of Aboriginal burning, and they moved into woodland pastures, with declining trees, where they had not previously occurred. Within 30 years they were in plague numbers and suffering malnutrition and disease. An export fur industry developed as a consequence.
Finding 6: That climate change is having a severe impact on koala populations by affecting the quality of their food and habitat.
Koalas have survived massive changes in climate since Aborigines shaped the current landscape and exterminated the megafauna about 40,000 years ago. The quality of food for koalas temporarily increases as trees decline with lack of mild burning, because of the increasing turnover of soft young foliage. Declining trees lose their natural resilience because their roots deteriorate with soil changes in the absence of burning. The trees and the koalas eventually crash, as they did during the Federation Drought, when koalas first ‘became extinct’ in NSW.
Finding 7: That climate change is compounding the severity and impact of other threats, such as drought and bushfires, on koala populations.
Irruptions of koalas and gigafires are both consequences of lack of frequent mild burning. During the Settlement Drought, Aboriginal fires were burning as always in clean, open sandstone country to the northwest of Sydney and Parramatta. During periods of extreme weather equal to our Black Summer, settlers were able to control fires at Sydney and Parramatta with green branches. But, despite having columns of firetankers and squadrons of waterbombers, we suffered the largest-ever fire from a single (natural) ignition at Gospers Mountain last season.
Finding 8: That the current exclusion fence for Appin Road in South Western Sydney is counterproductive and poses a serious danger to koalas.
Finding 9: That local koala populations face different threats of varying severity, depending on the region that they are located in.
All wildlife populations face the same threats as a result absent ecological maintenance by means of frequent mild burning. However, koalas are in no danger because they are an irruptive species.
Finding 10: There has been a substantial loss of both suitable koala habitat and koalas across New South Wales as a result of the 2019-2020 bushfires. An estimated 24 per cent of koala habitat on public land has been severely impacted across the State, but in some parts there has been a devastating loss of up to 81 per cent.
There has been a substantial loss of koalas, but habitat will increase as a result of soft young growth after high intensity fires. Koalas will irrupt again, just as they have in the past.
Finding 11: That the NSW Koala Strategy falls short of the NSW Chief Scientist’s recommendation of a whole-of-government koala strategy with the objective of stabilising and then increasing koala numbers.
The strategy of stabilising and increasing numbers is not only inappropriate, but unachievable. Reduced numbers are a precondition for stability and increased numbers are clearly shown by history to be unsustainable. This has been evident in Victoria for more than a century and was confirmed by recent crashes of unsustainably high populations in The Pilliga and The Koala Coast during the Millennium Drought.
Finding 12: That the NSW Koala Strategy fails to prioritise and resource the urgent need to protect koala habitat across all tenures.
All wildlife populations across all tenures face the same threats to their habitats as a result of the lack of ecological maintenance by frequent mild burning. However, koalas are in no danger because, as I must repeat, they are an irruptive species.
Finding 13: That allocating $4 million over a 5-year period for the government’s Saving Our Species Iconic Koala Project has been important, but additional funding and support is required in order for it to achieve its stated aims.
It’s ironic that $4 million is also being wasted on fire research by academics at Wollongong University, opposed to mild burning, who don’t understand its critical role in maintaining habitats for all species.
Finding 14: Translocation is an unproven way of protecting koala populations from the impacts of development and should only be used as a last resort. Further research needs to be undertaken to assess its methodology and effectiveness.
Enough research has already been done to prove that translocation does nothing for koala conservation and, more than that, is actually cruel. For example, 42 per cent of koalas moved from the Coomera shopping centre development on the Koala Coast died in their new home and 50 per cent of the overcrowded koalas that weren’t moved perished in their old home.In South Australia more than 1,100 koalas have died within a year of being translocated from Kangaroo Island to the mainland.
Finding 15: Approvals by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment of comprehensive koala plans of management made by local councils have been too slow. There is an urgent need for them to be approved in a timely and transparent manner.
Rather than quickly approving more inappropriate plans, there is an urgent need to reform planning. It should be based on fair-dinkum science, not the green propaganda and junk science that underpins the Koala Inquiry Report.
Finding 16: Protecting koala habitat is hampered by the inconsistencies and disconnection between the different planning instruments within the NSW planning system, and there is an urgent need to address this.
There is a consistent problem right through NSW planning system because it is based on the Wilderness Myth. It doesn’t recognise that our ecosystems were shaped by people 40,000 years ago and maintained by mild burning until whitefellas came along and disrupted it.
So, with a grim predictability, the inquiry has produced a report replete with recommendations that, at best, will do no good while further sidelining hope of a healthy bush. We can restore healthy, safe, diverse and resilient landscapes across Australia by frequent mild burning. It would cost a small fraction of the billions of dollars being wasted on futile emergency response, research, ‘conservation strategies’ and green energy.
The connections of early feminism with secular ideologies such as liberalism and socialism are well known. I have myself written about these in several of my articles, including a chapter in my book on Western legal theory. However, the spiritual dimensions that underpinned the early feminist movement in the nineteenth century were entirely unknown to me until I discovered this important book on the subject.
Dr Per Faxneld obtained a PhD in History of Religions at Stockholm University in 2014. He is a professor at Stockholm University, was a visiting professor at Cambridge University in 2014, and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Mid-Sweden University. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the history of Satanism and Western esotericism.
Satanic Feminism is based on Faxneld’s doctoral dissertation, which was awarded the Donner Institute Prize for Eminent Research on Religion. It discusses how prominent feminists—primarily between 1880 and 1930—used Satan as a symbol of their rejection of the so-called “patriarchal traits of Christianity”. It shows that these women were inspired by the period’s most influential new religion, Theosophy, and how the anti-Christian discourses of radical secularism affected feminism.
Satanic Feminism sheds a new light on the early feminist movement. It discusses neglected or unknown aspects of the intellectual connections of early feminism with Satanism in a way that nobody before Faxneld has dared to do. In doing so, he richly illustrates how leading figures of the early feminist movement, such as the suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the actress Sarah Bernhardt and the poet Renée Vivien, viewed God as the precursor of patriarchy and Satan as an ally in the fight against it.
This feminist view of Satan as the liberator of women, according to Faxneld, was “intertwined with prominent anticlerical, left-wing, and esoteric currents of its time”. Examples in his book include feminists employing Lucifer as a symbol of revolution and eulogising him as an anti-patriarchal figure. As Faxneld points out, Satanism and feminist politics were interwoven from the first appearance of the theme of Satan as a benevolent revolutionary figure and the liberator of womankind.
In these anti-biblical narratives, Satan is “seen as an ally in the struggle against patriarchy supported by God the Father and his male priests. Eve’s ingestion of the forbidden fruit becomes a heroic act of rebellion against the tyranny of God and Adam.” Thus Satan becomes a powerful ally in the struggle against a tyrannical patriarchy supported by God the Father and his Son.
According to Faxneld, in the Scandinavian folk beliefs recorded by the feminists in the nineteenth century, “Satan could function as a helper of women when it comes to getting rid of an unwanted child.” Faxneld is particularly interested in the process whereby a sinister figure from the Bible, Satan, is elevated into “something positive and specifically with feminist connotations for certain people”. To understand why this would be so, he argues that the elevation of Satan as a feminist hero “constituted an important part of a much broader cultural tendency to dislodge all biblical characters from the position fixed by centuries of tradition, and therefore destabilising the entire [social] order of Christianity”.
Nineteenth-century feminists singled out Christianity along with the state as a key institution supporting the subjugation of women. In such a view, “the Christian ideal of wifely obedience, and marriage as such”, was seen as “incompatible with woman’s right to govern herself”. So they viewed Satan as a positive figure and Christianity was an obstacle that had to be removed for women to be emancipated.
The first major systematic attempt at feminist Bible criticism was a book called The Women’s Bible (in two volumes, 1895 to 1898) by the American suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her revising committee. This committee included members from England, Finland, England, Scotland, Austria and France, thus making it an international project.
The Women’s Bible amounts to a satanic inversion of the biblical account of the Fall. Stanton and her colleagues felt they had to deal with the patriarchal use of the story in Genesis 3. One way of doing so, which seems to have been rather widespread, was to turn the biblical narrative on its head, thus making Eve a heroine and the serpent benevolent. So Eve is eulogised in her consumption of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and depicted in collusion with Satan as a liberator from her male counterpart. With a benevolent Satan, Eve’s actions in the Garden become laudable, and women are thus superior to men “for being the first to heed Satan’s advice”.
Stanton was not just another feminist—she was widely recognised as the leading figure of the early women’s rights movement. In her introduction to The Woman’s Bible, she proclaims church and clergy “the very powers that make woman’s emancipation impossible”, and explains to her female readers that “your political and social degradation are but an outgrowth of your status in the Bible”. Stanton then likens Satan to the great Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato, since “his powers of conversation and asking puzzling questions, were no doubt marvellous, and he roused in the woman that intense thirst for knowledge”. In the introduction of The Women’s Bible, Stanton
brings up the teaching that Eve caused the Fall of Man, and how this has been used to subjugate women ever since. In the detailed commentary on Genesis 3, she rejects the general idea of the Fall and states her view that the Darwinian theory of the gradual growth of the race from a lower to a higher type of animal life is more hopeful and encouraging.
The Women’s Bible is notorious for telling the history of how devil-worshipping witches were turned into champions of science and women’s rights, demon-lovers were portrayed as allies in the struggle against patriarchal oppression, and so on. In a letter to the editor of the Critic, after the publication of the notorious book, Stanton notes the following implication of her deconstruction of Genesis 3: “Take the snake, the fruit tree and the woman from the tableau, and we have no fall, nor frowning judge, no Inferno, no everlasting punishment—hence no need of a Savior.”
Stanton’s undertaking was not unique in feminist circles. As Faxneld points out, across Europe we can find many examples of how Genesis 3 was repeatedly treated in highly critical fashion by those early feminists, for instance, in the widely popular Penthesileia: A Women’s Breviary for Man-hating Moments (1907), by the German feminist Leonie Meyerhof.
The founder of the spiritualistic movement called Theosophy, Helena Blavatsky, is notorious for promoting Satanic inversions of Genesis 3, arguing that “Satan, the enemy of God, is in reality, the highest divine Spirit”. Blavatsky’s books Isis Unveiled (1877) and The Secret Doctrine (1888) were hugely successful, the first book selling roughly half a million copies up until 1980. These books depict the Fall positively, as a significant event that implies an up-valuation of women: “She is no longer responsible for mankind’s fall into sin but is instead actively involved in the gaining of spiritual wisdom from the benevolent snake.”
According to Blavatsky, Satan—or Lucifer, or the Devil, as she often uses the names interchangeably—brought mankind spiritual wisdom and is “the spirit of Intellectual Enlightenment and Freedom of Thought”. Beginning in September 1887 she published a journal in England called Lucifer, which infamously spread the notion of a connection between the use of pro-Satan symbolism and the struggle for women’s rights.
There was another feminist periodical in the United States also called Lucifer. Through its choice of name, in combination with a heavy emphasis on women’s rights, it disseminated the image of Satan and female emancipation as related. As Dr Faxneld notes, Lucifer was an influential American feminist organ for more than twenty-five years. By 1879 it reached readers in at least thirty-seven American states and at least eight other countries. In 1907 it was decided to change the title to The American Journal of Eugenics, and to make eugenic issues which had been part of the feminist discourse more or less its sole concern.
Faxneld notes that no woman in the nineteenth century could match Sarah Bernhardt in influence and popularity. The French stage actress starred in some of the most popular French plays of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas and Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo. Georges Bernier wrote that Bernhardt “had the gift of being worshipped by officialdom, high society, people of the lower classes, as well as by elitist coteries of writers and artists”.
According to Faxneld, Bernhardt frequently played with “a symbolism closely connected to Satanism, and, for example, sculpted a figurine that can be seen as a portrait of herself as the Devil”. Parisian lesbians used her as a role model when forging subversive sexual identities because “much of her behaviour was clearly disruptive of gender roles: wearing men’s clothes on and off the stage”.
Sylvia Townsend Warner also receives special treatment in Satanic Feminism. Warner “was educated by an atheist father of great learning and was intimately acquainted with the Bible from an early age”. Her debut novel, Lolly Willowes,orThe Loving Huntsman (1926), tells the tale of Laura “Lolly” Willowes, who ends up becoming a witch liberated and empowered by Satan. This novel, says Faxneld, “is quite possibly the most explicit and conspicuous literary example ever of programmatic Satanic feminism”. As he points out, Lolly Willowes is the pinnacle of the nineteenth-century feminist tradition of presenting Satan as a “benign and compassionate liberator”. “Warner makes the theme of Satan as the emancipator primarily of women fully explicit, even to the point of saying that his assistance to men does not really count.”
Lolly Willowes caused a major stir and received highly favourable reviews. The book draws on contemporary understandings of witch cults and worked very much within a tradition of Satanic feminism. There were important aspects of the text that directly relate to “demonic lesbianism, a view of Christianity as a central pillar of patriarchy, and nature being coded as Satan’s feminine realm where he can offer immunity from the pressures of a male-dominated society”. Faxneld concludes that:
Warner is a contributor to a pre-existing discourse where witchcraft and Satanism are used to portray female emancipation. While her novel is extraordinarily explicit and articulate when it comes to making Satan a liberator of women … Warner’s text could be considered a reply to the literal demonization of feminists … inverting it and claiming Satan and witches as positive symbols of feminist resistance.
Satanic Feminism is a truly remarkable book. It comprehensively shows how various feminist nineteenth-century discourses express a struggle with conservative powers that some prominent feminists felt were epitomised by Christianity. It explains how Satanism was anything but a marginal phenomenon in early feminist narrative. To the contrary, leading feminists regularly performed counter-readings of the Bible to conceptualise Lucifer as a feminist liberator of womankind and Eve as a heroine.
Dr Faxneld provides a most compelling account of how Satanism played a crucial part in early feminism—primarily between 1880 and 1930—as something employed to vilify and denigrate Christianity, and transform God the Father into an oppressive creator and the ultimate enemy of women’s liberation. This book makes for fascinating reading as Faxneld bravely endeavours to demonstrate the centrality of Satanism in influential feminist narrative during the period in a way nobody before him has ever dared to do. His most enlightening book makes a significant contribution to scholarship.
Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Women in Nineteenth-Century Culture by Per Faxneld Oxford University Press, 2017, 576 pages, $62.95
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Head and Professor of Law at Sheridan College in Perth, Western Australia, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus Show your support Donate Now
Ian MacDougall – 20th October 2019 “16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” – Genesis 2, 16-17 KJV. And what domain of human study covers the “knowledge of good and evil”? To ask the question is to answer it. There are two such domains, religion and philosophy. Religion came first, and the professionals (ie priests and priestesses) had this rather important domain to themselves until the arrival on the scene of philosophy; which straightaway became (rightly) seen as a rival. For theologians, ancient texts answer all important questions. Philosophers on the other hand use reason, and reason alone. Science is included in philosophy, and is arguably its most important part. And science must be based, and based exclusively on reason. And it is science which has given us the modern world, after battle after battle with the forces of unreason, darkness and religion. . https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+2-3&version=KJV
norsaint – 21st October 2019 Terrific, Twitter will unsuspend me now if I refer them to this tome. Suspension occurred after opining that feminists were obviously demonically possessed and the kindest thing we could do to set their souls free would be a little stake burning. I wonder how Libraries will react if this book is requested as a purchase.
whitelaughter – 21st October 2019 Ian, if you’d *studied* philosophy, you’d know better. Socrates, and so skepticism, *starts* with a religious
It has been four months since Cardinal George Pell was freed from Victoria’s Barwon Prison on April 7, after the High Court unanimously overturned his convictions. During his 400 days in jail many people, myself among them, sent the Cardinal letters and cards of support, hoping and praying he would be soon released. Now, a few months later, I have had the privilege of sitting for over an hour with the Cardinal who had graciously agreed to a meeting.
Before me was someone who had suffered greatly, yet was relaxed, serene, courteous and witty. While we were conversing, I could not help sensing his inner peace, from deep wells of the soul. He clearly has an ongoing lively interest in books which prison did nothing to abate. Our discussion was mainly about his dear friend Father Paul Stenhouse (right), who died on November 19, 2019, and of whommany tributeshave been written.
Cardinal Pell noted the “intellectual qualities” and “very fine Catholic writing” of Fr Stenhouse, saying he was “a deeply faithful priest.” He had heard of the priest-scholar before he met him in the 1990s in Melbourne and from there came a meeting of minds in which many situations in the church and the world were discussed. Fr Stenhouse, being the editor of Annals, the longest-running journal in Australian history, put his knowledge of history and language into this doughty publication from the 1960s. There was much to discuss, the Cardinal chuckling at how his older friend insisted on driving him around Sydney, “even when he was in his 80s!” Asked his opinion of Fr Stenhouse’s driving, the Cardinal replied calmly that “he did not terrify me.” He recalled how they would visit friends, go to restaurants and visited Camden, where Fr Stenhouse grew up. Among other subjects, they discussed the situation in the church, how to help those suffering from religious persecution, and their high regard for Saint John Paul II.
When I asked how Fr Stenhouse had retained his calm in a time of Western cultural decay, the Cardinal pointed to his friend’s deep knowledge of church history. He added a personal note here, saying that he himself had studied Patristics, the study of the Church Fathers in the first 300 years of the church. Cardinal Pell obtained a doctorate from Oxford University in 1971 with a thesis entitled, “The exercise of authority in early Christianity from about 170 to about 270”, deeply immersing himself in the events, conflicts and changes within the early church. He considered that having an in-depth knowledge of church history enabled him to see what is essential, beyond “the froth and bubble” of politics and current affairs. It was a sure anchor for Father Stenhouse in a time of cultural turbulence and clearly so for the Cardinal.
In a time when the very idea of ‘history’ is derided, not to mention the notion of God’s intervention in history, Cardinal Pell has always encouraged Catholics to know their roots, to study their own history, to be advocates of memory. This resonated with me as a psychologist, as forgetting one’s life story indicates serious illness to health professionals who will attempt to restore what has been lost. If many in the West have forgotten their own stories, the remedy for this cultural amnesia is learning and re-learning our history, whose spiritual roots cannot breathe without them.
Cardinal Pell recalled the “great challenge and tragedy” of our times, the defection from Catholicism of the Anglo-Irish, recalling their great contribution to Australia’s history and how, at one stage, some 300 missionaries were sent from Australia to other countries. He expressed gratitude to the priests from other lands who had come to work here, noting their conservatism might sometimes created problems, and implying it is now we who are recipients of evangelisation.
It was a delight for me to bring a smile to the Cardinal’s face by relating the story of the Polish ‘Stolen Virgin Mary’, told to me on one of my visits to eastern Poland and which he had not heard. Briefly, about 400 years ago, Polish Prince Mikołaj Sapieha visited Rome and asked Pope Urban VIII for a painting of the Virgin Mary in the papal chapel. The Pope refused. The prince, not being one to take ‘no’ for an answer, then stole it and took it to eastern Poland, where it is to this day in the town of Kodeń. The Pope was immensely displeased until Prince Sapieha helped in a matter of church diplomacy, whereupon the prince was allowed to keep the painting. The locals claim many miracles have occurred through the intercession of the Stolen Virgin of Kodeń (left). Cardinal Pell was interested to learn that this was not about the renowned Cardinal Sapieha, who heroically conducted a seminary in Kraków and guided the young Karol Wojtyła into his seminary studies in 1942. No, it was not that Sapieha, rather an ancestor.
When the subject of his forthcoming book arose, the Cardinal said it would come out in the next month in installments. He wondered, with a low-key chuckle, if doing it this way in the current age would not “kill it dead.” I remarked that this would be impossible as many are waiting eagerly for his account of his time in jail, when he often awoke to the sound of Muslim prayers, and during which his Catholic faith sustained him. The very existence of Cardinal Pell’s account, even before publication, already promises to be riveting and will doubtless rank alongside those other accounts of twentieth century cardinals Joseph Mindszenty and Francis-Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, both persecuted and imprisoned on the strength of false allegations.
Cardinal Pell suffered at the hands of a post-modern ideology every bit as toxic and irrational as Communism, if masked by smoke and mirrors. The overturning of all charges leveled against him brought to mind the passage: “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” (Rev 5:5). Cardinal Pell’s witness to what Saint John Paul II called the “Gospel of Suffering” showed that he not only survived but survived heroically. He prayed a great deal in jail and says publicly that he offered his sufferings for others in union with Christ’s Cross. He is clearly at peace, without rancour, open to those who talk with him on many different subjects. His forthcoming book will be a powerful testimony to his quiet endurance and trust in God’s providential care.
As Cardinal Pell prepares his next and final legal move – an appeal to the High Court – from the discomfort of solitary confinement, amid growing alarm at the rejection of his appeal by a majority of Judges sitting as the Victorian Court of Appeal, much of the recent commentary on the case has focused on post-trial developments.
There is emerging concern, not just among Pell’s small army of supporters, or even just Catholics, but among observers of the legal system and those who cherish individual protections under the law, that not only was a wrong inflicted on an innocent man, but that a dangerous new direction has been charted for future legal cases. In particular, there has been a radical shift in the onus of proof occasioned by the Victorian Court of Appeal. This seems to apply especially to he said/she said or he said/he said cases and to the sexual abuse of minors, the latter being the cause of a virtual societal meltdown as the horrors of the abuse scandals have come into the light of day.
As many as 19.5 per cent of clerical abuse cases in the US have been unsubstantiated (18 per cent, a substantial minority) or have subsequently been shown to have been fabrications (1.5 per cent, a tiny minority), according to a study by John Jay College. Some might regard this percentage as small, while others might think it rather a lot (I am in the latter camp). So Pell’s claim to innocence is not on its face wildly improbable. On the other hand, a number of priests and commentators on Catholic issues have suggested that the reputational hurt to, and incarceration of, a falsely accused cleric causes far less harm than the harm done to victims of abuse. Whatever one’s views on these matters, we seem to be in the early stages of what may turn out to be a decisive and alarming shift away from the old legal dictum (Blackstone’s Ratio) that it is better for ten guilty men to be set free than for a single innocent man to be wrongly convicted. This is nothing less than the foundation stone of the whole legal system.
Pell’s supporters have long recognised the stacking of the odds against their man from the get-go, seen in, but not limited to, the following:
# The slowly building but relentless and strategic character assassination of the Cardinal – think “sociopath, “bully”, “lacking empathy”, “one of the least sympathetic people I have encountered”, “not a truth teller”, and so on – undertaken by some of the usual suspects such as Louise Milligan, Barney Swartz and David Marr. In Milligan’s case it began as long ago as 2001, when she described Pell as “rigid as an Easter Island statue”. Swartz in 2013 insisted that Pell had “never been cleared” from an old and dismissed allegation in 2002;
# The fact that Victoria Police ignored their own Director of Public Prosecutions to proceed with the case(s);
# The absence of a fair trial due to an ongoing and building, possibly strategic, campaign of public attacks and denigration of his character, culminating in Milligan’s egregious book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, which aired at that time unsubstantiated allegations, and published on the very eve of charges being laid;
# The strangely long time period from the original complaint to Pell’s being charged (two years) which, perhaps coincidentally, allowed the negativity of public opinion towards Pell to grow, and allowed Milligan the time to write her book and have it published;
# The sheer length and relentlessness of the (decades long) campaign against him and the Catholic Church, with a Royal Commission, a lethal Victorian parliamentary inquiry and several police investigations in at least two states providing opportunity for the further public airing of Pell’s purported crimes and cover-ups;
# The bizarre coincidences and oddities that occurred in the lead up to Pell’s being charged – such as timely leaks from the police, the timing of hit jobs in the media, the publication of the Milligan book;
# The reported (but impossible to confirm) substantial weight of jury opinion in Pell’s favour at the first trial;
# The parliamentary debate signalling the acceptance of the Royal Commission report, where politicians were trying to outdo one another in “we believe them” riffs (see Keith Windschuttle’s analysis, “Why the Second Jury Found George Pell Guilty“), which fell neatly between the two Pell trials and which have may influenced jury members;
# The strangeness of several aspects of the second trial. For example, why was the complainant not required to appear afresh and in person before the jury and be subject to cross examination, plus the absence of a jury tour of the cathedral;
# The extremely counterintuitive decision and legally dumbfounding reasoning of the majority of the Appeal judges.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Pell did go wrong. The question should be asked: has this been the result of a series of unconnected events, mere sad happenstance, or has there been something more nefarious afoot?
There are many questions still demanding answers as to how the case came to trial in the first place. The thinness of the evidence considered by police, the reliance of the uncorroborated testimony of a single complainant, the possible copycatting of an American sexual abuse case, the absence of a pattern of abusive behaviour by the accused, the absence of material evidence of a crime, the lack of a confession, the reported denial by the second alleged victim (dubbed by Louise Milligan as The Choirboy) that such an incident had occurred, the fact that the complainant waited until after the second “victim” died (in 2014, from a heroin overdose) before approaching police, and the length of time that had elapsed since the alleged incidents, have all been commented on and dissected widely, often with eyebrows raised.
All of these important questions provide exculpatory, though circumstantial, evidence that George Pell did not do what he was alleged to have done. If the Cardinal is innocent, two further questions are raised, both for Pell’s supporters and for anyone remotely interested in this infamous case.
First, if Pell is telling the truth, then his accuser must be not telling the truth. This raises all sorts of issues that may never be resolved. There is probably a good reason why so very few false accusations against accused clerics are proven to have been so. After all, it is an offence with considerable punishment to have misled police and falsely to have accused innocent men. Just ask Carl Beech.
But there is second question on the minds of those who believe that Pell was “stitched up”, or who simply shake their heads at the strange sequence of events that led to his trial, conviction and appeal. For many, Pell seems to have been, slowly but surely, “manoeuvred” into a position from which he was unable to escape. If Pell was “stitched up”, who did the stitching, and how was one of the greatest farces (and tragedies) in Australian legal history actually pulled off?
Was the targeting of Pell, in effect, a sting operation? If so, what were the roles of those involved and how did the sting work? Or perhaps there wasn’t a carefully orchestrated sting, but rather Pell’s conviction resulted from the efforts of a less coordinated group whose members were each desperate to bring Pell down, whose interests coincided, who knew about the efforts of other members of the group and who collaborated in various ways. Was there a “network” of actors with a shared desire to see Pell go down? Was it an active network? Was it tight and structured? Was it coordinated in any way?
A BRIEF digression is helpful here to explain the nature and importance of networks, the concepts of policy networks/communities, the capture of arms of the State by interest groups and the ways that networks collaborate. A network has been defined as:
… a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (such as friends or professional colleagues); or, alternately
… the aggregation of one-to-one relationships in a social system.
Networks have a purpose and are structured. There are nodes and connectors. Networks can be loose and weak, or tight and strong. The role of “influencers” has grown and is now powerful. The deployment of soft power can be decisive and can be hidden from view.
Most history is hierarchical – it’s about popes, presidents, and prime ministers. But what if that’s simply because they create the historical archives? What if we are missing equally powerful but less visible networks – leaving them to the conspiracy theorists, with their dreams of all-powerful Illuminati?
The twenty-first century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in The Square and the Tower, Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the Freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. But networks have a dark side, prone to clustering, contagions, and even outages.
Networks, then, are not new, are not the stuff of conspiracy theory, and they do move the world in directions of their, and not necessarily of the electorate’s, choosing.
Famously now, networks can form, communicate, activate and achieve outcomes at the speed of the internet. Networks get things done. They typically work behind the scenes, hidden from view. The average punter who innocently believes the world is run by elected, responsible, accountable governments would be astonished to know just how hidden and unaccountable networks actually run the world.
Policy networks or policy communities are a particular kind of network. Policy networks emerged as a key concept in political science in the late twentieth century. The public choice economic theorists (most prominently James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock) have added to our knowledge of networks and the capture of public officials by interest groups. Both theories depict the relationships between civil servants and interest groups as that of a “client” relationship in which there are shared priorities, informal connections, insulated relationships, the development of trust and the emergence of a “common culture”. The result is the formation of “advocacy coalitions”.
This is not some hare-brained conspiracy theory – it is mainstream political science. Three things stand out about the workings of networks in the public sphere – mutual dependencies of those involved; mutual gain from the connections, and aligned or converging objectives. This can lead to mission creep among several organisations with converging aims. There are different levels of collaboration among networks. The lowest form of collaboration simply involves mutual awareness of the actors. The highest form of collaboration is “co-creation” and joined up strategic actions. Networks collaborate in many and varied ways.
THE EMERGENCE of a “policy community” of players in Victoria with a shared interest in sexual abuse is crystal clear, and unsurprising. To suggest that there is a sexual abuse victim industry would be an act of massive disrespect to the victims of clerical abuse, victims for whom Christians have a deep and a deeply appalled and shamed regard. But there is, indeed, a sexual abuse policy community that has formed around the activities of the State to achieve justice. It is by no means far-fetched to conclude that justice can sometimes tip over into vengeance and the pursuit of it through short cuts. And Victoria is, as Christian Brother and specialist sexual abuse researcher Barry Coldrey has opined, ground zero for Catholic sexual abuse in Australia.
A perfect storm developed in the second decade of this century, not as the result of any perceived current crisis of recent or growing Church abuse, or as a result of public clambering, but rather as the result of chickens coming home to roost following the revisiting of very old, and covered-up instances of abuse, which for the Catholic Church peaked in the 1960s and 1970s then receded. There developed ample opportunities for the wielding of weapons of mass Pell destruction, beginning in 2012 with a Victorian parliamentary committee inquiry. Then all hell was unleashed.
It was all about unfinished business. The Church had gotten away with it, scalp free and containing the damage, and had seemingly put it all to rest, first with the 1996 Melbourne Response and subsequently through Towards Healing, the Australia-wide Catholic Bishops’ response to old sexual abuse. But Pell had prospered, indeed advancing to Rome in the 2010s, despite his 2002 brush with infamy and the failure of anyone to establish that he was involved in a coverup.
One might think of the Pell case by reference to a number of Agatha Christie plots. (Spoiler alert). In Murder on the Orient Express – they all did it. In Curtain – the murderer got other people to do it without them knowing they had been set up. In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – the cop did it. In Towards Zero – meticulous planning of the crime over a long period. Perhaps there is a little of each of these in the getting of Pell.
One place to start the search for a sting operation is to ask who benefits from Pell’s conviction? I want to identify the actors with a grudge against the Church or Pell personally, and to determine whether, to what extent and in what ways they collaborated in pursuit of their shared objectives.
The core cast members in this play have been Julia Gillard, Graham Ashton, Vivian Waller, Lyndsay Farlow, Louise Milligan, Julie Stewart, Bernard Barrett, and The Kid and his family. Two off stage players, Sabrina Rubin Erdley, an American journalist, and the Ballarat survivors group who hounded Pell to Rome during the Royal Commission, need perhaps also to be considered as cast members, albeit in a support role.
Let us examine the roles, explore the connections and uncover the convenient events involved in the pursuit of Pell. A clear pattern emerges – each player was highly motivated; each had his/her own, very important part to play; there were myriad connections, strategically activated at key moments; and the pursuit of Pell went on for a long, long time.
FIRST, Julia Gillard.
Ms Gillard was elected to parliament in 1998 on the back of support from Emily’s List. A key figure there was Vivian Waller, a lawyer for whom Julia Gillard obtained a job at Slater & Gordon, where the future prime minister worked until her dismissal for shady dealings on behalf of a light-fingered boyfriend. Gillard, of course, has escaped legal scrutiny for her own earlier alleged misdemeanours, in whose investigation Victoria Police have been involved. Gillard called the half-billion dollar Royal Commission in November 2012 (see timelines below) at a very convenient moment, when Waller was engaged in a Get Pell sub operation through the Victorian parliamentary committee inquiry, relating to the alleged coverup of a case in Ballarat. Gillard’s Royal Commission was clearly and cleverly designed to go after the Catholic Church. Her endeavours delivered a result when, years later, the Parliament experienced its #MeToo moment and proclaimed in unison to victims “we believe you”. Getting state governments to attack the Church’s sacred seal of Confession was a bonus, with Pell already in the dock and facing a second trial And the big time perpetrators of ongoing sexual abuse – the family, friends of the family, randy uncles, stepfathers, Northern Beaches Sydney high school teachers from the 1980s, and remote indigenous patriarchs – still very much on the loose. (See Keith Windschuttle’s “The course and consequences of Operation Get Pell‘)
Gillard, no doubt still cringing at the thought of some of her own past coming to light, owed Waller for earlier services to her career So it could be seen as a mighty distraction. Raised a Baptist and now self-confessed atheist, she was no friend of the Church. Like many, she no doubt abhorred child sexual abuse. She wanted to make a mark. And she was under severe pressure to act on the issue, and she knew it would be popular with the punters and that senior Church figures were not in a position to speak out against it. But it’s timing was very strategic too, linked as it was to the Victorian parliamentary committee’s volatile work and to Waller’s battle to have Pell exposed as a cover-up agent.
Ms Gillard said she was not surprised that a Fairfax-Nielsen poll held days after the royal commission was announced showed 95 per cent support, but disputed that it reflected the community wanted powerful people to be held to account for decades of systemic child sexual abuse.
Well, she would say that.
Next, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and VicPol more broadly. Ashton, of course, is now in the metaphorical dock himself, what with Lawyer X and his very own Royal Commission with which to contend. Despite many years of what the Church believed was close cooperation, he turned on the Archdiocese of Melbourne (by then under Archbishop Dennis Hart) in a submission to the 2012 parliamentary inquiry. He went rogue. In various responses to the committee, Hart convincingly demonstrated that Ashton’s play was utter rubbish. Ashton seemed to be looking for a fight. And Pell was in the crosshairs. More recently, on Ashton’s watch and with or without his knowledge, VicPol leaked the fact of the Pell investigation to the Melbourne Herald Sun‘s Lucie Morris Marr in February 2016. A 2001 journalistic travesty, when Ms Marr was working for the UK Daily Mail and then known as “Lucie Morris”, resulted in an apology and legal settlement for a story that was entirely wrong, suggests VicPol could not have found a more receptive pair of ears for its whispered briefings. This, like the publication of Louise Milligan’s error-riddled book, Cardinal, was a strategic play in the Pell-shaming strategy. Earlier leaks by VicPol attempted to link Pell’s non-return to Australia to give in-person evidence to the Royal Commission to his fear of being questioned by police. Andrew Bolt described the February 2016 leak as “highly suspicious” and “designed to destroy Pell”. VicPol was leaking like a sieve in regard to Pell. He was “being destroyed” a considerable time before his trial, and VicPol under Ashton was up to its malodorous armpits in the smear campaign.
Public opinion on Pell was being shaped and steered. And public opinion comes in handy since members of juries emerge from, well, the public.
Then there is Operation Tethering, much discussed and widely agreed to have been a clear “get Pell” sting, despite VicPol denials (under oath). As part of this play, the police in December 2016 – months after The Kid approached them – went public asking for abuse victims or people who knew about abuse at St Patrick’s Cathedral (!) during Pell’s tenure as archbishop (!) to come forward. Next, there is VicPol’s ignoring the advice of the own DPP not to bring charges against Pell, several times, during what was suspiciously long period and during which Milligan was free to research and defame the Cardinal.
Then, of course, there has been Ashton’s dogged defence of now discredited VicPol “research” into the number of suicides in Ballarat that “resulted” from clerical abuse.
Finally, there is also the suggestion by Christopher Friel, (see “The Social Media Witch-Hunt for George Pell“) that the head of the SANO Taskforce may have been encouraged to “retire” before the Pell case came to trial, and also that he was Milligan’s source. Milligan’s insistence that she received no help from VicPol beggars belief. More on this later.
So, Ashton’s VicPol, turned on the Church without cause in 2012, leaked against Pell as strategic moments, ignored its own DPP advice, saw the publication of Milligan’s book before formally charging Pell, blatantly targeted Pell in public appeals, and eased out a key player before the trial.
Vivian Waller is that dangerous creature, a lawyer with a PhD (research on post-traumatic stress disorder and statute of limitations for abuse victims). She is also an advocate (in every sense) with a long-time academic and a growing professional interest in sexual abuse victims. She has been both a policy player, making myriad submissions to various inquiries while benefiting immensely from the fruits of these inquiries. And she gets to be a hero in the fight against the Church and its paedophiles. She was closely involved with Gillard and received the big prize in the Royal Commission. November 2012 was a significant month, and a busy one, for several cast members. Waller was pursuing George Pell in the alleged coverup of Church abuse, though inconveniently he was overseas at a time Waller had alleged he was present in meetings which showed “he knew” about one particular instance of abuse in 1969 (the case of Brother Robert Best). Gillard then announced the RC. And VicPol set up the SANO Task Force the very same month. Sano would lead directly to the infamous Operation Tethering about which we now know so much. Waller represented the Pell complainant (aka The Kid) and has been appearing before the media on a regular basis at each stage of the Pell saga. Waller is deeply embedded in the victims support community, having represented many of them — victims of the notorious Gerald Ridsdale, for example. As Welsh academic Christopher Friel has noted, Waller’s PhD expertise in PTSD coincidentally resurfaces in Milligan’s book, which describes The Kid as having “PTSD eyes”.
So Waller is clearly an important player with strategic connections to others in the Get Pell brigade, on the case over many years, focused on the Cardinal in particular, benefitting from Gillard’s RC, and embedded in the victims’ support community.
Next is “Lyndsay Farlow”, we now know thanks to seriously good forensic work by Friel and to Quadrant, is a mysterious, well informed, well connected tweeter on all matters relating to Catholic sexual abuse. S/he seems to know Waller very, very well. Indeed, Friel has described him/her as a proxy for Waller. In 2015, she seemed also to know all about an American case of alleged sexual abuse with uncanny similarities to what would emerge as The Kid’s story against Pell. All this three weeks before The Kid went to the police with his complaint, conveniently (perhaps) after his old choirboy friend had died. Waller also knew then, that same month, as Farlow inadvertently records, about a successful sexual abuse court settlement in relation to an old St Kevin’s College matter. Farlow was also in contact at the very same time with one Louise Milligan (see below). S/he has connections in the media, too, with journalist Malcolm Farr noting in a Farlow linked tweet in February 2019 (in relation to the possible removal of Pell’s Order of Australia award) that by the time his appeal would be held, Bill Shorten “will be PM”. Oh dear. Farlow also has connections with VicPol, through one Doug Smith, former head of SANO. Milligan, also connected to Farlow through Twitter, began her own investigation of Pell after the mysterious VicPol leak of February 2016. Milligan is now connected to Doug Smith through Twitter. Smith coincidentally and conveniently for VicPol (“strategically”, as Friel has it) chose to retire in 2016 after 37 years in the force. Small world.
Louise Milligan, the bete noir of Team Pell is 45, has two children, lives in Melbourne, and as an employee of the taxpayer has seen fit to employ a publicist who is clearly earning his/her money. Milligan (pictured at right) recently appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Australia modelling an $895 Bianca Spender blazer, a $189 Ralph Lauren shirt and $529 pants, along with “her own jewellery”. Yes, a taxpayer funded journalist. She is an award winning “non-fiction” writer and (inevitably) an ABC journalist who admits to being not remotely dispassionate. Oh, and the bitter ex-Catholic from Central Casting. Thanks to great detective work by the poster Currency Lad at Catallaxy Files (“No Country for Old Catholics“), we now have a detailed rebuttal of Ms Milligan’s work, described by First Things editor Julia Yost as a “semi-literate regurgitation of police theories”, suggesting more than a passing relationship between Milligan and Pell’s VicPol pursuers. As well as being a comment on Milligan’s journalistic talent. Yost notes:
Milligan does not attempt to conceal her hostility to the Catholic Church. She recalls her Catholic girlhood with a shudder. When she can, she quotes her sources disclaiming any vendetta against the Church. But she is equally happy to quote a source, for instance, who recalls that his mother “took her shoe off and hit me in the face about six or seven times and said I was dirty”—in accordance, he says, with the “Catholic system.” Whenever she can, Milligan associates Catholicism with the victimization of children.
Following a long lunch with Milligan, the Australian Financial Review’s Aaron Patrick reported:
Milligan has been accused of being a conduit for anti-Pell leaks from the Victoria police. She insists they never helped her, despite multiple requests, and she became immersed in a network of church victims covering the royal commission.
Milligan says she doesn’t know if her reporting influenced Pell’s prosecution. The Victoria Police and Director of Public Prosecutions were under intense scrutiny over the case, which they had been considering for two years, and Milligan’s reporting added to the pressure for action.
Milligan doesn’t pretend to be dispassionate. She carries the anger of the Church’s victims like a war wound.
The Pell case has moved beyond a crime story. It has become a clash between some of the great institutions of Australian society: the Catholic Church, the conservative wing of the Coalition, the Murdoch press, the ABC, Melbourne University and Melbourne’s liberal legal community.
WHERE YOU stand on Milligan’s reporting defines, in part, whether you believe Pell was victimised for embodying conservative values, whether you see a cultural bias operating at the ABC, and whether you believe the justice system can hold off a community desperate for retribution, regardless of whether the prime of object of such emnity deserves it.
How the ABC chose to illustrate one of its Pell reports several years before he was charged.
Milligan is, then, the friend of the victims and complainants of abuse, using her position at the ABC to further their cause, without apology, using her contacts at Melbourne University Press to publish a hit-piece book on Pell, to be released a mere six weeks before Pell was charged!
Here, and to be charitable, we are inclined to say that Milligan’s book does not belong to that genre of historical writing that attempts to tell us “what really happened,” rather, it is the sort of history that tries to get to the heart of the human event. In a word, Milligan is providing a character witness for the Kid. She is trying to communicate to us why we should trust him.
Milligan’s schadenfreude moment came following Pell’s conviction:
He spent his days telling the rest of us how we ought to live our lives, and now, here he was, scratching out his signature on the sex-offender register.
Now to Julie Stewart, who revealed to Milligan useful material – a letter from Cardinal Pell – in relation to Stewart’s abuse by the truly dreadful Fr Peter Searson. Stewart indeed features in Milligan’s Harper’s Bazaar spread. Stewart’s revelation was another strategic piece in the Get Pell jigsaw puzzle, and was designed to confirm all the things that Milligan “revealed” about the Cardinal – bully, sociopath, rigid as an Easter Island statue, etc. Stewart was immensely useful, then, for showing Pell in a poor light and reinforcing the extant stereotypes of the man.
Next we come to Bernard Barrett, an advisor to the Broken Rites group set up to represent victims and complainants to, in effect, bleed the Church dry of funds and of its capacity to take moral positions – like those so despised by Louise Milligan.
Barrett is another of those actors in the network who have been on Pell’s case for a long, long time. Andrew Bolt noted in 2002, via a story in the Sydney Morning Herald on the (dismissed) charge against Pell from the 1960s:
… the complainant, codenamed X, told the inquiry Barrett said “he could write a terrific victim impact statement” that would earn X least $50,000.
Barrett denied this but told the inquiry he “offered to show [X] how to do it [write a victim impact statement]” and had told X that the church’s compensation scheme ranged up to $50,000.
It was after X took his complaint to the church that the defamatory article by “Xavier O’Byrne” appeared on the internet.
X told the inquiry he wasn’t happy about the publicity: “I was crook on Barrett because I thought, still think, that Barrett leaked this.”
Barrett, who denies leaking, was accused by the Cardinal’s defence team in 2018 of having tried to “pin something on Pell”. He denied this, and also that Broken Rites was a vehicle for targeting the Catholic Church. Barrett was also, incidentally, The Kid’s first port of call, a while before he went to the police and well before Milligan came across him.
Finally, we come to The Kid. We will probably never know who The Kid is, despite his uncorroborated and evidence-free claims having landed Pell in gaol. We have it on good psychological authority – no less than the Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court and career commercial law solicitor Anne Ferguson, that The Kid is “no fantasist”. He is said to be no liar either. The conviction and dismissed appeal means that, unless the High Court rules otherwise, The Kid will forever be a “victim” and not a “complainant”.
The Kid came forward to police a few weeks after his lawyer, through the Twitter outlet of “Lyndsay Farlow”, discovered “Billy” of Philly in the US, who had three priests and a teacher put away for things later proven they had not done. One of his victim’s died in jail. If Pell’s case – that he could not physically have committed the crime – is true, then The Kid is, indeed, a liar or a fantasist, or perhaps, as posited by the current Archbishop of Melbourne, caught up in a case of mistaken identity. Probably we will never know. The evidence that he concocted his story on the back of research into Rolling Stone, is indeed circumstantial. But he was certainly connected with people – Milligan, Farlow and Waller – who were indeed across the case of Billy from Philly. Melbourne legal academic Jeremy Gans, as well as Milligan herself, have noted that there are differences as well as similarities between the two cases.
Well, one wouldn’t want an exact copy, would one?
The unfortunate death of The Choirboy may or may not have opened the way for The Kid to make his play. Given that the mate had never himself claimed to have been abused — indeed, had told his mother he had never been abused — it surely didn’t hurt The Kid’s case. Again, that we will decidedly never know. Were the police taken for a ride, like the Met was in the UK with the Carl Beech case? And did they want desperately to believe him because of their own longstanding determination, well and truly on the public record, to get Pell? They certainly accepted, as did the jury and the majority of the Appeal Judges, that the many and significant changes over time in the various versions of events given by The Kid to the police, to Milligan and at the trial were not sufficiently worrying to doubt his word.
Let me mention briefly, in turn, Sabrina Rubin Erderly and the Ballarat support group. She penned the piece in Rolling Stone that catalogued the case which led to several wrongful convictions and one man’s death. And she may have, inadvertently, contributed to the unswerving work of the players in the Melbourne-based network who were busy themselves beavering away on another, otherwise unrelated, project. Erderly’s journalism was later show to be based on a fabrication. Sabrina should at least score an honourable mention.
Finally, the victims’ support group centred on Ballarat. This was all about the monstrous Gerald Ridsale, who was found guilty of sexual abuse crimes against many, including, sadly, his own relatives. Many of the Ballarat victims were closely connected to Vivian Waller, and Waller as we know pursued Pell over the alleged cover up of these Ballarat matters. That they never proved Pell had covered up crimes provided considerable motive for either getting someone for the cover-ups, or getting Pell for something else. And they went to Rome, fifteen of them, accompanied by the deputy mayor no less. They confronted Pell publicly in an ugly manner after he had given evidence to VicPol in Rome. They added to the pressure already building, keeping Pell in the news. More generally, they formed a network and they proved a valuable source of information for both Waller and for Broken Rites. They expanded the network and were a source of information for others in the network. Quadrant Online examined the allegations, more lurid and improbable with every retelling, of one of the social media-funded Rome tourists. In its final iteration, he would have us believe the nuns at the orphanage where he was raised had a BDSM-style dungeon in the basement where small boys were strapped to a St Andrews cross and whipped, had their teeth yanked with pliers, and were bathed in preparation for sessions of abuse by visiting priests. A sample:
…the sexual abuse got worse… as I got older it went on to the physical and dungeon type of thing. The horror rooms, they had medieval paintings, a big wooden X cross on one wall. I used to be stripped down and tied up and sexually abused by it.
In 2016, their anger was undiminished, their sense of justice by no means sated. Gerald Ridsdale’s nephew, David Ridsdale, himself a convicted child abuser, spoke for the group in Rome:
“You’ve got to be a delusional human being to even imagine that’s the truth,” he said. “A very small step was made, but none of us felt that the evidence he gave was representative of the man we met in the room.”
The survivors say Pell had been listening to them in private meetings, yet appears to be dismissive of them in public.
“The person up on the stand was the bureaucrat, he was the corporate man,” Ridsdale said. “None of us were satisfied with his evidence. Not in the slightest.”
The networking by the victim’s support group was perfectly understandable. Despite the massive shift in the Church’s approach occasioned by Pell’s Melbourne Response in the 1990s, and the payments made to victims and other services provided, Team Ballarat was still unhappy, dissatisfied and pursuing unfinished business. Pell was probably seen by them as not just a figurehead but also as a blame-shifter and probable cover-up agent (especially in relation to Ridsdale). Waller certainly believed this. Pell was accused of lying under oath during his evidence to the RC in Rome in relation to the Ballarat matters.
The “unfinished business” element of the pursuit of Pell has been enduring during the past decade of his pursuit, and across most many of his pursuers.
With the Catholic Church under legal assault by prosecutors in 14 states, the case of a former Philadelphia altar boy dubbed “Billy Doe” serves as a cautionary tale that not every priest accused of sex abuse is automatically guilty.
The case also shows that crusading prosecutors don’t always play by the rules. And that no matter what the true facts in a sex abuse case are, it won’t matter to a biased news media.
The word “crusading” is important here. It captures perfectly the tone, the motivation and the intent of those involved in the pursuit of Cardinal George Pell.
That is the cast of characters in the Get Pell network. Yet there is another piece of evidence in building the case, circumstantial but, dare one use the term “compelling”, that Pell was shuffled into a position from which there would be no escape. This is the calendar of events from 2011 to 2017. Again, it suggests a long game, involving many assassins and the brutal use of State power to hound the innocent amid the drip feed of then, and still, unsubstantiated allegations.
CONSIDER the timeline as the Pell saga unfolded. There are highly suggestive coincidences that provide further evidence of a sting at worst and a well-connected network at best. These dates provide some of the missing links that underline the significance of the plays described above.
September 15, 2011:Rolling Stone article on Billy Doe in Philadelphia
April 2012: Graham Ashton submission to Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry accusing the Catholic Church of various failures in relation to sex abuse cases
October 2012: False allegations made by Vivian Waller about Pell covering up sex abuse in the Br Best case
November 12, 2012: Julia Gillard announces Royal Commission
February 19, 2016:Herald Sun story (by Lucie Morris Marr, shortly to publish a book on the Pell trial) that VicPol is investigating Pell, following leak by police. Milligan is now on the case
March 2016: Pell gives evidence in Rome, is confronted by Ballarat support group
March 7, 2016: Abuse victim Julie Stewart and Louise Milligan meet
May 2016: Milligan meets The Kid
May 14, 2017: Milligan’s book published
June 29, 2017: Pell charged by police; soon after this, Milligan’s book was removed from Victorian bookshops
So, was Get Pell a sting?
The actors in this network didn’t necessarily meet every Monday morning to monitor progress in Operation Get Pell. They didn’t need to. There were sufficient connections, and knowledge of the progress of the other actors in their endeavours, to not require anything so formal as a group designation. Modern teams, certainly in business, often do not meet, do not even know all the team members and their endeavours, but are connected through shared corporate objectives and single-minded commitment. They just get on and play their own part, working separately. They utilise social media and benefit from our hyper-connected world.
This is how it went. This is the beauty of networks, as Niall Ferguson and the public choice theorists know, only too well. Show your support Donate Now
Doubting Thomas – 31st August 2019 I’m not sure the networks explanation holds up any better than the proverbial conspiracy theory. It is certainly clear that many like-minded, extremely bigoted, and in some cases totally corrupt individuals piled on whenever an opportunity presented. My own view is that virtual lynch mobs formed under the apparently virtuous cover of “organisations” like the Ballarat Group and the, to me, entirely egregious Broken Rites, whose spokespeople never fail to seek new grist for their mills, with the tireless support of the ABC and other left-wing media. The hateful hatchet job done on the unfortunate former Governor-General, Archbishop Peter Hollingworth was merely a dress rehearsal for the Get Pell main event. It really is time to drain our swamp.
lloveday – 1st September 2019 “..if Pell is telling the truth, then his accuser must be not telling the truth”.
Why was the second verdict by the jury in the trials of George Pell so different from the first? If the juries in both cases were a fair sample of the Australian public, and the evidence heard by both juries was identical, you would expect the outcomes to be fairly similar. Like the first, the second trial should have produced a hung jury too. But the first trial produced a majority of ten jurors voting to acquit and only two voting guilty, whereas in the second trial the jury voted twelve-to-nil for guilty. This is a significant difference. So what explains it?
There are some things about the trials we can never know — the selection process for the two juries, what went on inside the jury rooms — so they cannot be considered. But there was one highly publicised external incident that must have made some impact on the second jury, but not the first. It is not far-fetched to argue that it largely made the difference.
Pell’s first trial for the alleged abuse of two choirboys in St Patrick’s Cathedral took place in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne over five weeks in August and September 2018 and produced the hung jury. The media was banned from reporting the outcome and the second jury was not told about it. The second trial began on November 8, 2018, and produced its guilty verdict nearly five weeks later on December 11.
Each trial was identical. The complainant was not required to be present in court. In the first trial, jurors saw him testifying and being cross-examined by videolink. The second time around, the jury saw a recording of the same videolink. The prosecution relied entirely on the testimony of this one former choirboy, recalling the events of twenty-two years earlier. The defence provided a stream of clergy to testify that the alleged abuse in the cathedral’s sacristy, a few minutes after Sunday Mass and with Pell still dressed in his multilayered archbishop’s vestment, not only did not happen but was physically impossible.
In between these two trials, on October 22, 2018, in the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a public apology to the victims of child sexual abuse. This was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had formally agreed to deliver last July. After he was deposed, the task fell to Morrison, who invited Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to make a speech at the same time.
The day Morrison gave the apology, television news bulletins around Australia made it their lead story, and the next morning front-page reports in almost every daily newspaper in the country kept it alive. In the mainstream media, the apology went around the world, with reports on the BBC, US News and World Report, Straits Times, Reuters, Al Jazeera and iAfrica.
In Melbourne, where the jurors were recruited, the front page of The Age on October 23 carried a three-column wide photograph of Julia Gillard and activist Chrissie Foster in Parliament House congratulating each other under the headline: “A sorry that dare not ask for forgiveness”, plus two pages of reports inside. The Melbourne Herald Sun’s online coverage carried live video of the apology as it was given, accompanied by no less than fifteen separate online stories, with headlines such as “Scomo fights back tears telling victim’s story” and “Your country believes you”.
There is little wonder the issue attracted such attention. Since Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, political speechwriters had refined their skills at this kind of thing and knew how to turn the issue into compelling theatrical drama. The driving motif of the apology was that, up until now, a terrible and ubiquitous crime had been silently suffered by tens of thousands of child victims. Overwhelmed by the authority that adults possessed in institutions, the victims had no one to tell and nowhere to turn. But now, thanks to today’s political leaders, who had the wisdom and compassion to listen to the children and to believe what they say, the victims can at last tell their stories and release their burden of guilt and shame. This was captivating material and both Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten worked hard to outdo one another. Here are samples from their speeches to the House.
MORRISON:Today, Australia confronts a trauma, an abomination, hiding in plain sight for far too long. Today, we confront a question too horrible to ask, let alone answer — why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected? … Why was our system of justice blind to injustice? Why has it taken so long to act? … Why didn’t we believe? Today, we dare to ask these questions, and finally acknowledge and confront the lost screams of our children. Mr Speaker, I present the formal apology to be tabled in this parliament today … and, as I do, I simply say I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you.
SHORTEN: We are sorry for every cry for help that fell on deaf ears and hard hearts. We are sorry for every crime that was not investigated, every criminal who went unpunished. And we are sorry for every time that you were not heard and not believed. We hear you now. We believe you. Australia believes you … Too many were told. They just didn’t listen. Too many did know. They just didn’t act … Some of these people were supposed to be the pillars of our community. They had the power, the status, the authority — but they wielded these as weapons … But know that today Australia says: Sorry. Australia says: We believe you.
In their speeches, both Morrison and Shorten paid particular tribute to Julia Gillard who “had the courage and leadership to initiate this Royal Commission”. Gillard was at Parliament for the occasion, seated in the public gallery, next to prominent activists for the cause. When proceedings moved out of the House and into the Great Hall for a reception with activists and victims, her presence turned the occasion into something like a religious festivity. Jacqueline Maley of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote:
She was not the politician doing the apologising, but she was the only one the survivors really wanted … As soon as she entered, the room erupted and they all stood for her. When Shorten spoke, he said he was proud of her, and there was more applause and cheering. “Get her on stage please!” yelled one audience member. “Thank you!” and “Love you Julia!” shouted others. “Come over to my house for a cuppa, love!” cried another. Eventually they coaxed her on stage, but Gillard spoke briefly, only to thank the survivors for telling their stories, and for their stoicism. Moving around the room, she was mobbed. Everyone wanted a chat, or a photo, or just to embrace her. One man went down on his knees to kiss her feet.
Now, I don’t doubt that both Morrison and Shorten believed what they said when they quoted the Royal Commission’s findings. It is true, of course, that if either of them had shown any reluctance to back the Commission’s recommendations, their parliamentary opponent would have had a valuable political wedge, as Labor showed in the 1990s when it accused John Howard of heartlessness in refusing to apologise to the Stolen Generations.
It is nonetheless true that Morrison and Shorten showed too much faith in the reliability of the Royal Commission’s reports. In his apology Morrison said: “The steady, compassionate hand of the commissioners and staff resulted in 17,000 survivors coming forward, and nearly 8000 of them recounting their abuse in private sessions of the commission.” And Shorten could not resist the temptation to beat up the issue even further: “Australia failed tens of thousands of children, across generations, across this country.”
The Commission’s own statistics, published in its Final Information Update, showed a much smaller incidence of abuse than this. The Commission reported that, after its public appeals and private entreaties for victims to come forward, a total of 16,953 people made contact within its terms of reference (confirming Morrison’s statement). It heard verbal evidence from 7981 survivors of child sexual abuse and received 1344 written accounts (again confirming Morrison). But of those who complained, only 2562 had their cases referred to police (which neither speaker mentioned). What this shows is that almost three out of four complainants did not provide enough credible evidence for the Commission to put the matter into the hands of the proper authorities.
So, at a time when the Catholic Church was being publicly castigated by both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader for not believing the word of all its complainants, offering only “deaf ears and hard hearts”, the government’s principal source, the Royal Commission, was doing the same to the great majority of those who approached it.
It should also be noted that the Royal Commission had the same basic methodology as the Stolen Generations inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Both determined their conclusion at the outset. Both were appointed to investigate a serious social problem and their aim was to find evidence to quantify the problem and offer policy solutions. The concept of evidence was defined as anything that supported the pre-determined conclusion. Anyone could make accusations and, indeed, had an incentive to do so, some through the lure of compensation, others through the appeal of public victimhood. Hence the statistics that inquiries of this kind provide are simply compilations of grievance, many of which are no doubt genuine but many of which are notoriously unreliable. In short, by relying on the Commission’s data, both Morrison’s and Shorten’s claims about the issue were unsafe.
As Quadrant has shown in a number of articles published in April and May this year, the Royal Commission did not take the issue of bogus complainants seriously enough. Yet, with our very limited resources, we quickly found enough examples to demonstrate that their claims should not be believed on their word alone. These included (i) the fantastic claims by Gordon Hill about sexual abuse and torture in dungeons at a Catholic boys home, and in confessional boxes in churches; (ii) the “recovered memories” of Cathy Kezelman of childhood rape by her father and a family friend, and her grandmother’s consignment of her to a sexually depraved satanic cult in Brisbane; (iii) the exposure of “trawling operations” by police in England and Wales to uncover abuse in residential institutions for troubled adolescents, which attracted numerous dishonest complainants from current and former prisoners with long criminal records; and (iv) the “Billy Doe” case in Philadelphia in which a complainant gave false testimony about abuse by three Catholic priests and a teacher that sent them to jail, where one died, before the others had their convictions overturned.
Now, the only people in Australia who would not have known about the national apology and the emotions it provoked on October 22 would be those who didn’t watch television news, didn’t read newspapers, didn’t listen to radio commentators and didn’t use social media. In other words, it is more likely than not that the jurors selected for Pell’s second trial would have absorbed at least some of its content and sentiments. In particular, they would have heard the oft-repeated refrain to the victims: “We believe you, we believe you,” and the invective heaped on religious authorities, police and magistrates who in the past failed to heed that message.
Some jurors might also have been aware of the saint-like status bequeathed by the occasion to Julia Gillard for her purported courage and foresight in shining a light on the plight of victims and flushing out evil doers.
Moreover, the content of all this media coverage was not only politically and culturally jaundiced, it was empirically unreliable, based on a naïve faith in the veracity of the Royal Commission’s claims, or in the case of Shorten’s speech, a wilful exaggeration of the scale of the problem.
Sixteen days after all this, on November 8, the jurors selected for the second Pell trial were expected to forget whatever they had heard before, and take an objective stance on the whole business. The court expected them to act as if they had been quarantined from any contaminating opinions and value judgments. It was asking the impossible. The jurors heard all the trial evidence —its claims, counter claims and cross examination — with a dodgy national apology ringing in their ears.
It is possible that, decades ago, I did poorly executed cartwheels in the altogether around a school swimming pool without any teacher or pool attendant noticing. Well, one complainant, now in adulthood, says I did. For the avoidance of doubt, I protest my innocence of this alleged offence. And I think I should do so because it is clear to me now that provided something is possible, however unlikely, it is capable of being counted against me. Or, at the very least, it offers me no refuge from the administration of justice Victoria-style.
Thus, two of the three judges of the Victorian Court of Appeal adjudged that it was not impossible for Cardinal Pell to have committed the alleged offences despite all of the logistical difficulties. I have enormous trouble getting my head around the logic and force of this argument. If I say it would have been impossible for me to have done something, I might mean that literally. For example, in circumstances where I have a cast-iron alibi. Or, in ordinary parlance, I might mean that it stretches credulity for me have done the something in question.
Let me show my considerable perspicacity and say that I think that the latter is what Pell, through his counsel, was claiming. For someone to challenge this claim by asserting that what is alleged is indeed possible is not, to put a fine point on it, terribly insightful. Someone, less polite than me, might call it obtuse.
Am I wrong about this case? Is white really black? Does two plus two actually equal five? The only evidence against Pell – if you ignore scurrilous gossip and unsubstantiated accusations, as you must – is the uncorroborated say-so of one complainant describing events of some twenty-two years before. In such a case, the logistical difficulties of the events having occurred, and nineteen of them were put forward without challenge, I understand, can only be counted in the favour of the accused. They can’t be turned around so that the mere possibility of the events occurring is somehow put in the accused person’s debit column.
“An unusual feature of this case was that it depended entirely upon the complainant being accepted, beyond reasonable doubt, as a credible and reliable witness. Yet the jury were invited to accept his evidence without there being any independent support for it.” — Justice Mark Weinberg in his dissent
Let me also say that I am absolutely over this business of a complainant being believed because they appear to be credible. Appearing credible is not irrelevant but there has to be more. Surely, there has to be more when you are at the point of ruining a person’s legacy and their reputation and relieving them of their freedom. That’s why we have the standard of proof of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Lots of guilty people go free as a necessary cost of ensuring that the legal system can’t be wielded to destroy our freedom by being used capriciously against us.
Con men are in the news all the time for ripping off people. In all cases, by definition, they spin a good convincing yarn. They are credible. Bernie Madoff didn’t get rich by appearing to be a crook. But people can genuinely believe what isn’t true.
My daughter left me in her flat drinking beer and watching football the other late afternoon while she and her husband went looking at a couple of child-care centres. She put a lasagna in the oven and said it would be okay, but asked me to intervene if I smelt something burning. When she returned home the lasagne had overcooked; though short of burning. She gently chided me for not checking on it, as she had asked. I needed her husband to verify that she had not in fact asked me to check on it. She believed she’d asked me; she hadn’t. She just made it up and thought it was true.
Now clearly this example of mine is trivial in the scheme of things. Nevertheless, it demonstrates the difference between the truth and what people believe. Memories can be invented and embellished through time.
Did Christine Blasey Ford actually believe that Brett Kavanaugh and his mate assaulted her many years before? Personally, I don’t think she appeared credible. There I go. I must remember that appearances in either direction can be deceptive. People of the world, including most especially judges, one would think, know that.
It was not impossible that Kavanaugh did it. But there was no corroboration and what evidence there was made it quite unlikely and counted rightly in Kavanaugh’s favour. For example, people who Ford claimed were at the party when the alleged assault took place had no memory of such a party. Of course, it is not impossible that they could have forgotten. But not even the Democrats construed that as counting against Kavanaugh.
And here’s another thing about this travesty of justice. Reportedly, the Victorian office of public prosecutions didn’t think the case strong enough to bring, yet the police persisted. Indicative of reasonable doubt?
The first jury failed to form a unanimous verdict. Some reports suggest that it was 10 to 2 for acquittal. Why don’t we know? Surely there is a legitimate public interest in knowing. That aside, we know that some on the jury favoured acquittal. Indicative of reasonable doubt?
Leave aside the mystery of the second jury forming a unanimous guilty verdict on exactly the same evidence that stymied the first jury, one out of three appeal judges favoured acquittal. Having another judge of the same mindset as Mark Weinberg, instead of one of the other two, and Pell is free. Weinberg has much deeper experience in criminal matters than do his fellow judges, who reportedly are versed in corporate matters and human rights. Indicative of reasonable doubt? I would jolly well say so.
Hopefully the High Court will hear the case and acquit. This is nothing at all to do with my belief that Pell is innocent. I have no special knowledge of the truth. I wasn’t there. It has everything to do with the evidence. There is not nearly enough. Surely it is wrong to incarcerate someone because a single complainant looks convincing, particularly in circumstances where the alleged offences took place decades ago and, to boot, in the most improbable of circumstances.
What the heck is going on? I find it troubling beyond words. Something seems rotten in the State of Victoria.
Here’s another hope. I am not sure how realistic it is. It is that the Pope, whatever happens, will keep Pell frocked and as a cardinal. Secular justice has gone badly off the rails. The Church should form its own view independently and act accordingly. It wouldn’t be the first time in history that a cleric has been unjustly imprisoned. I believe Saint Peter spent some time there. Show your support
To support their case for rejecting the appeal of Cardinal George Pell against his conviction for sexual abuse of two choirboys in 1996, two of the Victorian appeal court judges, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and President of the Court of Appeal Chris Maxwell, reject the claim that the sole witness against Pell was dishonest and unreliable. Defence counsel Robert Richter had pointed to significant differences in the surviving choirboy’s original statements to the police, who he first contacted in June 2015, compared to statements he made about the same issues at the first trial in August-September 2018. The two judges argue that discrepancies and inconsistencies do not necessarily equate to dishonesty and unreliability. They quote Justice Michael McHugh’s comments in the High Court’s 1994 benchmark case, M v Queen:
It is the everyday experience of the courts that honest witnesses are frequently in error about the details of events. The more accounts that they are asked to give the greater is the chance that there will be discrepancies about details and even inconsistencies in the various accounts … If a jury thinks that the demeanour of the witness or the probability of occurrence of the witness’s general account is persuasive, they may reasonably think that discrepancies or even inconsistencies concerning details are of little moment.
Now, McHugh’s comments would seem to most people to be fair enough. Ferguson and Maxwell go on to quote Peter Kidd, the judge in Pell’s original trial, who gave his jury much the same advice:
When you are assessing the evidence, also bear in mind that experience shows the following. One, people may not remember all the details of a sexual offence or may not describe a sexual offence in the same way each time. Two, trauma may affect different people differently, including by affecting how they recall events. Three, it is common for there to be differences in accounts of a sexual offence. For example, people may describe a sexual offence differently at different times to different people or in different contexts.
Again, this all seems hard to deny. However, in their response to the Pell appeal, Ferguson and Maxwell take this point much further. Rather than simply using it as a caution against assuming a witness’s uncertainty or mistakes are some kind of proof of his dishonesty, they go on to argue that discrepancies and inconsistencies can actually be testimony to a witness’s credibility. In the Pell case, they argue that, when the choirboy was confronted in cross-examination at the trial with changes he apparently made to cover gaps or problems with his previous statements to the police, he either admitted he was wrong or said it all happened when he was only thirteen so it was hard to remember back that far. Hence, the two judges claim, he should be regarded as an honest person and everything he says should be believed.
Throughout his evidence, [the choirboy] came across as someone who was telling the truth. He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution. As might have been expected, there were some things which he could remember and many things which he could not. And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth.
On another page of their judgment, they give three examples in the choirboy’s evidence against Pell:
A further indication of A’s credibility, in our view, was his admitted uncertainty about a number of matters which, if the story had been invented or was an entrenched fantasy, he might have been expected to describe with confidence. Striking examples of this were: his uncertainty about whether Cardinal Pell closed the door in the first incident; his lack of recall as to whether he had screamed or called out during the first incident; and his uncertainty about which hand Cardinal Pell had used in the second incident.
In other words, defects in the key witness’s case should be interpreted as confirmation he is telling the truth. Hence the more inconsistencies that emerge in the prosecution case, the more credible that case becomes!
When confronted by points of argument that are supported by little evidence to either confirm or refute what happened, the judges still side with the choirboy by introducing the concept of a “ring of truth”. They deploy this metaphor three times in their judgment:
He had been caught red-handed, in a prohibited place, and anything he said about Cardinal Pell was almost certain to be disbelieved. What followed in his evidence also had the ring of truth.
In our view, it was open to the jury to conclude that [the choirboy] was not here concocting his answers. What he said had the ring of truth, as did his response when the same topic was raised with him later in the cross-examination.
As might have been expected, there were some things which he could remember and many things which he could not. And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth.
Now, if judges want to rest their faith in witnesses on an entirely subjective notion like “ring of truth” which, in the absence of hard evidence, can only exist in the eye of a beholder, then they should treat all witnesses equally. They should regard the discrepancies and uncertainties of witnesses for both sides as evidence of their attempts to be honest too. Yet in Pell’s appeal, witnesses whose evidence tended to support the Cardinal get very different treatment. In fact, in Ferguson and Maxwell’s analysis, every time a pro-Pell witness has an apparent discrepancy in his evidence, or even simply feels uncertain about what happened, the two judges use this to disparage his claims. Some examples of this process are as follows.
One part of Pell’s defence was that it was impossible for him to be alone with the choirboys in the sacristy a few minutes after a Sunday Solemn Mass because at the time he would always be accompanied by the cathedral’s master of ceremonies, The centuries-old canon law for the Catholic Church’s ritual for the Mass demanded this be adhered to. At St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s the master of ceremonies was Monsignor Charles Portelli, whose cross-examination on this issue is quoted at length in the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment:
Q: Would there ever be an occasion, Monsignor, where you did not accompany Archbishop Pell back to his sacristy after Sunday solemn Mass?
A: Would there ever have been? There may have been. I can’t recall when that would have been, but I certainly would not have been very far because I would have to disrobe myself. So I had to take off what I was wearing and put on my street clothes.
Q: So what’s the answer? I think the question was simply was there an occasion or occasions when you did not accompany him back to the sacristy when he went back to the sacristy to derobe, that was the question?
A: Not that I recall, but it is possible that there may have been, but not that I recall. …
Q: The practice would be what when you got back, left the steps and made your way back to the sacristy what would your practice be?
A: The practice?
Q: In terms of walking back to the sacristy in which Archbishop Pell derobed?
A: Yes, we would [go] back to the sacristy. He would walk to the bench and begin removing various vestments.
Q: Were there occasions, or might there have been an occasion or occasions when having escorted Archbishop Pell back after Mass and having got to the area outside the priest sacristy door where he was to derobe that you didn’t actually go in with him, but went off somewhere else; is that possible?
A: Yes, it is possible.
Q: Where might the somewhere else be that you would have gone to?
A: If we had another function in the Cathedral that afternoon I would have gone back to the sanctuary by the back entrance to the sanctuary to make sure for instance that the books were all in place, that the right sermon was in place, and so on.
Q: How long would you be gone for?
A: Two minutes.
Q: So that would include walking from where to the back of the sanctuary, from where to where?
A: Well, if I didn’t go back into the sacristy with him I would have walked straight on to the sanctuary from the side.
In response to this, Pell’s counsel said there was nothing to indicate any lack of reliability in Portelli’s evidence. It was a “badge of credibility” for Portelli to have acknowledged that there was something which he was unable to remember. Moreover, it had never been suggested to the jury that Portelli was lying, or was partisan, or that “on the specific matters that were important, … his evidence lacked any reliability at all”.
However, despite the fact that Pell’s counsel was adopting here the very same argument that Ferguson and Maxwell used to confirm the reliability of the choirboy, the two judges decline to respond to Portelli the same way. Instead, they use his statements in the cross examination above to discredit all his evidence, arguing:
In our view, the jury were entitled to have reservations about the reliability of Portelli’s affirmative answers under cross-examination when they were viewed in the light of his answers in examination in chief and re-examination. Such reservations were justified, in our view, by the obvious contrast between the uncertainty of his responses to the prosecutor’s questions and his ready adoption of statements put to him by defence counsel about what he recalled. In the circumstances, it was open to the jury to doubt whether those affirmative answers in cross-examination represented an actual revival of recollection … While it may be accepted that he had a general recollection of the first time Cardinal Pell said Sunday solemn Mass at the Cathedral, his evidence demonstrated a lack of detailed recollection of the events that took place on that day.
Ferguson and Maxwell deploy similar tactics to discredit the testimony of the cathedral’s sacristan, Maxwell Potter, who, over a period of about five years, had on two occasions been a substitute for Portelli in accompanying Pell to the sacristy after Mass.
Potter was asked in which year the first two Sunday Masses said by Cardinal Pell had taken place. He said it was 1997 [in reality, December 1996]. This error was noted in the written case filed on behalf of Cardinal Pell, as was Potter’s erroneous description of the altar servers as boys between the ages of 12–15 years, rather than (as was the fact) adult men … The defence conceded in final address that Potter’s “memory may not be terrific” and senior counsel for Cardinal Pell made a similar concession in this Court. In the circumstances, the jury would have been well justified in having doubts about the reliability of Potter’s evidence, especially his answers under cross-examination. Certainly, the jury had a solid basis for finding that Potter’s evidence did not give rise to a reasonable doubt about Cardinal Pell’s guilt. [emphasis added]
They do the same to altar server, Daniel McGlone, who gave a detailed description of the first Solemn Mass at St Patrick’s in December 1996. McGlone said his memory of meeting George Pell was vivid since his mother accompanied him to meet and talk with the charismatic new archbishop. After the Mass’s ceremony and a procession to the western end of the cathedral, McGlone met his mother inside the cathedral and then went with her to the outside cathedral steps, where he saw Pell doing a “meet and greet” with parishioners. He introduced his mother to Pell and they conversed. This was damaging evidence to the prosecution’s case, because if Pell had really spent even a few minutes at this location, he would not have had enough additional time to go back to the sacristy to have his way with the choirboys there. However, in the course of his cross examination, McGlone said he had not been to an evening vigil Mass celebrated by Pell one night in November 1996. The prosecution then produced a photograph of him at that evening mass, causing McGlone to admit he must have had an inaccurate recollection of the dates in question in 1996. Ferguson and Maxwell use this marginally relevant admission to dismiss any prospect that McGlone’s evidence threatened the credibility of the choirboy’s claim. They argue:
The fact of the encounter between McGlone’s mother and Cardinal Pell was not in doubt. There was, however, some uncertainty about the date on which it occurred. McGlone was confident that the occasion of his mother’s visit was the first time Cardinal Pell had said Mass in the Cathedral [i.e. 15 December 1996] But, as the prosecution pointed out both at trial and on the appeal, McGlone agreed in re-examination that (contrary to his recollection) he had attended an evening vigil Mass celebrated by Cardinal Pell on 23 November 1996. Accepting, however, that the encounter occurred on either 15 or 22 December 1996, this did not make the first incident an impossibility. It simply ruled out one of those two Sundays, as the prosecutor pointed out to the jury in final address. Consequently, the jury did not on this account have to have a reasonable doubt about A’s evidence in relation to the first incident.
What stands out in the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment is a relentless and often desperate hunt for evidence to discredit pro-Pell witnesses. It is a theme repeated at almost every stage of their verbal re-enactment of events, in order to dismiss objections to the choirboy’s claims about when and where he was abused, and where George Pell was and what he was doing at the same time.
As well as Portelli, Potter and McGlone, the judges adopt a similar approach to the evidence given by altar server Jeffrey Connor, choir marshal Peter Finnigan, choirmaster and organist John Mallinson, and choirmaster and assistant organist Geoffrey Cox.
For example, the choirboy’s version of events is that after he and his friend were assaulted by Pell, he changed and went straight home by car – “he did remember being in the car on the way home and ‘sort of thinking about it’,” the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment records. But both Finnigan and Cox gave evidence that there was a choir rehearsal scheduled for 12pm noon, immediately after Mass on Sunday December 15 and the boys’ attendance would have been compulsory, so they couldn’t have gone straight home at all. Despite what had allegedly happened to them, they would have had to perform. Finnigan and Cox provided written evidence of this: a circular letter to parents giving the date and time of two choir rehearsals, and a diary entry about one of them. Ferguson and Maxwell admit in their judgment that the choirboy could not reconcile his account of what happened that day with the post-Mass rehearsal. Yet they go on to diminish the value of Finnigan and Cox’s evidence because both acknowledged in cross-examination that they could not remember actually attending that particular choir rehearsal twenty years ago. They had relied upon their written documents for the evidence that it occurred then. “As the Crown points out,” the two judges write, “the relevant witnesses had no independent memory of those rehearsals actually having taken place”. What they found more persuasive here was the word of the choirboy. They quote from his cross-examination:
[The choirboy] accepted that Mr Finnigan conducted such rehearsals “as though they were military exercises” and would take note of people who failed to attend. It was then put to him that his description of what happened was “just impossible”. [The choirboy] denied that. When asked why it was not impossible, he responded:
Because I was orally raped in a … room after Mass.
Asked again, he responded:
Because I was assaulted in a room after Mass and that’s why I’m here.
In other words, in the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment, the choirboy’s memory of an event twenty-two years after it supposedly occurred is a more acceptable piece of evidence than the church’s documents written at the time the offence purportedly took place.
There is one further issue worth discussing that initially appears to give some credence to the choirboys’ claims, but for which the defence did not call any witnesses. This is the question of how the choirboy could describe with some accuracy how the interior of the sacristy looked when Pell found him there. The priests’ sacristy was a room that was normally out of bounds to choirboys. In response to Pell’s lawyers’ claim in his appeal that the prosecution had “relied entirely upon the uncorroborated evidence” of the choirboy, the prosecution replied:
There was some corroborative or supportive evidence. For instance, the complainant accurately described the layout of the Priests’ Sacristy – a room in which he had never been as far as he could recall.
Ferguson and Maxwell seize on this point.
The credibility of [the choirboy’s] account was considerably enhanced by the accuracy of his description of the Priests’ Sacristy. He was able to describe in some detail the layout and furnishing of the alcove where he and [his friend] were discovered by Cardinal Pell. As the Crown pointed out, [the choirboy] correctly placed the wine area in the alcove, not where it is currently located… In our view, the jury were entitled to view these ‘undisputed facts’ as independent confirmation of [the choirboy’s] account of having been in the Priests’ Sacristy in that period. There was nothing to suggest that his knowledge of those matters could have been obtained otherwise. [The choirboy’s] evidence was that he had never been in the Priests’ Sacristy before.
But then, the judgment concedes something unexpected. The choirboy had previously seen inside the priests’ sacristy after all.
In cross-examination, he accepted, but did not recall, that he had been taken on a tour of the Cathedral when he first joined the choir. He said that he had no recollection of being shown the sacrisities on such a tour, but did not dispute it.
But instead of recording this as “a possibility” on Pell’s side of the equation, of similar weight to all the other tenuous possibilities that Ferguson and Maxwell tally to make their case against Pell, they dismiss this one, saying the jury was entitled to ignore it:
The jury were entitled, in our view, to discount the possibility that going on such a tour would have explained [the choirboy’s] detailed knowledge — and recollection 20 years later — of the interior of that particular room.
So the choirboy’s possible previous visit to the sacristy, and any knowledge of it he might have gained there, is turned into a matter of little consequence. Once again, the two judges grant a concession to the choirboy that they never conceded to Portelli or any of the other witnesses from the Cathedral.
In short, the Ferguson-Maxwell judgment is one that bends over backwards to support the conclusion it is determined to reach, no matter how embarrassing the position its authors are left in.
To conclude here, let me remind readers just how precarious the case against Pell was from the start. As noted in the dissenting opinion of the third appeal court judge, Mark Weinberg, Pell’s defence identified at least five topics that were essential for the prosecution to succeed. They are:
# Pell was alone at the time of the alleged offending;
# He did not greet parishioners on the steps of the cathedral after Mass;
# The vestments he wore were able to be manoeuvred to expose his penis;
# The choirboys were able to access the sacristy corridor;
# The choirboys were able to break away from the procession undetected.
If the jury had entertained a reasonable doubt about any one of these topics, Weinberg says, that would have been fatal to the prosecution case. His judgment is 202 pages, just shy of 70,000 words – twice as long as that of Ferguson and Maxwell – so it deserves a corresponding degree of attention, which will be given in a separate article in Quadrant, to follow soon.