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.
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.
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.
n the most contentious criminal matter in Australia in decades, the full bench of the High Court of Australia unanimously acquitted Cardinal George Pell of five charges of child sexual assault. With this unanimous acquittal, questions about Pell’s case now turn towards those who prosecuted and supported the case against Pell. Were they out to “get Pell”? Was Pell a scapegoat?
Deficiencies in the Victorian criminal justice system have been exposed by the High Court’s verdict. The High Court established that Cardinal Pell was wrongfully convicted by a jury, whose verdict was incorrectly upheld by the Victorian Court of Appeal in a two-to-one decision. For these wrongful convictions, Cardinal Pell was deprived of his freedom for over 400 days, was subjected to intense public vitriol, and had his reputation internationally discredited.
The High Court’s unanimous and definitive verdict suggests that Pell was unfairly and improperly targeted by the Victorian criminal justice system and wider public discourse. I intend to assess this claim. If it is true, the implications are of great significance for major institutions in Australia, such as the criminal justice system and media, and the behaviour of society more generally. They also bear on an important attitude evident across the Western world: of unreservedly believing alleged victims of abuse or assault, and pursuing charges based on their testimony, regardless of counter-evidence.
This essay appears in June’s Quadrant
In its judgement, the High Court stated that the jury, if acting rationally, should have had reasonable doubt about the charges against Cardinal Pell, and that the Court of Appeal should have recognised the grounds for reasonable doubt. These grounds were based on the unchallenged evidence of twenty-three opportunity witnesses. The High Court justices concluded: “the issue for the Court of Appeal was whether the compounding improbabilities caused by the unchallenged evidence … nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt. Plainly they did.” (Paragraph 119, Pell v The Queen  HCA 12).
On this basis, the seven justices unanimously concluded that there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”. (Paragraph 9, Pell v The Queen  HCA 12). This statement is damning and compels deep reflection. How did the State of Victoria end up at the High Court with such a clearly weak and problematic case?
To begin with, it is incorrect to label the High Court’s verdict as being about insufficient evidence or the result of a legal “technicality”, as some have done. The High Court justices are clear in their reasons that their verdict is about the weight of unchallenged evidence that clearly undermined the plausibility of the convictions. These convictions were made on the basis of complainant J’s testimony about events in St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996-97. Despite being clearly contradicted by the unchallenged evidence, the complainant’s testimony was affirmed by the jury and Court of Appeal majority, particularly because the complainant’s demeanour was judged to be credible. The High Court goes over the unchallenged evidence at length in its judgment, in order to show the inadequacy of the jury’s verdict and the Court of Appeal’s majority decision.
It is also important to note that the High Court’s verdict is not a rebuke to victims. Despite questioning the weight put on the complainant’s testimony in Pell’s case, the High Court states that its verdict does not imply that a complainant’s testimony is insufficient to gain a conviction: “There is no requirement that a complainant’s evidence be corroborated before a jury may return a verdict of guilty upon it.” (paragraph 53 of the High Court judgement in Pell v The Queen). It does disqualify, however, those complaints from resulting in convictions that have unchallenged evidence that counters the complainant’s testimony, as in Pell’s case.
This is a reasonable position and is the basis of the Anglophone justice system. Reasonable doubt requires a high level of prudential judgment about evidence and context. Clearly, while convictions against abusers are paramount, pursuing such convictions should not come at the expense of innocent people. Convicting people despite and against the evidence will only discredit the effort to bring real perpetrators to justice.
Given the failures in Cardinal Pell’s case, some are asking whether the Victorian legal system was captive to mob justice. The journalist Andrew Bolt has stated that the public and legal campaign against Cardinal Pell was a form of scapegoating. Pell has agreed with this characterisation. The Jesuit human rights lawyer Frank Brennan has argued that the “rule of law” was effectively not extended to Pell. Even Pell’s sentencing judge, Chief Judge of the County Court Peter Kidd, noted that they were “examples of a ‘witch-hunt’ or ‘lynch mob’ mentality in relation to Cardinal Pell”.
As with Lindy Chamberlain, who was wrongfully convicted in the 1980s of killing her daughter in the Northern Territory, there was a high-profile campaign over a number of years led by parts of the media, police and public against Pell. This campaign occurred at a time when the Catholic Church was under particular and intense scrutiny for its terrible mishandling of historic sexual abuse claims. The Australian’s Paul Kelly argues: “Pell became a hate figure in a culture justifiably angry at the church’s systemic child abuse.”
Professor Greg Craven, a constitutional lawyer and Vice-Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, claims that Pell was tried, before he even went to court, by a “media mob”. Journalist Chris Kenny has argued similarly, that Cardinal Pell was tried by media, and that Pell came to personify the failings of the Catholic Church in the popular imagination. In particular, some media organisations, such as the ABC, and some prominent public figures, such as the singer-songwriter Tim Minchin, relentlessly pursued Pell, as Craven comments:
This is where the Pell case has gone terribly wrong. Impartial judge and jury accepted, parts of the media—notably the ABC and former Fairfax journalists—have spent years attempting to ensure Pell is the most odious figure in Australia. They seemed to want him in the dock as an ogre, not a defendant.
Even before Pell went to trial, he was being called “scum”, “pompous buffoon” and “coward” in mainstream discourse—across mainstream media platforms—by Tim Minchin. Moreover, the ABC—spearheaded by journalists such as Louise Milligan—publicly aired claims against Pell without any response from him and with little consideration of counter-evidence. Milligan’s investigations of Pell aired on ABC television in prime time, including in an extraordinary 7.30 episode entirely given over to complainants, and in a book about Pell expeditiously published by Melbourne University Press.
Milligan has claimed she was just putting the allegations of victims on public record. There is, of course, great sympathy for such claims, given the history of cover-ups in the Catholic Church (and beyond). However, journalistic ethics dictates that one does not put claims to the public without investigating the full range of evidence and airing such evidence, including a defence from the accused. Milligan’s ABC investigations and book on Pell were blatantly one-sided.
Because of what seems to be bias, much of the media made basic errors and ignored evidence. The former editor of the Australian and the Courier Mail, Chris Mitchell (whose papers extensively covered historical sexual abuse) argues that the media should have been aware of the basic problems with the complaints against Pell, especially with respect to alleged incidents in St Patrick’s Cathedral:
The lack of grooming and public nature of the alleged crimes should have raised alarm bells for editors, reporters, book publishers and police investigators. Where was the evidence of the long-term grooming of a child that usually occurs before abuse by a trusted priest? Why would Pell, having just ascended to high office, risk everything with two boys he did not know? Their parents could have been police for all he knew.
Much of the media did not do their due diligence by investigating the claims properly and evaluating them rigorously and dispassionately. Instead, they ignored major issues with the allegations, and, as Bolt argues, even led the mob against Pell. The ABC has been particularly subjected to criticism in this regard, though it was not alone in problematic coverage of Pell. Nevertheless, ABC journalists led much of the media pack, especially in programs such as 7.30, Four Corners and Revelations. After Pell’s acquittal, the criticism of the ABC’s coverage resulted in it providing a defence of its coverage. While the ABC showed that some supporters of Pell were occasionally interviewed, it did not account for the way ABC journalists publicly prosecuted a case against Pell for years before the trial and then after his initial conviction. Whole programs were devoted to Pell which did little more than sensationally air claims against him, rather than test or investigate such claims. Even the ABC’s Media Watch reproached Louise Milligan for not airing Pell’s defence against such claims.
Author Louise Milligan enjoyed a friendly chat with magistrate Wallington on ABC radio. Wallington would subsequently send Pell to trial after a committal at which Milligan testified.
Moreover, the ABC coverage of Pell’s acquittal was minimal in comparison to its coverage of his conviction and initial appeal. Following the acquittal itself, there has been little discussion of the verdict on major ABC programs such as Insiders. There also have been no detailed articles or programs about the verdict (in contrast to pre-acquittal coverage) or how the ABC got their investigations so wrong. Some have argued that the ABC is refusing to accept responsibility. This is ironic, but not surprising: all institutions protect themselves.
The frenzied effort to “get Pell” seems to have been driven by an attitude of believing victims—no matter what—and an effort to make up for past sins. Like most institutions, the ABC and other media agencies neglected or ignored past abuse allegations. Gerard Henderson has written on the ABC’s double standards with reporting convictions of abuse amongst its staff and handling of past abuse claims. The media were slow to investigate past claims and are now trying to compensate. It is good that they are trying to make up for past coverage, except, of course, when innocent people are blamed, and attention is diverted from the culpability of all.
The High Court’s decision also puts the spotlight on years of effort and expense by the Victorian police and Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP). The result of their investigations is five wrongful convictions and a number of other charges thrown out at committal hearings. In total, twenty-six charges were brought by the police against Pell and all have failed.
This failure is clearly linked to the investigative methods of the police. Before allegations were made against Pell, the Victorian police took the unusual step of seeking out claims against him. When complainants came forward, allegations were not properly investigated.
In relation to the charges that were based on complainant J’s testimony, Frank Brennan identified major problems with the police investigation. For example, the police had not interviewed key witnesses about what occurred in the priests’ sacristy after interviewing Pell in Rome:
The police then had one year and eight months to review what Pell and Portelli had separately told them. They did not interview one single altar server. They did not interview one single concelebrating priest other than Portelli, who had confirmed Pell’s account. They did not interview one single money collector. They charged Pell instead.
The police also did not establish a clear timeline for events, which led to the prosecution formulating numerous theories for the jury, Court of Appeal and High Court. Even more scandalously, the police interviewed no potential witnesses about the second alleged incident in St Patrick’s Cathedral.
The lack of attention to the evidence was a serious failure that was fuelled by an anti-Pell media and a pro-complainant attitude amongst police and others. Despite Pell’s defence pointing out the inconsistences of the complainant’s testimony and its implausibility with respect to the opportunity witnesses, the second jury convicted Pell (after the first jury was hung). The second jury trial occurred soon after the Prime Minister’s national apology to victims of sexual abuse and his affirmation that they would be believed. In Pell’s case, the alleged victim was believed despite the evidence.
In the Court of Appeal, Justice Weinberg forcefully pointed out the failings of the jury, police and prosecution in his extraordinary 200-page dissent to the majority decision, as did the High Court in its unanimous judgment. This failure to take account of evidence is almost certainly connected to the tainting of the jury pool, which Professor Craven pointed out after the initial convictions. This failure is even more glaring with respect to one of the overturned convictions. This conviction related to the episode when Pell was alleged to have attacked the complainant in public view, inside St Patrick’s Cathedral, when surrounded by more than fifty choristers and Pell’s entourage. The High Court concluded:
The assumption that a group of choristers, including adults, might have been so preoccupied with making their way to the robing room as to fail to notice the extraordinary sight of the Archbishop of Melbourne dressed ‘in his full regalia’ advancing through the procession and pinning a 13 year old boy to the wall, is a large one. (Paragraph 124, Pell v The Queen  HCA 12).
Even the majority of the Court of Appeal seems to have been taken in by the spirit of the time by giving undue weight to the testimony of the complainant. The two majority justices set up an unsupported test of “impossibility” to weigh the complainant’s evidence and the jury’s verdict, which the High Court rejected as the incorrect standard. The High Court pointed out clear errors that the majority and the jury made with regards to evaluating the evidence, particularly of the opportunity witnesses.
For example, Keith Windschuttle shows that the appeals court majority put misplaced trust in the complainant’s testimony about the priests’ sacristy. The majority thought it convincing that the complainant identified the priests’ sacristy as the place of the first assault, since the archbishop’s sacristy was not in use at the time. Yet, it was not exceptional that the priests’ sacristy was being used by the archbishop. The majority seems to have overlooked the unchallenged testimony of witnesses that established that this was a common practice from 1992 to 1997 due to renovations. Furthermore, the complainant actually identified the priests’ sacristy as unchanged when he viewed it for the police in 2016, though it had been renovated in 2003-4.
The High Court hearings and judgment also exposed the shifting and impractical timelines presented by the prosecution with respect to the alleged offences and which were accepted by the appeals court majority. Frank Brennan has forensically outlined the problems of these timelines and shown that there was no window of opportunity for the alleged offences in the priests’ sacristy to occur, based on the complainant’s evidence and the evidence of other witnesses. Brennan also demonstrated how the prosecution formulated multiple, untenable theories with regards to the timeline in order to compensate for the fact that they could not make it fit with the testimony of the witnesses.
Andrew Bolt, too, questioned the timeline and traced it out personally at St Patrick’s (while recording for television). He demonstrated that it was impossible for the offences to have occurred according to the complainant’s testimony. Yet, the timeline theories of the prosecution did not even meet the low criterion of the majority of the Court of Appeal (of not being impossible), though there were clearly so.
Echoing many other commentators, the former Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, summarised the basic failure of the Court of Appeal majority:
The High Court and its seven judges all said they failed to apply the basic tenet of criminal law that every law student has drummed into them on day one at university—before you convict someone, anyone, of a criminal offence, there has to be good evidence to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
And all this comes before even mentioning the unusual similarities between the accusations against Pell and a case in Philadelphia, which Windschuttle has outlined.
These factors—the media campaign and the flimsy police and prosecution case—suggest that the legal and public claims made against Pell were bordering on the irrational and incredulous. It also suggests that mob-like behaviour was influencing the prosecution and conviction of Pell.
As one of the leading theorists of violence, René Girard, has extensively shown, human societies universally and repeatedly resort to mob behaviour to resolve their tensions and crises. Girard argues that scapegoating provides a social mechanism to unify human groups with a singular desire motivated by moral outrage. Because of the propensity and utility of mob activity, it is all too easy for public discourse and criminal trials to be hijacked for the purposes of scapegoating, as the novel To Kill a Mockingbird so devastatingly shows. This is why the Anglophone justice system—which the High Court so well represented—insists on a clear standard of proof and guilt, so to avoid mob justice.
Girard, who was a Stanford professor and a member of the Académie Française, provides four markers or criteria that manifest when a scapegoating occurs. He outlines these four criteria in his book The Scapegoat (p. 24):
# A social crisis is evident. In Pell’s case, there was a crisis around the failure of numerous institutions to prevent and address the sexual abuse of children, especially within the Catholic Church, and how victims were to be given justice and healing.
# A person is accused of heinous crimes that unifies the group against them. In Pell’s case, he was accused of violent and “brazen” sexual assaults of minors.
# Certain traits, such as of vulnerability or notoriety, are associated with the accused and mark them out as different. Pell was a well-known public figure and leader in the Catholic Church, which was under great public pressure, and was negatively viewed by many for his “unsympathetic” character and conservatism.
# A climax of scapegoating occurs in the form of the exclusion or killing of the accused. Pell was wrongfully convicted and jailed.
This scapegoating hypothesis with regard to Pell’s case is further enhanced if we reflect on it in the light of Lindy Chamberlain’s experience. Chamberlain was unfairly blamed and scapegoated for the death of her daughter in unusual circumstances. Like Pell, Chamberlain was eventually exonerated after massive public and media pressure led to the quashing of her original convictions. Like Pell, Chamberlain came from a religious minority widely distrusted and disparaged in this country. Lindy was a Seventh Day Adventist and Pell, of course, a Catholic archbishop. Prejudice in some form seems to have added to the public feeling against these two wrongly convicted persons.
Even more significant was the media and popular judgment of Pell and Chamberlain’s public demeanour and emotional reactions. Their demeanour was widely commented on, because they did not meet social expectations. Chamberlain was regarded as not emotional enough about the death of her daughter. Pell was similarly seen as unemotional and unsympathetic, especially to victims of abuse which the Catholic Church had so badly failed. He was also disliked for his strong defence of conservative religious, political and moral views.
Because of these popular judgements, Kel Richards remarks that Chamberlain was tried in a “poisonous” atmosphere – “hated” by those in Darwin because of her demeanour – while the media similarly poisoned the atmosphere for Pell. In Pell’s case, a powerful mentality of “believing victims” – regardless of circumstances – combined with a popular dislike for his
character, beliefs and positions.
Girard argues, moreover, that those who are regarded as supporting the accused scapegoat can also be targeted. In Pell’s case, this occurred with the targeting or ostracising of those who claimed Pell had been wrongfully convicted, such as Andrew Bolt, Greg Craven and Frank Brennan. For example, Andrew Bolt was publicly and privately harassed, and his television show was campaigned against, resulting in a loss of advertisers. The federal MP Craig Kelly was howled down on Ten’s The Project for questioning the soundness of Pell’s conviction.
Some argue that Cardinal Pell deserved to be targeted by the media and police because of his association with the Catholic Church, which failed so many children, and his own failures of leadership. The unredacted sections of the Royal Commission report about Pell will add weight to this attitude. Pell has admitted he should have done more to protect children in some instances, but he denies being involved in any inappropriate movement of priests. Accusations that past leaders should have done more to protect children could and should be levelled at many people in government, churches, the media and other organisations in Australia. It is an often overlooked fact that state-run institutions had almost as many allegations against them from the private sessions of the Royal Commission (32 per cent) as the Catholic Church (36 per cent). While the Church should be held fully accountable, what about these other leaders and institutions? Little is said in the media about them.
Nevertheless, it is unquestionable that the Church deserves criticism and censure for past behaviour and Pell’s failures should be scrutinised. Yet, the irrational pile-on against Pell that resulted in his wrongful conviction should not be repeated. Using him to expiate the sins of the Church is not a way forward. As Girard shows, scapegoating does not establish justice or any type of lasting peace or healing. Scapegoating obscures the truth and often allows real perpetrators to escape justice. It is worth remembering that Pell was not even named when the complainant’s mother first spoke to Broken Rites about the abuse allegations of her son. Furthermore, the pursuit of Pell has obscured the fact that he established a world-first system in 1996 to independently assess victim’s claims, remove offending priests permanently from ministry, and compensate victims of sexual abuse.
Because of what looks like a scapegoating, Cardinal Pell has spent more than a year in jail on wrongful convictions. This may have served to provide a kind of satisfaction to the mob, but it does not provide justice or healing for victims or Australian society. As Cardinal Pell stated after being released: “The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.”
If the full implications of the High Court verdict were realised, Australian society would resolve to address the factors that led to Pell’s wrongful convictions. Unfortunately, the media and legal campaign against Pell continues, in an effort at self-justification that only compounds the pre-existing mob mentality. Even more importantly, the lessons of the High Court’s verdict are not being learned by those who claim to support victims. After the High Court’s acquittal of Pell, the Premier of Victoria, Dan Andrews, tweeted: “I make no comment about today’s High Court decision. But I have a message for every single victim and survivor of child sex abuse: I see you. I hear you. I believe you.”
All civilised people want to believe victims of sexual abuse and see their perpetrators come to justice. However, Andrews’s comment diverts attention away from the clear rebuke to the Victorian criminal justice system made by the High Court in its unanimous acquittal of Pell. The High Court has emphasised that accusations must be properly investigated and substantiated according to the evidence. The Victorian police plainly failed to do this, and the Victorian legal system plainly failed to hold them to account. In so doing, the Victorian criminal justice system has failed complainants and victims.
Andrews’s comments also point to the sacred status that victims are given in our culture. According to Girard, the modern world is particularly sensitive to the claims of victims of all kinds, because the history of humanity’s involvement in acts of violence against scapegoats and victims has been exposed. As Bill Gates says: “Everyone knows the problem with creating scapegoats.” We all now know victimisation is wrong. Yet, victims in the ancient world did not have the status that modern victims do. Only in modernity do victims have such status (which Girard argues is particularly caused by the biblical revelation). This adds special status to the allegations of those who claim to be victims.
Victims of sexual abuse are given even more weight and status than other victims because of the terrible crimes committed against them and past societal failures to protect them. In itself, this is good: victims of sexual abuse should be believed and given justice. The question, though, is: Who is truly a victim, beyond reasonable doubt?
Without the protection of “reasonable doubt”, accusations would have enormous power. As Cardinal Pell stated after his release: “It’s not a sign of a civilisation where you have guilt by accusation.” And we should be especially careful because Girard warns that the claims of victims have such a sacred status in our culture. Because of this status, accusations can be used to target those claimed to be “victimisers”, even with little plausibility to the claims against them. This has occurred in Cardinal Pell’s case: he has been targeted and wrongfully convicted, all in the name of those he allegedly victimised. We must now face the prospect that Pell was scapegoated because of the attitude that “victims” are sacred and must be believed, no matter what. Despite its good intentions, this attitude can cause injustice.
Pell’s case is a salutary lesson in the criminal prosecution of those accused of sexual abuse or assault. As Pell stated after his release: “It’s not a sign of a civilisation where you have guilt by accusation.” The pendulum seems to have swung too far. Previously victims were hardly believed, but there is now great pressure to believe allegations, even when there is copious counter-evidence. Such credulity will not ultimately help to gain proper convictions and justice for victims.
If the attitudes and discourse on these matters don’t change in Australia, it will result in more scapegoats being created and more convictions being overturned. The required change doesn’t mean giving up on victims, but rather, supporting them better by ensuring their claims are properly and respectfully investigated. If this doesn’t happen, and if we don’t learn the lessons of Pell’s wrongful conviction, it will tragically add to so many wrongs already committed.Claims must be sensitively and rigorously investigated for convictions to stand. The justice system is purposefully balanced in such a way as to protect citizens from being wrongly convicted and jailed by the state. Being afforded a fair investigation and a robust sense of “reasonable doubt” is a right that protects us all from injustice. In Pell’s case, this right was not upheld, which the highest court in Australia had to finally establish.
Joel Hodge is a Senior Lecturer in Theology at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. He is the author of Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor and Violence in the Name of God: The Militant Jihadist Response to Modernity.
In a long interview with Sky News after Cardinal Pell’s acquittal by the High Court, Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who had always expressed skepticism of 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…
Fr Brennan also waxed about the great psychological burden heaped on J by the incompetence of the police and DPP 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 on which to sheet home blame for the fiasco. He wasn’t alone in giving J a pass. Chris Kenny made similar comments, while the ABC reported the following from Archbishop Comsoli, who was “relieved” the legal system finally acquitted Cardinal Pell. “But at the same time,” he continued, “… 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 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 naïve. Here it is, with comments by [this writer] exploring the subtext.
Here are excerpts, with comments
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 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’), Dr 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. Fr 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? He 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 VicPol coaching), the robes of the bishop (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 may 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 Fr 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 wreaked 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 Supreme 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.
Vivian Waller is the principal lawyer at Waller Legal, a Melbourne-based firm she set up in 2007 that specialises in winning compensation for historic cases of sexual abuse against the Catholic Church. In 2018 Waller represented the complainant in a case that led to the imprisonment of Cardinal George Pell.
To my knowledge, Waller does not tweet under her own name but the Twitter handle @LyndsayFarlow champions her in many ways. It is true the nom de plume “Lyndsay Farlow” is not solely concerned to speak for Waller, but the common concerns are clear enough (which in turn are also shared by victims’ advocacy groups such as Broken Rites). These need to be highlighted especially given the revelations about Operation Tethering.
Set up in 2013 by Victoria Police, Operation Tethering became publicly known five years later when, at Pell’s committal, Detective Superintendent Paul Sheridan admitted Pell had been identified as a target long before any complaints were received from purported victims. Defence counsel Robert Richter QC understandably characterised the trawling expedition as “Get Pell.” Presumably the staff for this operation overlapped considerably with that of Taskforce Sano, set up on November 30, 2012, which was created in the wake of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse. Sano would later feed into the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse that Julia Gillard set up on November 12, 2012. Given its focus on Melbourne and Ballarat, we may wonder whether Gillard was putting in place a “Get Pell” commission.
Farlow (of course) never mentions Tethering, but the Twitter feed shows an interest in Sano from its inception. Thus the hashtag #TFSano yields 11 tweets, all from Farlow dating from February 2013; #SanoTF yields three tweets, again all from Farlow. The only other handle showing comparable interest is that of “survivors” group @Clan_Au with whom Farlow also came to be associated – though not as closely as with Broken Rites. Farlow follows all the key steps, reporting from the early months of 2013 when Sano/Tethering began its work, noting the police call for information about abuse in Melbourne Cathedral in December 2015, and (when it was leaked in February 2016) the fact that police were investigating Pell. Farlow also reports when, after Louise Milligan’s ABC programme in July 2016, the police first publicly acknowledge their investigation. After Pell had been convicted, Farlow somehow manages to ‘like’ a Walleresque tweet from the head of Sano Doug Smith – no mean feat given that Smith, who only started tweeting in March 2019, has just four tweets (replies) and just eight followers!
What of Farlow’s apparent closeness to Waller?
In general we note how Farlow’s legal eye shows an interest in the case numbers of sexual abuse charges and the legal firms associated with Waller: Slater and Gordon in 88 tweets, Maurice Blackburn in 16. However, in particular, we can note how Farlow picks up on convicted pedophile Robert Best: three dozen tweets over five years. Thus, Farlow covers the story of the Christian Brother convicted of sex abuse in 2012, and later provides an interview with the person who was raped in 2014. This is highly significant given that Waller gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry to the effect that Best’s victim (represented by Waller) complained that Pell was then present. Pell would contest this falsehood, demonstrating that he was never there at the time. 
Then there is Waller’s particular expertise stemming from her doctoral research regarding the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, her “particular passion” as she put it in an interview. Farlow has tweeted on this topic on 36 occasions, especially in 2012. We also observe themes from Waller’s very practical doctoral research, such as child sexual abuse as a cause of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: a score of tweets with #PTSD since 2011. This theme of the long-term effects of the trauma of sex abuse was the topic of Doug Smith’s reply on March 9, 2019, mentioned above.
Finally we note the alacrity in spotting a reference to Waller even when her name was spelt “Vivien” (and there are only three instances in the whole of Twitter). We found a ‘like’ in which the lawyer is praised by an interviewer. Perhaps most fulsome is a long thread of 21 tweets on December 8, 2017, expounding Waller’s legal technicalities in the Ridsdale case.
We cannot say that Farlow is Waller, for in 2015 we have also noted a misspelling, Vivienne. Perhaps Farlow is a team. I count about 50 tweets in the first three months since Farlow started tweeting in 2009, but the grand total now indicates an average of over 100 a day. Also, it does not appear that Farlow was associated with Waller from the first, this link emerging from the time of Sano/Tethering. Rather, Farlow’s earlier connections appear journalistic, for example, 50 mentions of David Marr from 2010. Just how Farlow came to champion Waller is unclear. Still, this lack of transparency deserves scrutiny.
We will concentrate on Farlow’s tweets at the time when Pell’s complainant “J” went to the police, June 2015. At that time a witch-hunt was underway: just one month earlier, TheAge had to apologise for a Die Pell post that appeared on its Facebook page. Whilst we have no evidence of any connection with Farlow, the tenor of Farlow’s tweets are equally disturbing.
The Twitter feed is pockmarked by insults and scurrilous cartoons. Pell is egocentric, has no nous, lacks self-awareness, he crushes victims, threatens them, ignores their pain, and “may” have been involved in Australia’s worst cover-up. Farlow even seems to condone defamation, faulting Pell for over-sensitivity when he has recourse to law against the ABC who refer to him as a sociopath.
And on the day before the June 2015 complaint was made we can contemplate a cartoon in which a crozier hooks the “untouchable” Pell, compelling the Cardinal to come home. 
Even ecology becomes a weapon. On the day the complainant went to the police Farlow tells us that Pell must be feeling awkward.  At that time Pope Francis had published Laudato Si’, and so with the twitter feed’s solitary reference to the encyclical we learn that the Cardinal is an enemy of the Pope.
Overarching these barbs, is Pell’s performance in the Royal Commission, Farlow’s concern since its conception in 2012. Here the special interest is redress – an issue not absent from Waller Legal’s website, or indeed, of that of Broken Rites. Compensation should never be capped, as per Pell’s Melbourne Response. Pell is personally characterised as being solely interested in money. Indeed, he “strategically conspired to destroy John Ellis.” Farlow erupts: Pell “Lied under oath. Shame. Shame. Shame.”
Such was the social media hate campaign conducted against Cardinal Pell. Within this context we find a tweet highly suggestive of the febrile mentality and just three weeks before the complainant went to the police. Farlow had often (though not recently) mentioned Rolling Stone, and on May 28, 2015, tweeted a link to an article by Sabrina Erdely about Billy Doe, an altar boy whose lurid testimony convicted more than one priest in Philadelphia. Erdely’s message is very aptly summed up by Farlow’s hashtag: #AllRoadsLeadToRome. The subtext was this is what priests get up to. This is what Rome covers up.
The trouble for Farlow, though, was that Billy Doe turned out to be a fabricator. In 2016 Ralph Cipriano would show in Newsweek how this ludicrous case managed to hoodwink a jury. It’s difficult to imagine that Waller would not have known about this case, one that ought to have set alarm bells ringing.
There is, however, yet another coincidence that may set further alarm bells ringing, for that same morning Farlow had been communicating with the ABC’s Louise Milligan. Obviously, the pair were not discussing Pell, rather, some technical difficulties of loading a video (and the pair will not communicate again until the story of Billy Doe resurfaces as a possible source for the lurid testimony against Pell). It would be nine months later when Milligan would “reluctantly” start work on the Pell allegations, getting a tip about “J” or “the “Kid”, as she calls him, whom she would endorse (just after Sano’s Doug Smith had retired, incidentally). She would be the first to provide detail on the allegations, eventually publishing her award-winning Cardinal in 2017.
We wonder, then, about the covert attempts to undermine Pell. The indications from the open sources are that the lawyers standing to benefit from Pell’s conviction or those closely associated have attempted to tether him, not only by a Get Pell police operation but by a witch-hunt in social media. These indications, I suggest, warrant a closer scrutiny of the network I have highlighted.
A spectre is haunting Western societies, and it’s not just Chinese imperialism. It’s the spectre of Nihilism, permeating every corner of our intellectual and moral culture, and critically weakening our capacity to defend ourselves. At a time when sharply increasing international tensions are prompting an unprecedented increase in defence spending to counter external threats, it’s essential that the corresponding internal threats be addressed as well.
Much of the country’s political leadership, almost its entire academic establishment, most of the people who control its news and cultural output, and a good deal of its corporate elite view the US as an irredeemably malignant force for enslavement and oppression, a uniquely evil power founded on an ideology of racial supremacy. These Jacobins demand that Americans repudiate most of the nation’s history, tear down the icons of its creation and engage in a collective cultural expurgation of its sins.
Nihilism can be defined as the ideological position that all prevailing values, beliefs, systems of knowledge, conventions, and institutions are without rational, ethical, or philosophical foundation, lack any legitimacy and are systematically oppressive. For nearly two centuries, Nihilism has been associated with the radical intelligentsia and masses of alienated and under-occupied university students, other young people, and the disaffected masses generally. Historically, it has been exploited by those seeking to destabilize or overthrow existing political and social structures, with the best examples being the success of the Nazi Party in attracting millions into the Hitler Youth movement with its delirious book-burnings, and Mao Zedong’s mobilization of millions of young Red Guards in an iconoclastic Cultural Revolution that obliterated much of China’s cultural heritage.
These masses constitute the cannon-fodder of ‘the Revolution’, and characteristically they identify fanatically with some favoured ‘victim group’ for whom they proclaim a virtually infinite sympathy. However, the crucial point here is that the actual lives and living conditions of these groups don’t primarily concern the agitators – in fact, these groups serve mainly as a proxy for the agitators own ill-defined grievances and self-regard. Totally immersed in an intoxicating mood of outraged morality these foot-soldiers are oblivious to the real-world needs of those they purport to champion. Meanwhile, they are utterly dismissive of their critics (who point this out), and contemptuous of their opponents, viewing any concessions that are made to their cause as signs of weakness, encouraging further demands and assaults.
What is its history? Nihilism emerged as a coherent ideology in Imperial Russia, and the parallels between past and present are striking. It drew its devotees from the masses of young people who had been enticed into higher learning by educational reforms implemented under Tsar Alexander II. These expanded university education for the children of the middle classes and the lesser nobility but couldn’t guarantee suitable employment opportunities for graduates. These masses congregated in the university cities, such as St Petersburg, Moscow, and Kazan, and where a vigorous counter-culture thrived amidst economic upheaval and moral squalor.
As Nihilists, they cultivated a very specific attitude and image. This involved ostentatious moral posturing and virtue signalling, and included deliberately defying the older generations, authority and convention, while cultivating abrasive attitudes, manners, style, behaviour and dress, including unconventional clothing, long hair for men and short hair for women, blue-tinted glasses, communal living, sexual and class equality, and free love, polygamy, etc. They presented themselves as ‘New People’ implementing a new morality.
They affected to live an ascetic life close to their chosen victim group, ‘the people’, and especially the serfs, whom they fervently believed led a truly authentic and genuine existence. All this fell apart after an abortive campaign of ‘going to the people’ to offer them ‘liberation’. Out in the villages they discovered that the people held them and their ideas in contempt and violently rejected their criticism of the Church and the Tsar. Crushed by this collision of their moral fantasies with reality, their alienation deepened profoundly, they rejected liberalism, and gravitated instead to various forms of political extremism, e.g., Anarchism, Marxism, and Terrorism.
This phenomenon was documented by Ivan Turgenev in his famous 1862 novel Fathers and Sons, which also popularized the name ‘Nihilist’. Turgenev wrote in response to the cultural schism that he saw developing between the older liberals like Alexander Herzen and the new Nihilist radicalism, which ridiculed the meagre achievements of their elders. Yevgeny Bazarov, the main character of the novel, was an utterly idealistic and uncompromising Nihilist. He has been referred to as the ‘First Bolshevik’, for his Nihilism, fierce commitment to ‘the Cause’, and rejection of the old order.
Another novel gave vivid expression to this iconoclastic radicalism: What is to be Done? (1863) by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Subtitled ‘Stories about the new men and women’ it described in agonizing didactic detail a new type of person – one totally committed to political and moral revolution and prepared to do whatever it took to achieve the revolutionary overthrow of society. Widely regarded as one of the worst novels ever written, it famously made more converts to the cause of revolution than any other work. Lenin, for example, was profoundly influenced by it and later named one of his own most important revolutionary works What is to be Done?
Inevitably, some alienated youth was going to put these ideas into practice. Consequently, in 1866, Dmitrii Karakozov, a member of a St Petersburg terrorist group called ‘Hell’ attempted to assassinate Alexander II. He was quickly caught, tried and hanged. However, he implicated many other conspirators, some of whom were executed while dozens more were exiled for life in Siberia (where they often shot themselves). Alexander’s liberal policies included freeing the serfs, but this counted for nothing to the Nihilists and in 1881 he was finally assassinated by members of Narodnaya Volya (‘People’s Will’).
Another influential Nihilist was the sinister Sergei Nechaev, who became notorious for his advocacy of the amoral, ruthless and single-minded pursuit of revolution by any means necessary, including every form of deceit and manipulation, extreme political violence and brutal murder. His views were expressed in the infamous Catechism of a Revolutionary, a manifesto of Nihilism, promoting the “merciless destruction” of society and the state. Many would-be revolutionaries were impressed by Nechaev and sought to join his organization. One of these was a certain I. I. Ivanov. Unfortunately for him, he came to disagree with Nechaev and tried to leave the group. Consequently, in November 1869, Nechaev and several others lured Ivanov to a park where Nechaev beat, strangled, and shot Ivanov before dumping his body in a lake through a hole in the ice.
The Catechism was adopted by various radical groups over the years, e.g., the Black Panthers in the Sixties, whose leader Eldridge Cleaver adopted it as a “Revolutionary Bible”, declaring that it prompted him to adopt “tactics of ruthlessness in my dealings with everyone with whom I came into contact”. It still remains influential amongst political extremists, terrorists, and contemporary Anarchists and Neo-Marxists, including those presently involved in manipulating the current far-left BLM protests.
This connection was recently pointed out a former FBI counter-terrorism director on The Outsiders television program: “Much of the BLM program is lifted from the Black Panther Party and Weather Underground movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s.” These were Marxist-Leninist militant and terrorist groups that were seeking nothing less than “the total transformation of the United States government”, and were seeking to exploit “those situations where there is a tinderbox and light the country on fire.” (“Some lives matter more”, The Daily Telegraph, 7/7)
As these remarks confirm, Nihilism tends always to extremism, often ruining the prospects of their chosen victim groups, and usually culminating in violence. It also literally suffocates Liberal Democratic tendencies, as Russia found out in 1917. Therefore, the lesson to be drawn from history is simple: it must be met with uncompromising resistance.
Contemporary Nihilism is presently manifested in the mindless iconoclasm of the ‘cancel culture’, exemplified by its wilful and irresponsible street demonstrations in the presence of a pandemic, its ruthless destruction of reputations, vandalism of historical monuments and artefacts, along with the denunciation of Western Civilization, liberal democracy, capitalism, nationalism, ‘white people’, their history and everything to do with any of them.
It’s also evident in our universities. There, tenured academics elaborate and promote this Nihilistic agenda, while leaving its practical political implementation to the contemporary versions of the Hitler Youth and the Red Guards who dominate the streets.
Ominously, Nihilism has also infected many of our leaders, who fail vigorously to denounce this iconoclastic onslaught. Judged by their silence, the political class, academia, the media, and key social and cultural institutions are complicit in this ‘cancellation’ of our society. They may be motivated by some combination of cowardice, ignorance, ideology, and opportunism, or they may even have capitulated to the cancel culture and agree that both they and our society do indeed lack all legitimacy and should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Certainly, too many seem only too eager to concede the Nihilist case, with many getting down on their knees, or crawling off to make grovelling apologies over a never-ending stream of alleged wrongs, auditing the historical monuments of our cities to identify those that might conceivably cause ‘offence’, conniving with the police and justice system to allow these assaults to proceed with only the minimum of restraint or sanctions, if any, and generally cooperating with the radical blitzkrieg on the fundamental structures of the very society they purport to lead. Tragically, they seem oblivious to the corrosive effect this never-ending campaign of un-answered denigration and self-hatred has on the morale and cohesion of our society.
This is now a vital issue, given the sudden worsening international military situation, spearheaded by blatant Chinese aggression. As Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pointed out, “our region will not only shape our future … it is the focus of the dominant global contest of our age.” Moreover, it faces an “almost irreversible strain” that demands a radically revamped defence strategy. (“Australia’s best defence is a good offence as China flexes muscles in region”, The Australian, 4/7). Because the military threat now operates in a number of dimensions, the government has directed the defence establishment to develop enhanced capabilities across five areas: air, maritime, land, space, information, and cyber. This involves significantly expanding the foundations of Australia’s defence structure, funded by a total estimated expenditure over the next decade of $575 billion, including $270 billion on new hardware.
To drive home the nature and scale of the threat, Morrison has repeatedly invoked the situation in Europe in the early 1930s. Then, two earlier totalitarian regimes, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, were making clear their ambitions for world domination and were preparing for war, while the world’s democracies were struggling with the Great Depression and committed to appeasement. As the Prime Minister said: “The 1930s is something I have been revisiting on a very regular basis, and when you connect both the economic challenge and the global uncertainty it can be very haunting.”
Very haunting indeed, but what Morrison did not explicitly address were the powerful cultural and ideological forces that were at the centre of this earlier explosive situation as it built up. The most active were the extremists of left and right: the communist and the fascists, and their sympathizers. All of these fed off the pervasive Nihilism of that dreadful era, as Hermann Rauschning pointed out in The Revolution of Nihilism (1938). The least prominent were the moderates at the centre, and this was because the legitimacy of Liberal Democracy had been undermined by the catastrophe of the Great War, the misery of the Great Depression and, above all, by a propaganda onslaught led by the Comintern and its innumerable fellow-travellers amongst the political, intellectual, and cultural elites in the Western democracies. With very few exceptions (e.g., Churchill) all of these had fallen victim to the Nihilistic evaluation of Liberal Democracy and worked frantically to reinforce the air of cultural despair and defeatism.
This then is the diabolical situation Australia faces. On one hand we have the increasingly ominous external military threat represented by Chinese imperialism augmented by their ownership and control of key corporate, academic and infrastructural elements within the commanding heights of our society. On the other hand we have the omnipresent internal threat of intellectual and cultural Nihilism, which is being exploited and coordinated as a political force by this Fifth Column in the interests of our external enemy.
Their aim is to trap our society in a pincer movement, assailed by external and internal forces, in which we will soon be thrashing about pathetically, rendered impotent by self-doubt and self-hatred, as our sovereignty is stripped away and we are reduced to a cowed and subordinate status, much as the CCP is seeking to do in Hong Kong.
And so, if the government can find $575 billion to spend on defence, then surely it can apply some significant resources to winning the cultural battle. Otherwise, it seems that Lee Kuan Yew’s prophecy that Australians would become the ‘poor white trash of Asia’ will come true.