Editor's Column

A Kafkaesque Scenario

The case of Cardinal George Pell and child sexual abuse is still not finished. There is the matter now being investigated by the Australian Federal Police about whether Pell’s opponents within the Vatican sent money to Australia to try to influence public opinion and legal proceedings. However, given the enthusiasm to persecute Pell displayed by those arrayed against him in Australian legal and media circles, if such bribery did exist it was probably wasted. As Humbert Wolfe observed long ago, when you see what they will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

Moreover, with today’s benefit of hindsight over the competing perspectives that now come into view, the Pell case seems even more important on levels other than the multi-pronged witch hunt by the desperate characters who brought him down. Above all, the case is a demonstration of the fragility of the rule of law and of civilised social and professional relationships. Within the ideological imperatives that prevail today, any one of us could become George Pell. We could be accused by strangers of reprehensible behaviour, and then find the weight of the nation’s structures of law, government and public opinion piled on top of us—a Kafkaesque scenario.

Keith Windschuttle’s new book
The Persecution of George Pell
can be ordered here

Pell was lucky to be saved at the last minute by his only remaining hope, the judges of the Australian High Court. They retained enough independence and integrity to see the truth of his case as it was. However, these qualities had been beyond the ability of the majority of judges in the Victorian Court of Appeal and beyond the comprehension of the six former judges and legal officials who sat on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, all of whom displayed embarrassing failings in the logic of their findings. There are no guarantees that future members of the High Court will act as creditably as those who acquitted Pell.

In my book published last month, The Persecution of George Pell (Quadrant Books, 408 pages, $39.95), I not only cover the minutiae of police, court and Royal Commission proceedings in what defence counsel Robert Richter accurately described as “Operation Get Pell” from 2013 to 2020, but also place it within the history of the culture wars, political ideology and consequent changes to legal procedures related to sexuality that have accumulated since the 1960s.

Running through the book is an examination of the impact of what became both a critical legal question and a major political issue: should those who claim to be victims of sex­ual abuse be believed as a matter of course? As my book shows, at the same time as victims of this crime have gathered both the personal courage and community support to report their cases to the proper authorities, they have been accompa­nied by an out­break of fraudulent claims that were widely accepted to be just as true as those of genuine claimants. Accom­panying them has been an obsessive campaign in the news and entertainment media, drip-fed by leaks from police and lawyers, dedicated to convincing the public to accept all claims by those presenting as victims.

The notion that all victims of sex­ual assault deserve to be believed originated as a compassionate one. It arose from the desire to give comfort to genuine victims of child sexual abuse by forcing their abusers into the open to face justice, while at the same time giving victims the privilege of anonymity, restricted questioning, and the sympathy of the judi­ciary.

But the fact that advocates for victims, lobby groups of sur­vivors and members of the judicial system have so far been very reluctant to face, is that compensation schemes and damages claims have attracted a significant number of indi­vidu­als who have made complaints that were bogus. As the Pell case shows, some of the latter have been habitual criminals, some recently released from prison, and even some still in prison itself (giving evidence by audio link), who have seen compensation claims for sexual abuse as a much easier way to make money than their former illicit activities.

Some of the other bogus claimants have been emotion­ally disturbed or mentally unbalanced individuals for whom the commiseration they have received has been a matter of comfort in their sorry lives. The book shows how some have been shamelessly exploited by our leading television current affairs programs. Others have made false claims in order to become the centre of public attention, if only for a short time, as part of a common cause that has attracted much publicity and the sympathy of many people. No matter how wild their allega­tions, people like this have been taken seriously. They found they were suddenly shown respect, a quality long lacking in their lives, especially those who adopted the deeply embedded Australian tradition of cutting down tall poppies by accusing someone well-known and in the public eye.

Meanwhile, these bogus victims did not suffer any damage themselves. In Australia, no accuser of child sexual abuse is ever prosecuted for making a fraudulent claim. In fact, the legal sys­tem allows them to shelter behind pseudonyms while their real names are suppressed by the courts. And yet the names of those they accuse are publicly pronounced, both inside and outside of courts whenever an accusation is made, and an indelible stain is cast onto whoever is the target, irrespective of whether they are even­tually found guilty or not.

In fact, as Pell’s long travail demonstrated, his position as a person accused of these crimes meant he faced in court the reversal of long-standing legal principles, including the presumption of innocence, guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and the onus of proof being on the prosecution. If he had not persisted with his appeals—he said there was one stage in prison when he felt like giving up—his case would have set damaging legal precedents.

The political slogan of “I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you”, did not spring from the Aus­tralian experience. Like the testimony of Pell’s principal accuser, it was borrowed from overseas. Its founding premise came from American feminist activists in the #MeToo movement and other campaigns located within the over-arching ideology of international identity politics. It was instrumental not only in the Pell case but in other highly publicised allegations of child sexual abuse that also eventually turned out to be bogus, such as those of Carl Beech in the UK and “Billy Doe” in the US.

The insistence that all claimants are genuine is a very dangerous one. If accepted in the form its proponents demand, its logical con­sequences would undermine the rule of law. If embedded in an Australian state or territory, there would be no necessity to stage trials for sexual abuse at all. If complain­ants were to be treated as victims who must always be believed there would no longer be any need for a judge or jury to con­sider the evidence for and against, and come to an independent decision. Moreover, an accused person would have no defence, because the verdict had already been decided: whatever the complainant says goes.

Yet, we have just come through a period when this assump­tion was accepted as appropriate for Australian conditions, not only by the Royal Commis­sion into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, but also by politi­cians on both sides of the fence, including current and former prime ministers, who dutifully accepted its recommen­dations. The idea that some people who authorities believed to be victims might have invented their stories was unthinkable to those in thrall to the prevailing ideology. They were also blind to another of its consequences: it was an insult to genuine claimants to place spivs and crims with fraudulent claims among the same ranks as those whose lives had truly been ruined by sexual predators.

The most disappointing institution in the Pell case has been the fourth estate of our democracy. Not all, but most of the news media not only took the same side against him as the bay­ing mob, they became leaders of that mob. They com­pletely failed to see this persecution from Pell’s perspective. He had been accused, tried and jailed for just about the most vile crime a normal, masculine man like him could commit. He faced insult, humiliation and utter disgrace. But the baying media mob, from their safe spaces behind corporate walls, was never interested in reporting his side of things. Instead, they hooted him whenever they could. Like the crowds lining the Via Dolorosa, they applauded every fall he made along the way.

So the decision of the High Court of Australia in April 2020 was more than the end of a witch hunt and the acquittal and release from prison of an innocent man. Legally, politically and morally, Australia had walked to the edge of a civilisational abyss, and peered in. The High Court allowed us to take a step back, and walk away. It was a near-run thing.

17 comments
  • Steve Bonner

    What a travesty of justice when the Royal Commission itself assumes the presumption of guilt and an apprehension that the complainants must be believed.

  • christopher.coney

    It is only marginally relevant, but throughout the 1990s in Western countries, including Australia, there were a number of criminal trials in which adults, mainly male relatives, were charged with sexually abusing children. These have become known as repressed (or false) memory cases. The worst cases were shown to be ones where a child consulted a psychologist or psychiatrist, and over time, in one way or another, the child was convinced that the adult had committed outrageous abuses upon her (sometimes him). Some adults (mainly men) spent time in prison. Eventually, in a number of cases, it was found that the abuse did not and could not have happened. This revelation had a huge dampening effect on what was becoming a repressed memory syndrome industry. Thankfully, when some of the so-called specialists were successfully sued for their negligence, the dampening was even stauncher. It might be that this whole disaster, which destroyed a number of families, is behind us. But, it has been followed by things that are just as bad.

  • Davidovich

    Appalling and concerning as the Pell persecution was, it would appear that Australia is still teetering on the edge of the civilisational abyss Windschuttle remarks on. The present case of certain soldiers of the SAS Regiment believed to have committed war crimes in Afghanistan some 10 years ago has shown media and politicians from the Prime Minister down rushing to judgement. These crimes are alleged and may well have been committed but they have not yet been tested in a Court of Law. Did anyone hear the PM say ‘alleged’ at any time in warning the public of horrific crimes being committed or of moves to strip awards for some 3,000 soldiers who had served in Afghanistan. No, we are still teetering on the edge of tat civilisational abyss.

  • robtmann7

    The ‘recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse’ racket absorbed at least $500M from the Accident Compensation Corporation in extra fees paid by ACC to the “therapists” who read these wicked scripts into the memories of numerous unhappy women, and lump sums e.g $20,000 paid by ACC to the “victims”. Instrumental in stopping the racket was Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith, now Prof Community Health, U of Auckland med sch.

  • Sydgal

    I have been reading a number of witness statements and narratives in the RC case studies section of the website (and reading and watching some of the high profile books and television programs in relation to more recent matters) and have been struck by some of the similar threads in accounts, eg descriptive passages and it seems that a number of complainants met each other at funerals. The results of Operation Plangere do not seem to have been publicised and I have been unable to locate Vic Police’s submission to the RC in the RC document library. The following disclaimer is on the RC website: “This is the story of a person who spoke with a Commissioner during a private session of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Real names of individuals have not been used, except of public figures in a public context. The information the person provided was not evidence, the person was not a witness, and did not need to take an oath or affirmation, although they were expected to tell the truth. Nothing in this story is a finding of the Royal Commission and any views expressed are those of the person, not of the Commissioners”.

  • Peter OBrien

    Keith’s book is a tour de force and I thoroughly recommend it. Keith has a knack of presenting his arguments with a clarity and logic that few can muster.

  • jvernau

    “Within the ideological imperatives that prevail today, any one of us could become George Pell.”
    >

    Yes, although very few could find the mental and spiritual resources of that admirable gentleman in order to endure it.
    The danger that now prevails is clear. For example, the basis of what became ‘charge 5’, resulting from ‘the second episode’, was described by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd as:
    “You were in official robes. J was in his chorister robes. You pushed yourself up against J against a wall and then squeezed J’s genitals for a brief period (for approximately one to three seconds).”
    The sentence for this was 18 months imprisonment.
    Imagine a visit from Victoria Police, who inform you that a ‘credible’ accusation has been made; that you performed a similar assault in a crowded, public place on an unspecified date some 20 years ago.
    With the current state of justice in Victoria, your only viable defence would be to prove that you were somewhere else.

  • Peter OBrien

    AWU Workplace Reform scam (failure to charge Ralph Blewitt), Gobbo, Pell, Red shirts. There is a not so golden thread that runs through Victorian justice and its name is Graeme Ashton.

  • James Franklin

    There’s a subtle linguistic matter: “all victims of sex­ual assault deserve to be believed” is actually true because “victim” is a success word. The problem is with people meaning by it “all alleged victims of sexual assault deserve to be believed”.
    Recommended: the Australian Catholic Historical Society’s review of Keith’s book: https://australiancatholichistoricalsociety.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/grace.pellreview.pdf

  • Simon

    Our PM didn’t cover himself in glory with the Pell case either. He was one of the first to talk about stripping Pell of his Order of Australia.

    He’s such an oaf, isn’t he? He can’t seem to think anything through and like his predecessor with the unverified 4-corners claims of abuse at the NT correctional facility, he has the knee-jerk malaise – act now, think later.

    He’s doing exactly the same with the SAS inquiry – proving yet again that the Left never ever learns from it’s mistakes.

    Anyone with a modicum of rationality would have known from the first, the very first, that the case against Pell was completely unjustified and unsustainable.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Simon, I couldn’t agree more. Morrison simply cannot control his mouth. Apart from the Pell case, he has made the SASR situation immeasurably worse than it needed to be. That the two Generals are just as bad is not reassuring

  • call it out

    Windschuttle’s book makes a great contrast to the jobs on Pell by Milligan, Marr, and Morris-Marr.

  • call it out

    It’s not just Pell. I have been witness to the whole woke machine, including sex discrimination officers, workplace injury agencies, unions, lawyers, and the judiciary, going along with “she must be believed.”
    On the basis of an allegation, contested by eye witnesses, uncorroborated evidence cost a man his career, and his personal reputation.
    It can happen to any of us.

  • Sydgal

    Thank you very much to Keith for the incredible work in his book – for drawing all the pieces in the puzzle together.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    Rebel Media recently interviewed a young man from Victoria University in Melbourne who had spent ten years achieving his final year as a practicing psychologist (apparently he took some time, but it is a long course, and there may be some back story here). He thought a woman was friendly to him and they had engaged in some general Facebook banter. Then she told him she was going to a Safe Spaces talk on Asians and sexuality. He joked back that he didn’t think Asians had ‘special bits’ requiring such a separate talk. It was clearly a joke, a callow one and not very smart, but just a joke, he thought, rather like other ‘word game’ jokes on other things (non-sexual) that he had shared with this fellow student in his year. She took offense as a ‘person of colour’, he apologised online immediately, but she still launched a full attack on him with all guns blazing.
    I do not know the full ins and outs of it, but the end result was he was kicked out of his course, told he couldn’t finish it, and most incredible of all, told he was not allowed to set foot on campus ever again, as a peril to other students. That was two years ago. He is currently working as an apprentice electrician. He doesn’t want to go near this university nor any other again. A shattered young man, I suspect. Still though, they will not leave him alone. The Psychologists Registration Board wish to ‘interview’ him to drag the whole thing up again, and he has had to employ a legal representative to help him face their questioning; a career and ten years of work and effort and his character up in smoke for the sake of feeble joke.
    That’s our university system in Australia today. One shudders for any young man wishing to enter it.
    I’m in fear my beloved and very smart grandson may say something silly.
    Perhaps I should head him off History at Sydney and straight into an apprenticeship?
    Sydney U claims to be a better place than Victoria U, but on these matters, I hae ma douts.

  • Elizabeth Beare

    Well, done, by the way, Keith, for getting this book out from the amazingly good detective work you did on the defense for the Pell case as published in Quadrant. All this, as well as admirably editing one of the few remaining serials of genuine intellectual discourse in Australia which, unlike leftist magazines with far fewer credentials, deliberately and by leftist censorship receives no funding from any grant for the high standards of publication it upholds in both format and content. Hope this doesn’t sound too in-house simply because Quadrant has published a few small pieces I have written (giving a woman new to writing a little space to develop), but it does need to be said, and often, especially to those in the Coalition governments and others concerned about Australia’s slide into intellectual mediocrity, who should be listening. Quadrant is the most long-standing Australian magazine in its genre and survives on subscriptions and the occasional benefactor, as well as supporting publication of serious books that may not be welcomed elsewhere. I’d like to see Meanjin and the whole stable of fairly unimpressive left-leaning Arts-funded magazines do that. Encouragement of a little diversity in Australian social and political opinion would be no bad thing; as citizens might feel like telling their political representatives.

  • Salome

    Picking up on Elizabeth Beare’s excellent point, Spectator recently published an article bemoaning the lack of conservative intellectuals in Australia. In the comments I referred anyone who cared to read my comment to Quadrant. To mention the work done on the scandal of the Pell convictions only scratches the surface of the riches waiting to be discovered. But, as my stream of consciousness meanders on, I reflect that it’s now about two years since the rumours went around the legal end of town that the Cardinal had been found guilty. Between then (or a bit later, when the news could be published) and the glorious day of the acquittal by the High Court, it was to Quadrant that I frequently turned to read articles that simply accorded with my understanding of physical and legal reality. My safe space, if you like. I do hope the Cardinal’s getting a copy for Christmas–his first in three without that preposterous conviction weighing on his reputation. Otherwise, I’d be happy to donate to the purchase of one.

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