Our Greatest Miscarriage of Justice

Keith Windschuttle’s book The Persecution of George Pell examines the forces that conspired to bring down George Pell—the journalists, bureaucrats, social-media warriors, politicians and jurists. They pursued their quarry with every means available to them. And for a time, at least, it seemed they had won. Nothing less than the “reputation of the rule of the law in Australia”, asserts Windschuttle, was in question on April 7, 2020, when the High Court quashed Pell’s conviction for sexual abuse. If the High Court had decided otherwise, “the gravest misjustice in Australia’s history” would have gone unremedied.

There were five charges of sexual abuse against George Pell arising from two alleged incidents, one in December 1996 and the other early the next year. The second alleged assault becomes totally implausible once the first attack in the sacristy is rejected. Originally there were two accusers, both choirboys at the Melbourne cathedral; one, now deceased, disavowed his allegation before the first trial commenced. The remaining claimant, Choirboy I, maintained that after he and Choirboy II broke off from the post-Mass procession, they entered the sacristy and commenced sampling sacramental wine. In the midst of this, they were surprised by Archbishop Pell who, in the succeeding few minutes, perpetrated a number of sexual acts upon them and himself that would have required him to possess, by Windschuttle’s count, at least five hands. In the chapter titled “The High Court v the Baying Mob”, the author outlines the High Court’s view that any rational appraisal of the complainant’s account revealed there was no opportunity for the abuse to have taken place. It took nothing less than the seven High Court judges to do what the Julia Gillard-initiated Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (2012 to 2017), two trials in Melbourne and the Victoria Court of Appeal (August 2019) had conspicuously failed to do: protect the innocent.

One of the more evocative passages in The Persecution of George Pell is its account of the reaction of the media. Windschuttle quotes from a piece written by Pell himself for First Things: “I watched in my cell on Channel 7 as a surprised young reporter informed Australia of my acquittal and became still more perplexed by the unanimity of the seven justices.” In fact, Australia’s corporate media, Windschuttle writes, did not “know how to respond” to the High Court’s judgment because they had assumed Pell’s conviction was “well-deserved”. There is grim humour in Windschuttle’s description of the media pointlessly filming Pell’s car from helicopter height as it was driven along the Princes Highway from Barwon Prison to the Carmelite convent in Melbourne in an echo of the O.J. Simpson pursuit. The following day, two press cars again followed Pell some 880 kilometres from the convent in Melbourne until they lost him in heavy Sydney traffic: “It is hard to understand this expensive but futile pursuit, which left the reporters, and the news media they represented, lost for words. Despite their best efforts, their quarry was free.”

The High Court ruling, for anyone familiar with a series of articles by Windschuttle and other writers for Quadrant, did not come as a surprise. The High Court challenged a number of key aspects of the claimant’s narrative that “did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”. First, Pell’s practice of greeting congregants outside the cathedral after Mass placed him elsewhere at the time of the alleged attack. Second, the routine practice is that an archbishop is always accompanied by an adult assistant when disrobing in the cathedral. Third, the number of people likely to traffic through the priest’s sacristy after Sunday Solemn Mass meant it was not a private space. The upshot of this, disturbingly, is that everyone, from the Chief Justice of Victoria’s Supreme Court, Anne Ferguson, and the president of the Victorian Court of Appeal, Chris Maxwell, down to the young reporter on Channel 7—in short, the length and breadth of Australia’s latter-day power elite—allowed themselves to believe something that was closer to impossible than merely implausible.

Audio: Keith Windschuttle discusses his book with the ABC’s Andrew West

Some will argue, as the ABC’s veteran journalist Barrie Cassidy did, that the High Court’s 7-0 decision did not prove Pell’s innocence, and that nobody is legally obligated by its decision, including the lucidly and insightfully argued forty-four-page final judgment. Australians, in short, can blithely continue to accuse Archbishop Pell of sexually abusing two choirboys in a sacristy: “The High Court has found there was not enough evidence to convict. It did not find him innocent. You are entitled then to maintain your view and you are under no obligation to apologise for holding those views.” On the contrary, argues Windschuttle, once charges were quashed by a court of law—and, in Australia, no court is higher than the High Court—Pell had been adjudicated innocent. For any Australian to claim differently, at least in the public domain, is to open themself up to a defamation charge by George Pell—which, to restate how our legal system works for the benefit of Barrie Cassidy, would be settled in a court of law. The convictions against Pell were quashed not because of a “legal technicality” but, as Windschuttle writes, the “legal fundamentality” of the failure of Victoria’s Court of Appeal (and the second trial) to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Order your copy of The Persecution of George Pell

How, we might ask, did two of the three Victorian Appeal Court judges get it wrong in their decision to uphold Pell’s conviction on five charges of sexual abuse? To begin with, the High Court’s final judgment decided that Victoria’s Court of Appeal had reversed the customary (and lawful) practice of placing the onus of proof on the accuser, not on the accused. The emotional power of Choirboy I’s (recorded) testimony was prioritised over his inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Premier Dan Andrews’s response to the High Court’s decision inadvertently gives us the context in which Victoria’s Court of Appeal operated: “I make no comment about today’s High Court decision. But I have a message for every single victim of child sex abuse: I see you. I hear you. I believe you.” Obviously, Andrews was making a comment on the High Court’s judgment and thereby questioning the rule of law as it is practised in Australia. Put bluntly, if you discriminate in favour of the complainant—“I believe you”—in the name of social justice, then it stands to reason you are discriminating against the accused and contravening the very premise of justice. There is no wiggle room in this. Justice is either blind, in the sense of being disinterested and objective, or it is not justice as we have always known it.


If the complainant is always to be believed, come what may, then we should dispense forthwith with our very expensive criminal justice system. If everyone claiming to have been sexually abused is to be automatically believed, then there is no reason to waste taxpayers’ money on departments of justice, police investigators, forensic scientists, judges, state prosecutors, juries et al. If the accuser is always to be believed, Australia would be advised to adopt the practice of revolutionary tribunals—à la Lenin—and arrest, try, judge and jail all those accused of sexual abuse in a kind of one-stop shop.

The irony of all ironies, as picked up by Windschuttle, is that Gillard’s Royal Commission, which set in motion the persecution of Pell, did not itself accept on face value the claims of every purported sex-abuse victim. Of the 9325 submissions to the Royal Commission, only 2562 had their cases referred to the police. I see you, I hear you, I believe some of you. None other than Prime Minister Morrison, on October 22, 2018, virtue-signalled his praise of the Royal Commission when he apologised on behalf of Australia to all self-identified victims of sexual abuse: “Your country believes you.” What Morrison might have said, had he not been intimidated by a torrent of political correctness, is this: “I see you, I hear you, I support your grievous charge being treated respectfully by the authorities and, after undergoing due process, finding its way into a court of law.”

Windschuttle, in a devastating critique of Victoria’s Court of Appeal, lambasts Ferguson and Maxwell for their insistence that the singular knowledge of the complainant constituted “corroboration”. Even a cursory investigation reveals that Choirboy I did not convincingly (that is, persuasively) depict the layout of the priest’s sacristy as it existed in December 1996. Instead, he described the room as it was at a later time after being renovated. There was also nothing significant about the complainant’s awareness that back in 1996 the Archbishop of Melbourne used the priest’s sacristy and not the archbishop’s sacristy to disrobe, since this was common knowledge at the time. It was also unwarranted to persist with the complainant’s story that the only time he had ever been in the priest’s sacristy—and, therefore, the only chance he had to take a mental picture of it—was on the day of his assault. It was a customary practice to provide new choirboys with a guided tour of the cathedral, the priest’s sacristy included.

You will have to read The Persecution of George Pell yourself to find all the other ways that the complainant’s accusation does not bear scrutiny, including the fact that he mischaracterised the sacramental wine that he was supposedly caught swigging. One of the other unlikely points the Victorian Appeal Court judges chose to believe was that a kitted-out archbishop could have extricated his penis from beneath his weighty robes. Once an archbishop is fully attired, even urinating is not an option, let alone efficaciously locating and exposing one’s penis with a solo hand before thrusting it into the mouth of an unwilling thirteen-year-old boy. The lewdness (and preposterousness) of the description here is not mine—or Windschuttle’s—but that of the complainant and all those, including two of the three judges on Victoria’s Appeal Court, who believed this unlikely tale. The term corroboration, by any traditional definition, means witnesses who might verify one aspect or other of an accusation. Or perhaps the provision of forensic evidence. Or, at least, something beyond the unsubstantiated and far-fetched allegation itself. Not, apparently, in Victoria.

Windschuttle’s book not only censures Premier Dan Andrews, Judge Peter Kidd, Victoria’s news media and the practices of the Victorian Supreme Court, he also scrutinises the workings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. We have already seen that the commissioners did not refer 65 per cent of alleged submissions to the police. What caught their interest about George Pell? He was a high-profile figure—the Archbishop of Melbourne (from 1996 to 2001) and the Archbishop of Sydney (2001 to 2014) before his appointment to the Council of Cardinal Advisers—and the Royal Commission had every right to scrutinise any accusations of sexual abuse on his part. But it was not until 2015, two years after the commencement of the commission’s work, that Choirboys I and II came forward with their sexual-assault-in-the-sacristy claim, a claim that we now know—thanks to the 7-0 decision of the High Court and its attendant final judgment—was implausible. The likelihood that the allegation about Pell was fabricated is given added credence by Choirboy II, who before dying at the age of thirty due to drug-related ill-health retracted his original claim.

It is just as likely as not, given what we now know, that Choirboy II, nearing the end of his brief and troubled life, wanted to set things straight. Pell’s detractors, perversely, chose to assert that Choirboy II was a two-time victim of Pell, sexually abused at the age of thirteen and then, as a consequence, a life-long drug addict who died too young. As for Choirboy I, Windschuttle seriously questions his credibility in chapters nine and ten. The naysayers will argue that it is unfair to question the standing of someone who has come forward with a story of sexual abuse—“I see you. I hear you. I believe you”—and yet Choirboy I did not have to endure 400 days behind bars and have his whole life tarnished.

Officers from Victoria flew to Rome in 2015 to notify Pell that the Royal Commission had referred the choirboys’ story to the Victorian police. On what basis, therefore, were these criminal investigators “interviewing” Pell? If they had no understanding of how things were done at the cathedral, how could they possibly make any kind of viable assessment about the factualness of the choirboys’ accusations? Windschuttle is of the view that the Victorian police, at that stage, were not intending to push too much with the “sacristy assault”. Instead, they were relying on other accusations emerging once the news media got wind of the choirboys’ claims, the idea being that once a paedophile’s name enters the public domain, a pattern of accusations emerges. But no further allegations did emerge.

An ideology informs the progressive power-elite that currently holds sway over Victoria, and this might be the ultimate explanation for what has occurred. But why did George Pell become the ideological enemy of what we might call progressivism? The answer is to be found at the beginning of Part One of this book. Going back over the years, all the way to the 1970s, Pell’s traditionalist views on marriage, contraception, divorce, family, promiscuity, pornography and so on, might be usefully summarised as the opposite of the permissiveness of the time. As Windschuttle argues (and I have argued in “Things Fall Apart: The Great Bohemian Cultural Revolution”, Quadrant, January-February 2016), our current era might be more accurately characterised as the dictatorship of bohemia rather than a lively clash between bohemian (or, if you like, anti-Christian) sensibilities and traditionalist principles. Pell’s many enemies, including within the Catholic Church, would have hoped to see him in the dock of a revolutionary tribunal and put away for a long stretch. They will have to be satisfied with his spending 400 days in jail and, as the cover of The Persecution of George Pell dramatically reminds us, a very public humiliation.

The Persecution of George Pell
by Keith Windschuttle

Quadrant Books, 2020, 408 pages, $39.95

18 thoughts on “Our Greatest Miscarriage of Justice

  • en passant says:

    The legal profession and lawyers, are reputed to be the world’s second oldest profession. However, there are acts and behaviours that even the oldest profession would refuse that are the daily fare of the second oldest, M’Lord …

  • Sindri says:

    One of the enduring misconceptions about Pell’s acquittal is that the High Court’s decision necessarily involved ignoring the issue of the credibility of the complainant, and that the Victorian Court of Appeal, in virtuous contrast, put the issue front and centre. You see this view trotted out indignantly by people who hold themselves out as experts. It’s quite wrong. The High Court judgment proceeded on the basis that the complainant’s demeanour in giving evidence was highly persuasive and credible. It was a given in the appeal.

  • Sindri says:

    I should have added that this of course strengthens the correctness of Cardinal Pell’s acquittal, in the light of all the compounding factual improbabilities in the evidence, many of which were unchallenged by the prosecution.

  • ianl says:

    The Chamberlain case was Australia’s greatest miscarriage of justice. The behaviour of the police, the MSM, the courts, the “expert” witnesses, the then equivalent of Facebook, the vindinctive and totally destructive results and consequences for an entire family – execrable beyond words, and forever completely unforgiveable. The unbearable anguish of being destroyed in public and then jailed while all the while reliving the baby Azaria’s unspeakable finality …

    Nonetheless, there is a cynical irony in the Pell appeal to the Vic Supreme Court. If indeed Daryl McCann’s thesis is correct that 2 of the 3 judges went with the “vibe” and not the law, this makes a mockery of the often-posited legal view that juries may be easily swayed by MSM publicity because the hoi-polloi are so weak-minded, but not so judges (especially judges of such high office).

  • Harry Lee says:

    There is room for argument over candidates for the greatest miscarriage of justice.
    But for sure, the greatest underlying and ignored threat to Proper Australia is the weakness of the Constitution.
    The Constitution and the derived legal system do not provide for defence against the ascent to dominance of marxist-inspired forces, nor the associated destructive group-think that now animates all of our institutions.
    The actions of the ABC, tax-payer funded “human rights” lawyers, the criminal non-justice system, and much of what happens in the public services are all expressions of neo-marxist anti-Westernism.
    And the Constitution does not provide for remedy or defence.
    Indeed, the Constitution and the derived legal system seem to encourage and endorse the very actions that are destroying the nation they are nominally intended to maintain.

  • Sydgal says:

    Thank you for this review, Daryl. The evidence about the Priests’ Sacristy and finding the wine must have been very confusing to the juries.
    In the 42 minute VicPol/Cdl Pell Rome video which is in the public domain, Detective Reed (with Detective Sheridan present) reads out the complainant’s statement and how they found the wine: They’ve walk in and there was a wood-panelled door – it’s been described to a storage area within the room – which was immediately on the left when you walk into the room. Cardinal Pell responds that this cupboard was used to store vestments. He explains where the wine was kept: There is a formidable safe which is in the Priests’ Sacristy where the wine was locked. When the Sacristy was opened it was always supervised by the Sacristan or his assistant.

    It appears that renovations to furniture in the Priest’s Sacristy were undertaken in the 2000s. Vic Pol police photos of the Priests’ Sacristy in the public domain show the storage kitchenette area with a sink and a bottle of wine on the bench. This storage kitchenette is immediately to the left of the door. There are very few photos of the corner of the room – the area called the alcove which contains the lockable white door where the wine is secured.

    On the HCA website, the Respondent’s submission on 31 Jan 2020 states that the choirboy described entering the Priests’ Sacristy just prior to the first incident and finding wine in a wood panelled area containing cupboards and resembling a storage kitchenette. The Respondent says the description of the layout and features of this area of the Priests’ Sacristy was accurate.

    In the HCA video 12 March, the director of the OPP provides an account of the choirboy finding the wine but he is said to walk around the corner to the alcove area and that the wine is visible: He says he saw the wine in that alcove area when he was poking around in there. When asked if the boy mentioned the white door, the answer is no. At one point, when referring to photos, the OPP director refers to the “sink area” that at the time was a” wardrobe area” with a vinyl surface. So there appears to be much confusion regarding the furniture in the room and where the wine was located.

  • melb says:

    In any other Australian institution or company if two of the most senior officers / employees had made such an egregious error on such a fundamental principle as did Ferguson and Maxwell they would have been forced out.

  • sabena says:

    As to Ferguson CJ and Maxwell P-a more simple explanation.The former is a lapsed Catholic and the latter served as private secretary to Gareth Evans.Both are well attuned to progressive causes.

  • call it out says:

    I have also seen progressive judges, with strong political ties, offer implausible decisions in lower courts in SA. Beware of the courts…justice may be impossible, and will always be impossibly expensive.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Yes obvious.
    The Left’s anti-Pell campaign was a sham -no foundation.
    Well except it was founded on the principle that persons and institutions that stand against neo-marxist and anti-Westernist Big Statism must be destroyed.
    Just like the Left’s on-going campaign to demonise the SASR and feminise the entire ADF.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Miscarriage of justice?
    Actually, the biggest threat to our existence is our weak Constitution.
    There is no provision in the Constitution to defend the nation from those who would destroy its founding traditions.
    And so, we have the marxist-fueled anti-freedom/anti-Westernist entities including:
    ALP, the Greens, the ABC and SBS and 90% of the commercial mainstream media, the education systems, and almost all of the public services, oh and the “human rights/no responsibilities” lawyers, judges and magistrates.

  • Andrewurban says:

    Harry Lee – you are right, the Constitution offers no protection, either against outlaw premiers or against the blunders of the legal system. Many upstanding lawyers aside, the legal system did not, can not, protect against miscarriages of justice, eg Lindy Chamberlain, as you rightly point out. The legal system is supposed to be self policing; no oversight outside its own confines can intrude. And no lessons have been learnt since the Chamberlain fiasco. Sue Neill-Fraser faces the Supreme Court (Hobart) on March 1 to appeal her conviction for the 2009 murder of her long term partner Bob Chappell. This, too, is a miscarriage of justice on the scale of the Lindy Chamberlain case. There are too many others, as I’ve found exploring them in The System is not too eager to correct its mistakes; the more serious the crime, the more reputations are at stake. And nobody, no outer agency, can do anything about it.

  • DougD says:

    ianl – the only judge I know of to reject the myth of the cold, impartial judge is NSW District Court judge Ellis. When quashing the absurd convictionof Catholic Archbishop Wilson he said: “The potential for media pressure to impact judicial independence may be subtle or indeed subversive in the sense that it is the elephant in the room that no one sees or acknowledges or wants to see or acknowledge. This is not a criticism of the media but rather a recognition that intended or not, the mere presence of large numbers of members of the media from all around Australia and indeed potentially the western world carries with it an undoubted pressure on the Court.”

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Thanks Daryl. good piece.
    In my mind Cardinal Pell was persecuted for three reasons first, he was a man of the right not the left, and he was prepared to debate forcefully and knowledgeably against the left on all the latest fashionable positions and winning the debate, second he was Christian & the most senior catholic Christian clergyman in Australia, was prepared to debate against well-known activist atheists and win the debate, and thirdly and probably most importantly he was admired and respected across all denominations & showed no fear of the left, trusting as he did in God.
    His persecutors probably thought using a homosexual angle as their vehicle of entrapment was bound to work, in the context of present times until, no doubt to their disappointment, it turned out that he wasn’t like that and there were no takers…… other than their own fallacious contrived ones.
    In my mind the whole thing was classic neo-Marxist inspired politics almost in the vein of critical race theory, and only seemed to have worked curtesy of the horrible, metaphorical swamp that seems to envelop so much of our media, political, educational and legal institutions these days.
    I hope I’m wrong but if not……who can step up to start draining our swamp…… I ask myself?

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    For me this is not about Cardinal Pell more to the point he was an impediment to the thrust of activists for quite some time. There is much that cannot be attributed justice. If there are only two people present and there is no corroboration at all there is no way barring omniscience that the law can make any decision. No doubt there are those that have had grievous harm done to them but there is no physical evidence for. The law recognises this is an unsolvable dilemma and accepts the evidence of one is no evidence at all. The pressure is on for identity groups to be accepted as truth and to break the legal system. In the case of Pell it came very close and if the High Court appeal have failed we would now live in a world of fear. Any of us could go to jail on the accusation of a member of particular identity groups. For instance the accused of a recent such case in Canberra would be now in jail. There is too much contempt of the legal system in our modern world.

  • Phillip says:

    The whole claim against Cardinal Pell, was a total fabrication, initiated by a collective of the Vic Police, the ABC, the Dan Andrews government, the Vic Judiciary and just dumb MSM suckers.
    If the High Court says all these groups of people got it terribly wrong then penalties for those non justifiable claims made by these evil perpetrators must be enforced.
    A balance of justice must be progressed. If an innocent man is erroneously imprisoned then the system must pursue and punish the liars who promoted the whole false agenda.

    I live in hope.

  • guilfoyle says:

    Great article and many thanks to Keith Windshuttle for his incisive articles throughout the duration of the persecution of Cardinal Pell.

    As it appears that Quadrant is the sole repository of investigative journalism, is there any chance of investigation into any possible links between the various players in the show trial of his Eminence? And the background of the prosecution?

  • Michael Waugh says:

    There were 2 alleged victims, but only ever one complainant. The complainant made his allegation after the alleged co-victim was dead and was not available to refute the allegations made by the complainant. However, the mother of the alleged co-victim did come forward and say that , after the media anti-Catholic frenzy, she asked her son if he had ever been sexually assaulted by a Catholic religious and he said he hadn’t. The vast bulk of the witnesses who could establish the impossibility (the absurdity) of the claims were not interviewed by the police who seemed uninterested in properly investigating the allegations. And this was so despite Cardinal Pell explaining why the claims were absurd in his record of interview. The Cardinal’s defence team did an excellent job in ensuring numerous witnesses gave evidence. Effectively, the defence determined to prove the Cardinal innocent. In effect, the defence assumed the burden of proving innocence and did so beyond a reasonable doubt, indeed beyond any doubt. Any person who continues to believe that the Cardinal was guilty or might be guilty has not read the decisions of the High Court or the Court of Appeal (to my mind even the joint judgment of Ferguson and Maxwell prove the Cardinal’s innocence). Or, if they have read those judgments, they have become unhinged by irrational hatred. If we had any residual doubt about whether people like Dan Andrews or Barrie Cassidy or Louise Milligan were motivated by irrational hatred or malice, those doubts must now be crushed , and we can be certain in our assessment of them. For this reason I feel indebted to the Cardinal for his sacrifice.

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