THE conviction of George Pell demonstrates the power to skew justice of the emotional claptrap surrounding the serious crime of child abuse. Complaints by persons with identity protection appearing decades after supposed events are accepted at face value; the guilt of the accused is presumed, largely as the result of media-induced disgust. The jury’s decision is reduced to a distorted balance of probabilities, with motivation never examined.
Now the solicitor representing the complainant in the case is emphasising the continuing trauma he faces while Cardinal Pell exercises his legal right to appeal the decision. In hand-wringing hypocrisy, she claimed he was just an ordinary family man with children who didn’t seek the spotlight and wanted to be left alone.
The fall of Cardinal Pell is proclaimed as proof the law is equal for all – La legge e equale per tutti – as the signs in Italian courtrooms proclaim. But is it? Australians seem particularly good at schadenfreude. We celebrate our own interpretation in “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
The emotionally-charged terminology of “victim” and “perpetrator” endorsed, indeed encoded by the McClellan Royal Commission, tilts the scales of justice in a juryman’s mind before one word of evidence is given. In the Pell case, a relentless barrage of suggestion – nay, insistence – on guilt kept up by media groups, notably the ABC, made it impossible for a fair trial to follow.
Here it is worthwhile pausing to consider the extent to which the national broadcaster has departed from previous policies that ensured personal distance from contentious events. There was a time when no ABC journalist was permitted to write a book, or even an article for another publication. It was considered a potential conflict of interest and compromising to the principle of impartiality.
Not today. The ABC, in frantic pursuit of relevance, presents itself as the doyen of investigative journalism, even to the extent of compromising its independence by co-operating with politically-aligned newspaper interests. Hence Cardinal author Louise Milligan can pretend to be both a respected reporter and the activist author of a book claiming to chronicle the downward spiral of George Pell, protector of paedophiles and potential abuser of children.
Will we ever be able to assess the evidence in the Pell trial for ourselves? So many strange coincidences unexplained, so many aspects hidden. Why was the police brief returned by the DPP three times before it was fit for prosecution? How can the inexplicable evidence of sexual perversion of two boys in an open room by an archbishop in full vestments and regalia be explained? Why was the complainant’s evidence in the first trial admitted as a videotaped record in the second? And how to explain the conveniently delayed decision not to proceed with the apparently flimsy case of the Eureka swimming pool allegations?
The jury took several days to decide its guilty verdict. Which means that it took that time for one juryman at least to be “persuaded” to go along with conviction. It is at times like this that we would benefit from the American freedom to hear from jurymen what happened and how. The most outrageous aspect was the statement by the County Court judge that he intended to send Pell to jail after the sentencing hearing. That would be an extraordinary move against a man who was in no danger to anyone, and scarcely a flight risk. It is hardly surprising that Pell has chosen to be incarcerated rather than mount a bid to seek bail.
The real problem is that Australia now runs on the high octane of emotion instead of logic and reason, when any serious social, economic or political issue arises.
It is just three years since I had to draw attention in these Quadrant spaces to the vicious destruction of the reputation of my old headmaster, falsely accused of condoning paedophilia in his school. Again, the complainants whose vile inventions led to the libel remained in the shadows, the school council protecting their anonymity and refusing to produce details of the charges. Even after many months of painstaking investigation which succeeded in identifying the authors, discovering from previously unseen court transcripts the conflict between their claims and the truth, neither the school nor the Archbishopric of Brisbane would yield to the facts.
Sic transit gloria justitia.