AND so it all begins, again. For those of us, and not only Catholics, who enjoyed the blissful, court-ordered respite from wall-to-wall Pell bashing while the in-camera trials were underway, alas that party is well and truly over.
The day his conviction was announced when most of Cardinal Pell’s many (mainly silent) supporters and others for whom the public “witchhunt”, as Peter Wales dubbed at Quadrant Online, has seemed so appalling, might normally have been celebrating the fact that he is now in the clear on the charges in relation to the Ballarat matters. Instead, they are forced to witness the shock and horror reactions of the many in relation to his (to-be-contested) conviction in early December 2018 on five charges related to the Melbourne matters.
Pell’s avoidance of facing the second wave of charges is no small thing. About this, there will be the normal strategic silence of the secularist and Pell-hating commentariat. In fact, so far there is little being said about this, amidst all the new excitement over the discovery (for most) that Pell was convicted in December in relation to the Melbourne matters.
People will believe what they wish to believe in relation to any “he said/he said”, scenario. Where there is no physical evidence and no direct witnesses, three key elements are in play: first, the tremendous difficulty for the accused in proving a negative; second, a general disposition to side with the accuser, especially if the charges allege repugnant conduct; and third, a heightened need to examine the credibility of the parties and the likelihood that the alleged events occurred. More on this later.
The following are, in my humble opinion, all true in relation to the Pell case and its surrounds:
- There is a coterie, nay a conga line, of Pell haters within and outside the Church, and they have been either actively seeking to destroy his career and reputation over many years. Many not actively involved in those endeavours have been cheering from the sidelines.
- The recently concluded Royal Commission, whether this was intended or not, has been transformed into another platform for attacking the Catholic Church, an institution now popularly thought to be beyond the pale and “riddled” with sex abusers. This is in spite of the abundant evidence, noted by Wales and repeatedly argued by Gerard Henderson among others, that the sexual abuse of minors is a societal (see under step-fathers and mum’s myriad boyfriends) and an institutional problem (see under the Boys Scouts and just about every church and educational outfit going)
- The view is all but universal, in Australia and elsewhere where abuse has occurred, that “someone should pay”. This view strikes me as intensifying
- There is routine conflation of unrelated cases of alleged sexual abuse in what is now an atmosphere of contempt for all things Catholic, especially for its clergy. An appalling article in New Zealand’s Dominion Post not-so-subtly linking Pell with Bill ‘Knockout Drops’ Cosby is but one example
- Contemporary society and its media have an obsession with paedophilia, so much so that the many cases of sexual abuse within and outside the Church which are not paedophilia routinely get described as such
- Victoria Police is riddled with political agendas, incompetence and corruption. It is not to be trusted in relation to just about anything, as will likely become abundantly clear when revelations begin to emerge from the royal commission into VicPol’s habit of recruiting lawyers as informants against their own clients
- It was massively helpful to Pell’s many enemies in Rome that his earlier and effective peeling away of the layers of corruption in the Vatican’s financial governance were stymied and, further, that he was conveniently removed from the scene
- Most recent, and recently reported cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are performed by homosexuals, but there is an almost pathological avoidance of acknowledging this in the media and beyond, lest the rampant homosexualist march be slowed down.
All this might be patently true. But is it relevant to the capacity of a Pell jury to acquit him? Did Pell get dudded because of all this?
We need to determine whether these elements of the context/backstory are germane to the specific outcome of the second Pell trial which produced the guilty verdict. Did the immense pressures from outside the courtroom, in a society awash with anti-Catholicism, anti-clericalism, Pell witchhuntery and obsessions over sex abuse have any bearing on the capacity of “twelve good
men persons and true” to reach a reliable verdict on one particular man’s guilt or innocence? The problem is whether the degree to which the average person in the street has been unknowingly, by osmosis even, infected with the anti-Catholic virus, such that the allegation of sex abuse equals an immediate assumption of guilt. Perhaps it is a variation on the currently popular #metoo-ism.
Was it possible, given the above, for this man, belonging to this Church, on these charges, to get a fair trial at this time? And note that we are not just talking about whether the jury members might have been influenced by some particular thing they saw or heard or read about this case. We are talking about across-the-board systemic infection. It is a little like the question I raised in another Quadrant Online article about whether a practising Catholic can now rise to the top political job in Australia and keep it, in view of the surrounding casual cultural biases.
It might be objected at this point that, well, the jury in the first (mis)trial has been widely reported as having deadlocked 10-2 in favour of Pell (editors note: other reports, all unconfirmed, frame the numbers differently; suffice to know no accord was achieved in the jury eoom). You cannot therefore suggest that a second jury reaching a very different position shows that jurors will inevitably be incapable of reaching a pro-Pell decision. If those reports of a 10-2 split to acquit are accurate, one very nearly did.
The circumstances of the abandonment of the first trial and the result of the second are certainly problematic, but I believe, for different reasons.
One way of unpacking these questions is to attempt to get inside the minds of the jurors who have convicted Pell, to the extent that we, who weren’t at the trial and who do not know the jurors, are able. Looking at what the punters are saying is a useful place to start, and those who comment on the news and what is said about the news can be very revealing of the national pulse.
The brave article by Frank Brennan in The Australian and at Eureka Street has brought forth a useful range of views that may inform an understanding of what the punters think about the verdict. Brennan saw much of the trial. He found the case against Pell to be utterly unconvincing. This view should be perceived in light of the widely known fact that Brennan is, on the one hand, no ideological friend of Pell’s and, on the other, utterly committed to justice for the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and prelates. So the charge that “he is a Catholic – he would say that” is misplaced.
The responses to Brennan’s essay were not those of trolls and members of GetUp, but (generally) of a cross-section of the community and, therefore, a reasonable sampling of community views — the sort of views likely to be found among jurors. Readers of Eureka Street themselves are not self-selecting Pell supporters, even if many are Catholic.
These are a sampling of the various views that emerge:
- Those who know of Pell often dislike him, but do not necessarily consider him likely to have done the things of which he is accused. However, that Pell did not give evidence at the trial suggests that personal views of him did not figure in any way among jurors
- There is a strong view that Catholics still don’t get it. We defend paedophiles, come what may. We never believe the victim, we never sympathise
- Some, alarmingly, think as follows: a jury found him guilty – therefore he must have done it it. Simple as that
- Past and indeed recent efforts to sweep abuse under the carpet mean that this particular defendant is guilty of the charges against him
- Anyone seeking to defend Pell must be biased
- There was something dodgy about the accused not taking the stand
- The Church thinks it is above the law
- Trials of accused perpetrators provide an opportunity to punish all wrongdoers and compensate victims. (This is an irrelevant but very powerful, persistent and widespread view)
- Seeking justice for alleged perpetrators necessarily means lacking sympathy for victims of real cases of abuse
- It is “disturbing” that alleged victims are not believed (routinely)
- There is something fishy about the large number of abuse claims and the relative absence of perpetrators being brought to trial – and isn’t it great when one gets his comeupperance!
- Please own up and accept your punishment.
Some of these claims I find to be inflated, some misplaced, some true but irrelevant, many confused, and others quite ridiculous. But they are what ordinary people think. Hence they are both revealing and relevant here, when contemplating why a jury would seemingly ignore the powerful legal and evidentiary arguments placed before their eyes.
Other claims reflect the impassioned cries of abuse survivors. Their sentiments are powerful, but their views sometimes simply reinforce the suspicion that, in matters of sexual abuse, logic and evidence simply fly out the window. Here from Eureka Street, for example, is Carol:
As one of the few survivors who has a formal apology and a court settlement from a Catholic religious order, I find your article shocking. Up to now you have always respected the law process but now you question it. You were one of the good guys, my Church is now a darker place than before and I truly despair when enlightened leaders like yourself write articles like this one. All I can say is that God knows the truth and I pray that the Cardinal might one day speak it too.
Why is the Brennan article “shocking”? I struggle to see it. It seems simply to be #metoo-ism gone feral. One did it, therefore they all did it.
There is also a simplistic faith in the jury system and the fact that “it works”. Not always, as Lindy Chamberlain might attest.
Juries clearly are a lottery, given the astonishing and disturbing rebound from the reported 10-2 to 0-12 within a couple of months. The very fickleness of outcomes, the fact that some jurisdictions allow majority verdicts while others do not, the fact that Victoria itself has been considering changing these things, and the ongoing debates over judge-alone versus jury trials, suggest that Pell, if not very, very hard done by in his two trials, was at best in the lap of gods (so to speak). But these particular juries, whether or not they were open to bias through absorbing information about this case, have nevertheless been exposed over time to relentless, and insidious assaults on the Christian culture and its standard bearers.
Whether one accepts the thesis of the Gramscian strategy driving Marxist enculturation through the institutions of society and seeking to destroy Christianity, it is the case that the post-Christian polity we have ended up with encompasses both non-belief among the masses and aggressive enmity towards the Church from the opinion leaders who shape much of what the punters end up believing.
Reader Margaret, also writing at Eureka Street, puts it succinctly:
Whatever the final outcome, there is obviously something horribly wrong with our justice system in this country. With the dumbed-down culture that prevails today, who ever would choose a jury?
The first jury, or at least a strong majority thereof, was seemingly able to set aside its conscious biases and its unconscious absorption of the zeitgeist, and almost reach a verdict that seemed to be in accordance with both the evidence and the judge’s instructions.
The responses to Brennan were not without humour, whether or not intended. A priest sought to cast doubt on the defence’s line that it could not have happened due to the vestments worn by celebrants of Mass. He argued that Pell might have excused himself to answer a call of nature, that he (the priest) had himself done this, and that all the vestments did NOT get in the way.
With all respect Fr Leahy, and without going into further graphic detail, taking a whizz and doing what the Cardinal is accused of doing is quite a different thing. To say the least. Not to mention the fact that a half serious bishop, on top of the alb, cincture, stole and chasuble, also has a dalmatic and a pallium to contend with, and a buttoned up cassock. Only then one might get to the fly on the trousers and then the briefs. Most priests can barely manage to get to the switch on their lapel mic. Whole thing is preposterous.
Commenter Lee goes big, playing every card in the deck:
I have had enough of this culture of denial. These damaged victims have been through hell by the best lawyers in then land. Yet these sexual crimes are only the tip of the iceberg. Children over many decades have been subject to psychological abuse, and physical violence on a daily basis. Their parents have been threatened will [sic] Hell if they did not obey their Parish Priests and any non-catholic parent has been excluded from their children education and spiritual upbringing. There has been no public acknowledgement of these evil abuses of power and no apology. Any we are expected to doubt the accusers. One Christian Brother at my school bashed shit out of us for most of a school year before putting the hard word on several of the boys. He disappeared overnight. As for the sanctify of confession, the Parish Priest in my wife’s home town used to tell the secrets of the confession to his friends at the local pub, while also keeping a defect [sic] wife. In short, the church as an institution has shown itself to be corrupt and should be shut down. Along the way the Vatican should lose its diplomatic status and its treasures handed to the Italian State.
Give it to “Lee”, who leaves no stone unturned in assembling every single anti-Catholic talking point one can think of. Catholics are used to all this. But it does reveal how jurors, at least some if not many, might think; indeed how they might frame their duty as jurors in this kind of case.
The many comments in response to Brennan are highly revealing. There is, however, another crucial matter that may or may not have been known to the jurors, and its significance not realised by them.
The reported elements of the Pell trial(s) suggest that much of the disputed “evidence” related to whether the alleged incidents could have occurred, as much as whether they did occur. Less discussed, certainly in the media, is whether this man, Pell, is likely to have done the things alleged. Most acts of sexual abuse done by Catholic clerics are the predations of homosexuals. The allegations in this case clearly relate to homosexual behaviour.
Second, most instances of sexual abuse in the case of minors reflect a clear methodology on the part of the perpetrator. The process normally involves all of the following: secrecy, grooming, slow-but-steady tentative courtship, multiple precautions to ensure non-reporting by the abused and, chillingly, predatory calculated behaviour.
The legal academic Jeremy Gans, in discussing the direction and likely outcome of the coming appeal, has also canvassed the bizarreness of the suggested lack of predator method in the allegations against Pell: a semi-public place, crazily risky actions, no prior grooming, no preparation, no self-protection against subsequent reporting by the abused, not even any previous knowledge of the victim(s).
No one that I know, and no one that I know who knows Cardinal George Pell, would think either that he is homosexual, or that he is stupid, or that he is compulsive, or that he is rampantly a risk-taker.
No, if this occurred, it was behaviour that was homosexual, risky and brazen. Not likely to have been perpetrated, then, by this man, in this way.
Others have canvassed the unlikelihood of someone who had led efforts, in brave and innovative ways, actually to end clerical abuse in his organisation, and to have perpetrators punished and victims compensated, himself being an abuser. I will not re-canvass these here.
I do not know whether the Pell legal team called any character references. It might have been expected, this being a case where the lack of physical evidence or indeed any direct compelling evidence meant that the credibility/character of the accuser(s) and the accused came more sharply into focus.
I do know that many in the Church, including many prominent churchmen, like the prolific and well credentialled American Catholic writer George Weigel, who know Pell well, simply do not believe all this to be remotely possible. Weigel wrote (in 2017 when the allegations first came to light):
More recently, the calumnies have become much darker, as the man who designed and implemented the Australian Church’s first vigorous response to the sexual abuse of the young has been charged with being an abuser. His friends are confident that the charges, like other fanciful allegations the cardinal has consistently denied and of which he has been exonerated, will be shown to be gross falsehoods—not least because we believe Pell is telling the truth when he flatly and forcefully denies the current accusations.
… Cardinal George Pell is a big man in every sense of the word and his stamina under assault is entirely admirable. Its deepest root, however, is not his native combativeness but Pell’s faith. Its solidity, and the courage to which that rock-solid faith gives rise, may be what aggravates his foes the most.
It’s also what inspires his legion of friends, among whom I am honored to number myself—for fifty years and counting.
Here, at this link, is the remainder of Weigel’s character reference, well worth reading in the light of all the mud that has stuck to the man.
Encomia from friends, even famous ones, prove nothing. Yet the more recent trial judge dismissed the Ballarat matters partly on the grounds of a lack of tendency. And we know the gargantuan efforts of the ABC, Victoria Police and Melbourne University Press in order to get other “victims” to present themselves as part of an emergent hit squad that would establish tendency.
In this case, character matters, and character does go to plausibility, to credibility, and to tendency. Perhaps the blindness of the jury to the character of the accused in this case was a disadvantage to the accused, not an advantage. As evidenced in the comments in response to Frank Brennan’s piece, even the thoughts penned by those who dislike Pell, find the charges highly improbable.
And so onwards we will now travel to the inevitable appeals process. It would certainly be wise for those of us publicly commenting on this matter to hold some of our fire. Yet I do not believe for a moment that the relentless lynch mob’s efforts will be stayed.
I have little doubt that the multiple members of the Pell attack team will return swiftly to the fray to do their worst, armed with all the weapons they have previously deployed and now aided by the “fact” that he has been “proven” to be guilty. Just in case not all the mud stuck before the trials. Like it says on the back of a cubicle in the male toilets at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, “Cardinal Pell is a convicted criminal”.
Indeed, the hit-piece book that was so instrumental in leading the charge towards this abhorrent judicial outcome has gone straight back onto the shelves.
Perhaps above all this, and despite the fact that this legal nightmare for Pell is far from over and his attempts to clear his name are still incomplete, he has now been sacked from his Vatican job, having already been stripped earlier of his role as one of the Pope’s council of nine advisers on Vatican reforms. This was much the same fate of Archbishop Philip Wilson, of course. Found guilty. Pressured to be sacked amid all the baying for blood among the mob, and finding an enemy in Malcolm Turnbull. Then sacked on cue, in his case, as Archbishop of Adelaide. Then totally exonerated at a subsequent appeal.
Mind you, given the chaotic mess and apostasy swilling now around Rome, I am not sure I, if I were George Pell, would ever wish to return to that sadly unholy place.
But that is not the point.