The Course and Consequences of Operation Get Pell

The worst moment in Julia Gillard’s life must have come in 1996 when she was involved in a corruption scandal and forced to resign as a partner in Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon. Her then boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, had been diverting funds, which employers thought they were paying to the Australian Workers Union, into a “slush fund” of his own, which Gillard had set up for him. She was left unemployed, without a positive reference from her previous job. However, she was still an activist in the Left of the Labor Party. She had sought, unsuccessfully, political office at the 1993 and 1996 federal elections. With no other option in 1996, she gave up the law permanently for politics.

It was her salvation. She turned around her career, indeed her life. This critical factor was the creation of Emily’s List, a feminist group founded in 1996 to provide a network of advice, volunteers and money to get like-minded, pro-abortion women elected to political office and to enforce the Labor Party’s affirmative action target of 35 per cent of winnable seats for women. In 1998, when Barry Jones retired from his safe Melbourne seat of Lalor, Gillard put up her hand and won preselection and the seat in that year’s election.

Gillard had been one of the founding members of Emily’s List and she helped get a young lawyer from her old firm, Vivian Waller, appointed its inaugural CEO. Gillard had interviewed her in 1994 at Slater & Gordon when Waller successfully applied for a position as articled clerk, a post highly prized by left-leaning law graduates in a scarce job market. (When Bill Shorten applied for the same job, he too got an interview with Gillard but failed to make the cut.) So, four years later, Waller was able to return the favour by providing Gillard with Emily’s List resources to gain the Lalor preselection, thereby rescuing her from oblivion and putting her on the road to The Lodge. Gillard now owed her.

In the memoirs of her time as Prime Minister, My Story (published 2014) Gillard says almost nothing about her travails in the 1990s but she does mention Waller, though not by name:

When I worked at Slater & Gordon, there was a young solicitor within the firm who was taking statements day after day from child sexual abuse survivors for a class-action claim being investigated. I remember how psychologically wearing it was for her. I understood and respected the decisions of people who could not face spending years of their life immersed in evidence of so much pain.

Gillard wrote this as part of the explanation for her 2012 decision to establish the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. By this time, Waller had turned her experience in child sexual abuse cases into her own highly successful legal practice, Waller Legal. She established the firm in 2006 to specialise in compensation cases for sexual assault and child abuse victims within the Catholic Church. By the time Gillard announced the royal commission, Waller’s firm dominated this field, outperforming even Melbourne’s traditional compensation lawyers, Slater & Gordon and Maurice Blackburn. In her book Cardinal, ABC journalist Louise Milligan calls her “the dogged lawyer who represents probably more victims of abuse than any other solicitor in Victoria”.

In an interview with the Young Lawyers Journal in 2011, Waller was asked about her formative influences. She said most of it came from Slater & Gordon’s senior partners.

I learned a lot about looking for that matrix of facts around which to build a compelling case. From them all, I learned about the intersection of politics and the law. There is often a great deal of lobbying to be done to try and ensure that the law is, in fact, just.

In the prosecution of George Pell for an alleged sexual assault on two choirboys in 1996, Waller was the lawyer for the witness known as “J”, the sole complainant. After the Cardinal was convicted and jailed in March, she appeared before the television news cameras to read a statement from J saying he drew little comfort from the decision. On this occasion, she appeared modest and sombre, but on the Waller Legal website she was crowing about the victory, repeating the detailed text of local news stories in the mainstream media, publicising her appearance as a panelist on the ABC’s Q&A, and providing links to world-wide coverage by the BBC and the New York Times.

For Waller, this was a vindication of the strategy she had learned from the Slater & Gordon partners which she, with the help of other activists in this cause, had been working on for more than a decade.

Accompanying this article, Quadrant is also publishing one by the UK philosopher and theologian, Chris S. Friel, who has taken a close interest in Pell’s fate. Friel has now made several article-length postings on Academia, based on his forensic investigation of the Twitter messages that have passed back and forth between several of the major players in what defence lawyer Robert Richter called the “Get Pell” operation.

Friel studies the Twitter networks that have worked in Australia to influence journalists writing on the subject, to connect police with journalists willing to publish leaks, and to pressure three governments, New South Wales, Victoria and the Commonwealth, to initiate separate inquiries based on the claims and interests of victims’ lawyers and activist groups. “Just as juries need softening in courts of law,” Friel has written, “so public opinion must be shaped in trials by media. The last decade has shown the effectiveness of social media for such purpose.”

Taking a broad view of Operation Get Pell, which really needs a book-length study to fully comprehend all that went into this campaign, there were at least seven stages in the following rough chronology:

1995: persuading then Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell to establish the “Melbourne Response” to investigate and deal with child sexual abuse and regulate the compensation paid to victims in the Melbourne diocese. 

1997-2007: protesting to politicians and the media that the church was covering up the guilty and was more concerned about protecting its funds and resources than giving the victims just compensation.

2012-2013: calling on State and Commonwealth governments to launch parliamentary inquiries and a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutions.

2012-2015: guiding the Victorian police to identify culprits, first in Taskforce Sano, followed by Operation Tethering, with the latter ultimately identifying George Pell as a target.

2016-2017: leaking to sympathetic journalists that prosecutions were looming and helping them make contact with alleged victims.

2016-2018: persuading the media, the police and the courts that the victims are so fragile — most allegedly suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — they must not be personally identified, they have to give evidence in camera, and they should be believed on the strength of their testimony alone.

2015-2019: urging and facilitating the prosecution and conviction of George Pell.

In this process, the key events were in late 2012, when the New South Wales and Victorian governments were persuaded that the issue amounted to a major social crisis. Liberal governments in both states, under Barry O’Farrell and Denis Napthine, appointed their own inquiries. Even though child sexual abuse is plainly an issue for State governments, Julia Gillard paid her dues to Vivian Waller by joining the fray and appointing her own Royal Commission. All this attention transformed the issue from one held by a small number of activists with access to leftist media outlets, into a matter of great national concern.

It also transformed what was really at stake in these claims. For it soon became apparent that what the activists, lawyers and their media friends potentially threatened was the very existence of the Catholic Church itself. That is why those in this campaign responded with such vigour when it emerged as a possibility. The same thing had already been recognised in the United States, where civil suits in Boston in 2002 alleged the church hierarchy had shielded priests guilty of rape. Once this finding came within the sights of activists, they could see much further possibilities. As journalist Sabrina Erdely wrote in Rolling Stone in 2011:

the Catholic hierarchy’s failure to protect children from sexual abuse isn’t the fault of an inept medieval bureaucracy, but rather the deliberate and criminal work of a cold and calculating organization. In a very real sense, it’s not just [Monsignor William] Lynn who is on trial here. It’s the Catholic Church itself.

When Gillard announced her Royal Commission in November 2012, there were some journalists in Australia who understood this too. Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian that although the Royal Commission would only amount to a a high-cost, state-church shambles, it was a perfect fit for Gillard’s political strategy — “the combination of a moral crusade, a cast of victims and coming systemic dismantling of the Catholic Church”. Or as Richard Sipe, a former American Benedictine monk who specializes in treating clergy, observed at the same time: “If you pull the string in a knitted sweater, you’ll unravel the whole thing. This will unravel all the way to Rome.” The Australian Twitter nom de plume Lindsay Farlow followed suit, tweeting under the hashtag #AllRoadsLeadToRome.

In Australia, like the USA, the argument quickly shifted from a legitimate concern about the fate of those children abused by priests to the more debatable issue of the reluctance of the Catholic hierarchy to pay out large sums of money – from $50,000 to $200,000 per individual was the going rate in Victoria under the Melbourne Response. This was expected to be paid to anyone who turned up and claimed to be a victim, even some with unlikely, or indeed impossible, stories to tell. The church sometimes baulked at this kind of thing. This allowed the victims’ legal supporters to argue that the top echelons of the church were conspiring to silence the survivors and save money, thereby shifting the focus of attention from the failings of individual priests to the failure of the church itself. For instance, Vivian Waller told Emma Alberici in an ABC interview in May 2017:

If you’re asking me is the Church living up to its testimony in the Royal Commission about how it’s responding to civil claims, no, it’s not. There’s been a procession of bishops and archbishops crying crocodile tears about how they’re going to respond more compassionately to civil claims for compensation. But we’re not finding that at the coalface. We’re finding that the diocese of Ballarat is taking most of the defences that are available to it and challenging claims on a very technical basis.

Some of those who think this way, and hope the child sexual abuse scandal will eventually destroy the church, are displaying their own political predilections. They are trying to beat up a scandal that is undoubtedly genuine, but has affected a comparatively small number of people, into a cataclysm. They are arguing that because they have found one genuine fault — the penetration of the priesthood by a small number of homosexual pederasts — this proves the whole institution is rotten to the core. This is the thinking of a very fundamentalist kind of utopianism that wants to rid the Earth of corruption to create a perfect world. In history, it has often been the basis of the politics of revolution. It is also a kind of thinking that exploits the real suffering of genuine victims for the activists’ own political ends.

The most revealing evidence for this interpretation comes from the differences between the findings of the New South Wales inquiry in 2012 and those conducted by the Victorian and Commonwealth governments. In New South Wales, the special commission headed by long-time Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cuneen SC was appointed to consider claims by police officer, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, and his principal media spruiker, Fairfax reporter Joanne McCarthy. Cuneen’s inquiry, which sat for 92 days and heard submissions from 161 people in both private and public sittings, did find some evidence of a cover-up within the church hierarchy. Church officials did have information they failed to reveal, which would have assisted police investigations. Cuneen named Bishop Leo Clarke, head of the Newcastle diocese for 20 years, for his “inexcusable” conduct, motivated by a fear that it would bring scandal to the church. But the report was even more telling in its findings about those who blew the whistle. It was scathing in its criticism of Fox, arguing many of his claims were either “implausible” or “exaggerated”:

The commission considers that by at least 2010 Fox had lost the objectivity required of an investigating officer regarding such matters. While he remained passionate about things involving the Catholic Church, he no longer possessed the detachment necessary for properly investigating such matters. In short, he had become a zealot.

And this is really what this whole issue comes down to: defenders of the church trying to protect it from questionable claims about its behaviour, versus zealots who want to use this issue to mortally wound the church itself.

For those of us who are not Catholics, there is still another equally important issue at stake: the fundamental legal principle that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As has been argued several times in Quadrant and and on our website, this was not how George Pell was treated. The jury made their decision not on the weight of evidence presented in court, which demonstrated that Pell could not possibly have done what the complainant said. Instead, the jurors accepted the sole evidence of the complainant, given in camera, with his identity shielded, and lacking corroboration of any kind.

In the United States, the same issue was central to the case of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, where a woman claimed she had been sexually assaulted by him at a high school party when both were in their teens. Like J in the Pell case, when she told her version of events to the US Congress, she offered no corroboration for her story, which Kavanaugh vigorously denied. By assuming the status of victim, she expected Congress to take her on her word alone. She almost succeeded. Fortunately, Congress decided by the narrowest of margins that her claim was not credible, and Kavanaugh went on to become a judge of the United States Supreme Court.

In Australia, unfortunately, the outcome was the opposite. The claims made by one person against George Pell were believed by the second jury that heard them, and he remains in jail, his reputation and career destroyed, waiting to hear the outcome of his appeal. If the kind of court process that convicted him sets a precedent, then Pell’s fate will be far more than a one-off misadventure. In the current climate of sexual politics, it is bound to be a model for the persecution of many others.

Keith Windschuttle is the editor of Quadrant

21 thoughts on “The Course and Consequences of Operation Get Pell

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    Well put Keith as a non-Catholic I fear the pressures of those that wish this to corrupt the legal system. If this principle stands anyone can be accused and go to jail so instead of justice we will have injustice for all.

  • wozzup says:

    “With no other option in 1996, she gave up the law permanently for politics……..It was her salvation. She turned around her career, indeed her life.”

    The old saying was along the lines of “Those who can, do. Those who cannot, become teachers….” The modern version is those who fail at life or in their career become politicians. Sad but it seems increasingly true.

  • ianl says:

    > ” … the fundamental legal principle that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”

    Not a widespread view, nor much defended by various Govts and high-ranked lawyers. A politician may use it to defer public criticism while not for a moment paying more than lip service. Various statutes and organisations disregard it (eg. ICAC) and highly placed lawyers remain mute. The police, and the MSM, regard this concept as a very big nuisance.

    Most of the population seem to believe whatever media campaigns tell them to believe. As a consequence, an accused who is found not guilty is commonly regarded as “getting away with it”. At the very least, the old Scottish verdict of “Not Proven” is much regarded.

  • Lawrie Ayres says:

    First they came for the Catholics but I was not a Catholic. The news this morning is that now they are coming for the Jews but I am not a Jew. Shorten is coming for the SMSF and the self employed and I am both.

  • DUBBY says:

    The number of homosexuals (active or not) in the priesthood and religious life is not insignificant. They are a welcomed, accepted, influential and sometimes encouraged group within the various organisations. They often flaunt their sexual orientation as a gift from God, or, at least, they make no secret of it. They have many fellow travellers within the organisation and the vast majority of the laity accept them unconditionally. They are here to stay. We need to reframe our view of the Church. So what’s the problem?

  • deric davidson says:

    The persecution of George Pell continues even as he sits in jail awaiting his appeal. He is being denied communication with his friends and he is being prevented from practicing his faith to the fullest as in attending or celebrating mass. The treatment of Pell would do credit to the tyrants of ancient Rome and their relentless persecution of early Christians. Tyrants of Victoria Australia take a bow.

  • Salome says:

    The ‘persecution’ of limited access to people and inability to celebrate Mass is not additional to, but a consequence of, the conviction and sentence. It’s prison. Our only argument should be with the verdict, unless we believe that all convicted persons should be allowed wider visiting and activity rights.

  • deric davidson says:

    What visiting rights has George Pell got? What activity rights has George Pell got? Please tell me.

  • en passant says:

    our god and the laws of man have both failed you. Convert to islam, mutilate a few girls to the acclaim of feminists, torture and behead unbelievers (just a small irritant), support the Klimate Kon Katastrophists (KKK) and men winning the mixed singles ‘sporting’ events and all will be forgiven.
    You might even become Pope.

  • Salome says:

    As I understand it the visiting rights are the same as for any prisoner and the activity rights are curtailed by solitary confinement for his own safety. Leading worship services is an activity denied to all prisoners. And visiting takes a lot of red tape to organise.

  • deric davidson says:

    That’s interesting – Islamic terrorists in Gitmo who have actually killed dozens of children have the right to worship and are in fact given the facilities to do so. How does that work? Why is religious practice taboo in Australian prisons? Are Islamic terrorists in Australian prisons allowed to carry out (given time out) to worship fully?

  • Salome says:

    Australia isn’t Gitmo, and it isn’t America. And Islamic terrorists don’t have the right to set themselves up as Imams in Australian prisons (so perhaps you can see the wisdom of the rule?). There are plenty of ways to pray, and I fully expect the Cardinal to be well versed in them. I read something about him not even being allowed to have his breviary. I would expect that to have been rectified by now, as I doubt there’s anything in the breviary that would cause it to be banned. Celebrating Mass is ‘leading’ worship. Chaplains are for that, not prisoners. Prisoners are not denied the sacraments; they just can’t be in charge of confecting and delivering them. The problem is the verdict. Oh, and en passant–yes, indeed.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    ‘Brett Kavanaugh, where a woman claimed she had been sexually assaulted by him at a high school party when both were in their teens.’
    It was interesting how the ‘process’ led to calls for Kavanaugh’s diary so he could ‘prove’ his innocence.
    It struck me that this would allow a prejudicial accuser to assert she was indeed at the same place and time as he and point to his diary as corroboration.
    Who would know she were there in the first place, particularly in the mist of time?
    With Pell there were only two times he was present, no doubt advertised in the Catholic press.
    So that defence was unavailable to him.
    This may sound a trifle skeptical, however in another case reported in The Australian recently, a teacher was found not guilty of the alleged crimes against a pupil, because the teacher was not teaching at the school when they were purported to have been committed.
    Because of the circles I frequent, it is not at least unusual, for some to make up a narrative with themselves as the centre, eventually come to believe it, enter the story and live the part comprehensively.
    Just off the top of my head I can recall a round the world military pilot, Christ, a victim of a concentration camp and a seer who foresaw catastrophe, warning his listener while making conversation.
    When the latter was picked up by immigration, I asked him what he thought about that.
    He replied ‘My work here is done’.

  • Steve Bonner says:

    The Jury convicted George Pell on the fifth charge of abuse against a now deceased choir boy beyond reasonable doubt on the basis of a statement of the single witness to this case, “the kid”, who was not cross examined and did not appear at the trial. Evidence was given that the deceased choir boy denied to his mother that any abuse occurred, and there was no other corroborating evidence. How could this Jury convict ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and what does this say about the other 4 charges ?

  • Simon Morgan says:

    This must go down as the most iniquitous miscarriage of justice in Australian jurisprudence. Apart from the conviction relying on one witness alone (‘one witness is no witness’), the circumstances surrounding the alleged assaults themselves are just too ridiculous for any reasonable person to accept.

    Unless that person is from Victoria, obviously.

  • Stephen Due says:

    While I feel tremendous sympathy for George Pell in his current predicament, and while I deplore the miscarriage of justice in his case, it does seem to me that he has, in a sense, brought this upon himself. As a leader in the Catholic church he had ample opportunity to oppose and try to eradicate the homosexual culture within the priesthood. Homosexuality is incompatible with the Christian way of life. It is forbidden categorically by scripture. Furthermore everybody knows – or every educated person knows – that homosexuals since the beginning of recorded history, have had a pronounced predilection for boys. The reason is obvious. The outcome is not always bad in the sense of it being something the boy experiences as traumatic. Nevertheless, homosexuality is sinful and its ill effects are everywhere apparent. It is, as Christian societies have rightly recognised, a perversion, and is socially destructive, undermining the biological family, which is the proper foundation for real human flourishing. So my argument is that the Catholic church has failed its members and its Lord – and the wider society – by failing to take a stand against homosexuality in the priesthood. And this, ultimately, is why George Pell is now in gaol.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    Whom am I to judge?’
    Stephen Due does indeed put foreward a fundamentalist view of the relationship between Christ and God’s creatures.
    The practical construct of ‘obviousness’ may indeed be unable to approach the subtlety of the God of Mercy and Compassion, friend of sinners who heals the broken hearted friend of prostitutes, tax collectors and those who took him to the cross.
    Having observed Pell in his natural habitat, with the poor and marginalised, he has no problem relating to anyone he meets in a civil manner, stripped of pomposity or ego.
    Line up at St Mary’s Sydney for communion, no one tells you to check your sexuality at the door, or sign a disclaimer.
    That was Pell’s domain. No cant about how gays are doomed to Hell.
    When in Rome he failed to do what the Roman’s did.
    He wanted to audit the books with an independant auditor.
    That takes courage
    In Australia he took on the problem of paedophilia in the Church he found, not some other Church.
    The few paedophiles I have met have hatefull personalities, self centred, smarmy and glib.
    Unlike any Gay I have befriended.
    He had to deal with these paedophiles, their victims, as well as the cocophany of the Catholic haters and their army of minions.
    Like so many things in life for us all, he was given all he could cope with.
    For that actually is Christ’s promise,
    ‘I will be with you all days…’
    I am not sympathetic of Pell’s predicament.
    For he has dignified us all by his work of faith

    ‘… while
    we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your
    torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned,
    the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood.
    So the Faith was planted: so it must be restored.”

    Its true that if Pell and others toe the secular line they will die in bed and be honoured.
    So in that sense he ‘brought this upon himself.’
    But then again, he’s better than that.

  • Stephen Due says:

    As regards being one to judge, what about the following? ‘Fundamentalist view’; ‘unable to approach the subtlety’; ‘problem relating’; ‘pomposity’; ‘cant about how gays are doomed’. Not to mention: ‘hateful personalities’; ‘self-centred’; ‘smarmy’; ‘glib’; ‘Catholic haters’; ‘army of minions’. Etc.
    It is true that God in Christ loves everyone – and Jesus did say “judge not” and “I will be with you”.
    Yet the Bible from which those sayings are taken is a book of judgement from start to finish. Yes, it is also a book of the love of God from start to finish. But the judgement is real, and the prospect of it informs almost every page. And of course it was the very same Jesus you quote who said “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord….”
    I agree with you that the Roman Catholic Church is a wonderful organisation, full of good works, and one that embraces lovingly the downcast and the downtrodden. I recall another saying of Christ “Come unto me all ye…”.
    As a Christian, one ought surely to show the love of God, which is the only light in this dark world. However the love of God must include warning people of the consequences their behaviour, because that is what God Himself does throughout the Bible, and it is precisely what Jesus Himself does every second time he speaks in the Bible.
    But as a Christian with gay friends one surely should beware of giving them the impression that this lifestyle choice is a matter of indifference to God. The Bible consistently rejects homosexuality. God loves the sinner but not the sin. He is, as He Himself says, a jealous God.
    My view remains, that the Roman Catholic Church has erred grievously in embracing a culture of homosexuality and especially homosexuality in the priesthood. This is a much bigger issue, much closer to home, than Vatican finances and corruption in high places. Sexual immorality in all its forms must be rejected by Christians worth their salt. Had George Pell addressed this issue, he would not be where he is today – or at least, not for the same reason.

  • Salome says:

    It was Dr Pell, as bishop or archbishop I’m not sure–but in any event once he had sufficient authority to deal with the matter, who took it upon himself to clean out the indulgent culture of the seminaries as preparation for a properly disciplined priestly life. That’s part of what has made him unpopular.

  • norsaint says:

    I heard his accuser being given a run on ABC radio in 2016 sometime and it was immediately evident that the bloke was “fried”. ie he’d taken so many drugs over the years that he was unreliable in the extreme, an habitual liar. That’s how prisoners at our Majesty’s Institutions describe them and they won’t have a bar of them. Being unable to cross examine one’s accusers in an open court makes a mockery of justice. This corrupt practice was initially introduced into “Family Courts” and their bastard sporn, “Family Violence” courts. The Left realized no one would buy their vision of society so have decided to come in via the side door, courtesy of all these invented bogus issues.

  • StephenH says:

    @norsaint. I’ve only been pointed to this article a couple of months late. Thanks for your comment (12 May). Agreed on all points. I personally didn’t hear the ABC radio program you referred to, but I’ve seen the pattern with other accusers decades old “abuse” (particularly, but not only, Dr Blasey Ford). And also, yes, the left is using bogus issues such as “family violence”, about which they care not one wit, to subvert the rule of law, and very successfully. In the last five years we’ve seen a wicked cabal hop on the Rosie Batty bandwagon to get money and attention, and to destroy good men.

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