As Cardinal Pell prepares his next and final legal move – an appeal to the High Court – from the discomfort of solitary confinement, amid growing alarm at the rejection of his appeal by a majority of Judges sitting as the Victorian Court of Appeal, much of the recent commentary on the case has focused on post-trial developments.
There is emerging concern, not just among Pell’s small army of supporters, or even just Catholics, but among observers of the legal system and those who cherish individual protections under the law, that not only was a wrong inflicted on an innocent man, but that a dangerous new direction has been charted for future legal cases. In particular, there has been a radical shift in the onus of proof occasioned by the Victorian Court of Appeal. This seems to apply especially to he said/she said or he said/he said cases and to the sexual abuse of minors, the latter being the cause of a virtual societal meltdown as the horrors of the abuse scandals have come into the light of day.
As many as 19.5 per cent of clerical abuse cases in the US have been unsubstantiated (18 per cent, a substantial minority) or have subsequently been shown to have been fabrications (1.5 per cent, a tiny minority), according to a study by John Jay College. Some might regard this percentage as small, while others might think it rather a lot (I am in the latter camp). So Pell’s claim to innocence is not on its face wildly improbable. On the other hand, a number of priests and commentators on Catholic issues have suggested that the reputational hurt to, and incarceration of, a falsely accused cleric causes far less harm than the harm done to victims of abuse. Whatever one’s views on these matters, we seem to be in the early stages of what may turn out to be a decisive and alarming shift away from the old legal dictum (Blackstone’s Ratio) that it is better for ten guilty men to be set free than for a single innocent man to be wrongly convicted. This is nothing less than the foundation stone of the whole legal system.
Pell’s supporters have long recognised the stacking of the odds against their man from the get-go, seen in, but not limited to, the following:
# The slowly building but relentless and strategic character assassination of the Cardinal – think “sociopath, “bully”, “lacking empathy”, “one of the least sympathetic people I have encountered”, “not a truth teller”, and so on – undertaken by some of the usual suspects such as Louise Milligan, Barney Swartz and David Marr. In Milligan’s case it began as long ago as 2001, when she described Pell as “rigid as an Easter Island statue”. Swartz in 2013 insisted that Pell had “never been cleared” from an old and dismissed allegation in 2002;
# The fact that Victoria Police ignored their own Director of Public Prosecutions to proceed with the case(s);
# The absence of a fair trial due to an ongoing and building, possibly strategic, campaign of public attacks and denigration of his character, culminating in Milligan’s egregious book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, which aired at that time unsubstantiated allegations, and published on the very eve of charges being laid;
# The strangely long time period from the original complaint to Pell’s being charged (two years) which, perhaps coincidentally, allowed the negativity of public opinion towards Pell to grow, and allowed Milligan the time to write her book and have it published;
# The sheer length and relentlessness of the (decades long) campaign against him and the Catholic Church, with a Royal Commission, a lethal Victorian parliamentary inquiry and several police investigations in at least two states providing opportunity for the further public airing of Pell’s purported crimes and cover-ups;
# The bizarre coincidences and oddities that occurred in the lead up to Pell’s being charged – such as timely leaks from the police, the timing of hit jobs in the media, the publication of the Milligan book;
# The reported (but impossible to confirm) substantial weight of jury opinion in Pell’s favour at the first trial;
# The parliamentary debate signalling the acceptance of the Royal Commission report, where politicians were trying to outdo one another in “we believe them” riffs (see Keith Windschuttle’s analysis, “Why the Second Jury Found George Pell Guilty“), which fell neatly between the two Pell trials and which have may influenced jury members;
# The strangeness of several aspects of the second trial. For example, why was the complainant not required to appear afresh and in person before the jury and be subject to cross examination, plus the absence of a jury tour of the cathedral;
# The extremely counterintuitive decision and legally dumbfounding reasoning of the majority of the Appeal judges.
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Pell did go wrong. The question should be asked: has this been the result of a series of unconnected events, mere sad happenstance, or has there been something more nefarious afoot?
There are many questions still demanding answers as to how the case came to trial in the first place. The thinness of the evidence considered by police, the reliance of the uncorroborated testimony of a single complainant, the possible copycatting of an American sexual abuse case, the absence of a pattern of abusive behaviour by the accused, the absence of material evidence of a crime, the lack of a confession, the reported denial by the second alleged victim (dubbed by Louise Milligan as The Choirboy) that such an incident had occurred, the fact that the complainant waited until after the second “victim” died (in 2014, from a heroin overdose) before approaching police, and the length of time that had elapsed since the alleged incidents, have all been commented on and dissected widely, often with eyebrows raised.
All of these important questions provide exculpatory, though circumstantial, evidence that George Pell did not do what he was alleged to have done. If the Cardinal is innocent, two further questions are raised, both for Pell’s supporters and for anyone remotely interested in this infamous case.
First, if Pell is telling the truth, then his accuser must be not telling the truth. This raises all sorts of issues that may never be resolved. There is probably a good reason why so very few false accusations against accused clerics are proven to have been so. After all, it is an offence with considerable punishment to have misled police and falsely to have accused innocent men. Just ask Carl Beech.
But there is second question on the minds of those who believe that Pell was “stitched up”, or who simply shake their heads at the strange sequence of events that led to his trial, conviction and appeal. For many, Pell seems to have been, slowly but surely, “manoeuvred” into a position from which he was unable to escape. If Pell was “stitched up”, who did the stitching, and how was one of the greatest farces (and tragedies) in Australian legal history actually pulled off?
Was the targeting of Pell, in effect, a sting operation? If so, what were the roles of those involved and how did the sting work? Or perhaps there wasn’t a carefully orchestrated sting, but rather Pell’s conviction resulted from the efforts of a less coordinated group whose members were each desperate to bring Pell down, whose interests coincided, who knew about the efforts of other members of the group and who collaborated in various ways. Was there a “network” of actors with a shared desire to see Pell go down? Was it an active network? Was it tight and structured? Was it coordinated in any way?
A BRIEF digression is helpful here to explain the nature and importance of networks, the concepts of policy networks/communities, the capture of arms of the State by interest groups and the ways that networks collaborate. A network has been defined as:
… a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (such as friends or professional colleagues); or, alternately
… the aggregation of one-to-one relationships in a social system.
Networks have a purpose and are structured. There are nodes and connectors. Networks can be loose and weak, or tight and strong. The role of “influencers” has grown and is now powerful. The deployment of soft power can be decisive and can be hidden from view.
Niall Ferguson, in his book The Square and the Tower: Networks and power, from the Freemasons to Facebook, sets out the role of networks in history. As the book’s promo states:
Most history is hierarchical – it’s about popes, presidents, and prime ministers. But what if that’s simply because they create the historical archives? What if we are missing equally powerful but less visible networks – leaving them to the conspiracy theorists, with their dreams of all-powerful Illuminati?
The twenty-first century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in The Square and the Tower, Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the Freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. But networks have a dark side, prone to clustering, contagions, and even outages.
Networks, then, are not new, are not the stuff of conspiracy theory, and they do move the world in directions of their, and not necessarily of the electorate’s, choosing.
Famously now, networks can form, communicate, activate and achieve outcomes at the speed of the internet. Networks get things done. They typically work behind the scenes, hidden from view. The average punter who innocently believes the world is run by elected, responsible, accountable governments would be astonished to know just how hidden and unaccountable networks actually run the world.
Policy networks or policy communities are a particular kind of network. Policy networks emerged as a key concept in political science in the late twentieth century. The public choice economic theorists (most prominently James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock) have added to our knowledge of networks and the capture of public officials by interest groups. Both theories depict the relationships between civil servants and interest groups as that of a “client” relationship in which there are shared priorities, informal connections, insulated relationships, the development of trust and the emergence of a “common culture”. The result is the formation of “advocacy coalitions”.
This is not some hare-brained conspiracy theory – it is mainstream political science. Three things stand out about the workings of networks in the public sphere – mutual dependencies of those involved; mutual gain from the connections, and aligned or converging objectives. This can lead to mission creep among several organisations with converging aims. There are different levels of collaboration among networks. The lowest form of collaboration simply involves mutual awareness of the actors. The highest form of collaboration is “co-creation” and joined up strategic actions. Networks collaborate in many and varied ways.
THE EMERGENCE of a “policy community” of players in Victoria with a shared interest in sexual abuse is crystal clear, and unsurprising. To suggest that there is a sexual abuse victim industry would be an act of massive disrespect to the victims of clerical abuse, victims for whom Christians have a deep and a deeply appalled and shamed regard. But there is, indeed, a sexual abuse policy community that has formed around the activities of the State to achieve justice. It is by no means far-fetched to conclude that justice can sometimes tip over into vengeance and the pursuit of it through short cuts. And Victoria is, as Christian Brother and specialist sexual abuse researcher Barry Coldrey has opined, ground zero for Catholic sexual abuse in Australia.
A perfect storm developed in the second decade of this century, not as the result of any perceived current crisis of recent or growing Church abuse, or as a result of public clambering, but rather as the result of chickens coming home to roost following the revisiting of very old, and covered-up instances of abuse, which for the Catholic Church peaked in the 1960s and 1970s then receded. There developed ample opportunities for the wielding of weapons of mass Pell destruction, beginning in 2012 with a Victorian parliamentary committee inquiry. Then all hell was unleashed.
It was all about unfinished business. The Church had gotten away with it, scalp free and containing the damage, and had seemingly put it all to rest, first with the 1996 Melbourne Response and subsequently through Towards Healing, the Australia-wide Catholic Bishops’ response to old sexual abuse. But Pell had prospered, indeed advancing to Rome in the 2010s, despite his 2002 brush with infamy and the failure of anyone to establish that he was involved in a coverup.
One might think of the Pell case by reference to a number of Agatha Christie plots. (Spoiler alert). In Murder on the Orient Express – they all did it. In Curtain – the murderer got other people to do it without them knowing they had been set up. In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – the cop did it. In Towards Zero – meticulous planning of the crime over a long period. Perhaps there is a little of each of these in the getting of Pell.
One place to start the search for a sting operation is to ask who benefits from Pell’s conviction? I want to identify the actors with a grudge against the Church or Pell personally, and to determine whether, to what extent and in what ways they collaborated in pursuit of their shared objectives.
The core cast members in this play have been Julia Gillard, Graham Ashton, Vivian Waller, Lyndsay Farlow, Louise Milligan, Julie Stewart, Bernard Barrett, and The Kid and his family. Two off stage players, Sabrina Rubin Erdley, an American journalist, and the Ballarat survivors group who hounded Pell to Rome during the Royal Commission, need perhaps also to be considered as cast members, albeit in a support role.
Let us examine the roles, explore the connections and uncover the convenient events involved in the pursuit of Pell. A clear pattern emerges – each player was highly motivated; each had his/her own, very important part to play; there were myriad connections, strategically activated at key moments; and the pursuit of Pell went on for a long, long time.
FIRST, Julia Gillard.
Ms Gillard was elected to parliament in 1998 on the back of support from Emily’s List. A key figure there was Vivian Waller, a lawyer for whom Julia Gillard obtained a job at Slater & Gordon, where the future prime minister worked until her dismissal for shady dealings on behalf of a light-fingered boyfriend. Gillard, of course, has escaped legal scrutiny for her own earlier alleged misdemeanours, in whose investigation Victoria Police have been involved. Gillard called the half-billion dollar Royal Commission in November 2012 (see timelines below) at a very convenient moment, when Waller was engaged in a Get Pell sub operation through the Victorian parliamentary committee inquiry, relating to the alleged coverup of a case in Ballarat. Gillard’s Royal Commission was clearly and cleverly designed to go after the Catholic Church. Her endeavours delivered a result when, years later, the Parliament experienced its #MeToo moment and proclaimed in unison to victims “we believe you”. Getting state governments to attack the Church’s sacred seal of Confession was a bonus, with Pell already in the dock and facing a second trial And the big time perpetrators of ongoing sexual abuse – the family, friends of the family, randy uncles, stepfathers, Northern Beaches Sydney high school teachers from the 1980s, and remote indigenous patriarchs – still very much on the loose. (See Keith Windschuttle’s “The course and consequences of Operation Get Pell‘)
Gillard, no doubt still cringing at the thought of some of her own past coming to light, owed Waller for earlier services to her career So it could be seen as a mighty distraction. Raised a Baptist and now self-confessed atheist, she was no friend of the Church. Like many, she no doubt abhorred child sexual abuse. She wanted to make a mark. And she was under severe pressure to act on the issue, and she knew it would be popular with the punters and that senior Church figures were not in a position to speak out against it. But it’s timing was very strategic too, linked as it was to the Victorian parliamentary committee’s volatile work and to Waller’s battle to have Pell exposed as a cover-up agent.
A Sydney Morning Herald report from 2017 put it this way:
Ms Gillard said she was not surprised that a Fairfax-Nielsen poll held days after the royal commission was announced showed 95 per cent support, but disputed that it reflected the community wanted powerful people to be held to account for decades of systemic child sexual abuse.
Well, she would say that.
Next, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton and VicPol more broadly. Ashton, of course, is now in the metaphorical dock himself, what with Lawyer X and his very own Royal Commission with which to contend. Despite many years of what the Church believed was close cooperation, he turned on the Archdiocese of Melbourne (by then under Archbishop Dennis Hart) in a submission to the 2012 parliamentary inquiry. He went rogue. In various responses to the committee, Hart convincingly demonstrated that Ashton’s play was utter rubbish. Ashton seemed to be looking for a fight. And Pell was in the crosshairs. More recently, on Ashton’s watch and with or without his knowledge, VicPol leaked the fact of the Pell investigation to the Melbourne Herald Sun‘s Lucie Morris Marr in February 2016. A 2001 journalistic travesty, when Ms Marr was working for the UK Daily Mail and then known as “Lucie Morris”, resulted in an apology and legal settlement for a story that was entirely wrong, suggests VicPol could not have found a more receptive pair of ears for its whispered briefings. This, like the publication of Louise Milligan’s error-riddled book, Cardinal, was a strategic play in the Pell-shaming strategy. Earlier leaks by VicPol attempted to link Pell’s non-return to Australia to give in-person evidence to the Royal Commission to his fear of being questioned by police. Andrew Bolt described the February 2016 leak as “highly suspicious” and “designed to destroy Pell”. VicPol was leaking like a sieve in regard to Pell. He was “being destroyed” a considerable time before his trial, and VicPol under Ashton was up to its malodorous armpits in the smear campaign.
Public opinion on Pell was being shaped and steered. And public opinion comes in handy since members of juries emerge from, well, the public.
Then there is Operation Tethering, much discussed and widely agreed to have been a clear “get Pell” sting, despite VicPol denials (under oath). As part of this play, the police in December 2016 – months after The Kid approached them – went public asking for abuse victims or people who knew about abuse at St Patrick’s Cathedral (!) during Pell’s tenure as archbishop (!) to come forward. Next, there is VicPol’s ignoring the advice of the own DPP not to bring charges against Pell, several times, during what was suspiciously long period and during which Milligan was free to research and defame the Cardinal.
Then, of course, there has been Ashton’s dogged defence of now discredited VicPol “research” into the number of suicides in Ballarat that “resulted” from clerical abuse.
Finally, there is also the suggestion by Christopher Friel, (see “The Social Media Witch-Hunt for George Pell“) that the head of the SANO Taskforce may have been encouraged to “retire” before the Pell case came to trial, and also that he was Milligan’s source. Milligan’s insistence that she received no help from VicPol beggars belief. More on this later.
So, Ashton’s VicPol, turned on the Church without cause in 2012, leaked against Pell as strategic moments, ignored its own DPP advice, saw the publication of Milligan’s book before formally charging Pell, blatantly targeted Pell in public appeals, and eased out a key player before the trial.
Vivian Waller is that dangerous creature, a lawyer with a PhD (research on post-traumatic stress disorder and statute of limitations for abuse victims). She is also an advocate (in every sense) with a long-time academic and a growing professional interest in sexual abuse victims. She has been both a policy player, making myriad submissions to various inquiries while benefiting immensely from the fruits of these inquiries. And she gets to be a hero in the fight against the Church and its paedophiles. She was closely involved with Gillard and received the big prize in the Royal Commission. November 2012 was a significant month, and a busy one, for several cast members. Waller was pursuing George Pell in the alleged coverup of Church abuse, though inconveniently he was overseas at a time Waller had alleged he was present in meetings which showed “he knew” about one particular instance of abuse in 1969 (the case of Brother Robert Best). Gillard then announced the RC. And VicPol set up the SANO Task Force the very same month. Sano would lead directly to the infamous Operation Tethering about which we now know so much. Waller represented the Pell complainant (aka The Kid) and has been appearing before the media on a regular basis at each stage of the Pell saga. Waller is deeply embedded in the victims support community, having represented many of them — victims of the notorious Gerald Ridsdale, for example. As Welsh academic Christopher Friel has noted, Waller’s PhD expertise in PTSD coincidentally resurfaces in Milligan’s book, which describes The Kid as having “PTSD eyes”.
So Waller is clearly an important player with strategic connections to others in the Get Pell brigade, on the case over many years, focused on the Cardinal in particular, benefitting from Gillard’s RC, and embedded in the victims’ support community.
Next is “Lyndsay Farlow”, we now know thanks to seriously good forensic work by Friel and to Quadrant, is a mysterious, well informed, well connected tweeter on all matters relating to Catholic sexual abuse. S/he seems to know Waller very, very well. Indeed, Friel has described him/her as a proxy for Waller. In 2015, she seemed also to know all about an American case of alleged sexual abuse with uncanny similarities to what would emerge as The Kid’s story against Pell. All this three weeks before The Kid went to the police with his complaint, conveniently (perhaps) after his old choirboy friend had died. Waller also knew then, that same month, as Farlow inadvertently records, about a successful sexual abuse court settlement in relation to an old St Kevin’s College matter. Farlow was also in contact at the very same time with one Louise Milligan (see below). S/he has connections in the media, too, with journalist Malcolm Farr noting in a Farlow linked tweet in February 2019 (in relation to the possible removal of Pell’s Order of Australia award) that by the time his appeal would be held, Bill Shorten “will be PM”. Oh dear. Farlow also has connections with VicPol, through one Doug Smith, former head of SANO. Milligan, also connected to Farlow through Twitter, began her own investigation of Pell after the mysterious VicPol leak of February 2016. Milligan is now connected to Doug Smith through Twitter. Smith coincidentally and conveniently for VicPol (“strategically”, as Friel has it) chose to retire in 2016 after 37 years in the force. Small world.
Louise Milligan, the bete noir of Team Pell is 45, has two children, lives in Melbourne, and as an employee of the taxpayer has seen fit to employ a publicist who is clearly earning his/her money. Milligan (pictured at right) recently appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Australia modelling an $895 Bianca Spender blazer, a $189 Ralph Lauren shirt and $529 pants, along with “her own jewellery”. Yes, a taxpayer funded journalist. She is an award winning “non-fiction” writer and (inevitably) an ABC journalist who admits to being not remotely dispassionate. Oh, and the bitter ex-Catholic from Central Casting. Thanks to great detective work by the poster Currency Lad at Catallaxy Files (“No Country for Old Catholics“), we now have a detailed rebuttal of Ms Milligan’s work, described by First Things editor Julia Yost as a “semi-literate regurgitation of police theories”, suggesting more than a passing relationship between Milligan and Pell’s VicPol pursuers. As well as being a comment on Milligan’s journalistic talent. Yost notes:
Milligan does not attempt to conceal her hostility to the Catholic Church. She recalls her Catholic girlhood with a shudder. When she can, she quotes her sources disclaiming any vendetta against the Church. But she is equally happy to quote a source, for instance, who recalls that his mother “took her shoe off and hit me in the face about six or seven times and said I was dirty”—in accordance, he says, with the “Catholic system.” Whenever she can, Milligan associates Catholicism with the victimization of children.
Following a long lunch with Milligan, the Australian Financial Review’s Aaron Patrick reported:
The first report that Pell was being investigated, over an alleged incident at a Ballarat swimming pool, appeared in the Herald Sun in 2016. Two years later, the day after Milligan published detailed allegations against him in Cardinal, Pell was charged.
Milligan has been accused of being a conduit for anti-Pell leaks from the Victoria police. She insists they never helped her, despite multiple requests, and she became immersed in a network of church victims covering the royal commission.
Milligan says she doesn’t know if her reporting influenced Pell’s prosecution. The Victoria Police and Director of Public Prosecutions were under intense scrutiny over the case, which they had been considering for two years, and Milligan’s reporting added to the pressure for action.
Milligan doesn’t pretend to be dispassionate. She carries the anger of the Church’s victims like a war wound.
The Pell case has moved beyond a crime story. It has become a clash between some of the great institutions of Australian society: the Catholic Church, the conservative wing of the Coalition, the Murdoch press, the ABC, Melbourne University and Melbourne’s liberal legal community.
WHERE YOU stand on Milligan’s reporting defines, in part, whether you believe Pell was victimised for embodying conservative values, whether you see a cultural bias operating at the ABC, and whether you believe the justice system can hold off a community desperate for retribution, regardless of whether the prime of object of such emnity deserves it.
How the ABC chose to illustrate one of its Pell reports several years before he was charged.
Milligan is, then, the friend of the victims and complainants of abuse, using her position at the ABC to further their cause, without apology, using her contacts at Melbourne University Press to publish a hit-piece book on Pell, to be released a mere six weeks before Pell was charged!
Here, and to be charitable, we are inclined to say that Milligan’s book does not belong to that genre of historical writing that attempts to tell us “what really happened,” rather, it is the sort of history that tries to get to the heart of the human event. In a word, Milligan is providing a character witness for the Kid. She is trying to communicate to us why we should trust him.
Milligan’s schadenfreude moment came following Pell’s conviction:
He spent his days telling the rest of us how we ought to live our lives, and now, here he was, scratching out his signature on the sex-offender register.
Now to Julie Stewart, who revealed to Milligan useful material – a letter from Cardinal Pell – in relation to Stewart’s abuse by the truly dreadful Fr Peter Searson. Stewart indeed features in Milligan’s Harper’s Bazaar spread. Stewart’s revelation was another strategic piece in the Get Pell jigsaw puzzle, and was designed to confirm all the things that Milligan “revealed” about the Cardinal – bully, sociopath, rigid as an Easter Island statue, etc. Stewart was immensely useful, then, for showing Pell in a poor light and reinforcing the extant stereotypes of the man.
Next we come to Bernard Barrett, an advisor to the Broken Rites group set up to represent victims and complainants to, in effect, bleed the Church dry of funds and of its capacity to take moral positions – like those so despised by Louise Milligan.
Barrett is another of those actors in the network who have been on Pell’s case for a long, long time. Andrew Bolt noted in 2002, via a story in the Sydney Morning Herald on the (dismissed) charge against Pell from the 1960s:
… the complainant, codenamed X, told the inquiry Barrett said “he could write a terrific victim impact statement” that would earn X least $50,000.
Barrett denied this but told the inquiry he “offered to show [X] how to do it [write a victim impact statement]” and had told X that the church’s compensation scheme ranged up to $50,000.
It was after X took his complaint to the church that the defamatory article by “Xavier O’Byrne” appeared on the internet.
X told the inquiry he wasn’t happy about the publicity: “I was crook on Barrett because I thought, still think, that Barrett leaked this.”
Barrett, who denies leaking, was accused by the Cardinal’s defence team in 2018 of having tried to “pin something on Pell”. He denied this, and also that Broken Rites was a vehicle for targeting the Catholic Church. Barrett was also, incidentally, The Kid’s first port of call, a while before he went to the police and well before Milligan came across him.
Finally, we come to The Kid. We will probably never know who The Kid is, despite his uncorroborated and evidence-free claims having landed Pell in gaol. We have it on good psychological authority – no less than the Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court and career commercial law solicitor Anne Ferguson, that The Kid is “no fantasist”. He is said to be no liar either. The conviction and dismissed appeal means that, unless the High Court rules otherwise, The Kid will forever be a “victim” and not a “complainant”.
The Kid came forward to police a few weeks after his lawyer, through the Twitter outlet of “Lyndsay Farlow”, discovered “Billy” of Philly in the US, who had three priests and a teacher put away for things later proven they had not done. One of his victim’s died in jail. If Pell’s case – that he could not physically have committed the crime – is true, then The Kid is, indeed, a liar or a fantasist, or perhaps, as posited by the current Archbishop of Melbourne, caught up in a case of mistaken identity. Probably we will never know. The evidence that he concocted his story on the back of research into Rolling Stone, is indeed circumstantial. But he was certainly connected with people – Milligan, Farlow and Waller – who were indeed across the case of Billy from Philly. Melbourne legal academic Jeremy Gans, as well as Milligan herself, have noted that there are differences as well as similarities between the two cases.
Well, one wouldn’t want an exact copy, would one?
The unfortunate death of The Choirboy may or may not have opened the way for The Kid to make his play. Given that the mate had never himself claimed to have been abused — indeed, had told his mother he had never been abused — it surely didn’t hurt The Kid’s case. Again, that we will decidedly never know. Were the police taken for a ride, like the Met was in the UK with the Carl Beech case? And did they want desperately to believe him because of their own longstanding determination, well and truly on the public record, to get Pell? They certainly accepted, as did the jury and the majority of the Appeal Judges, that the many and significant changes over time in the various versions of events given by The Kid to the police, to Milligan and at the trial were not sufficiently worrying to doubt his word.
Let me mention briefly, in turn, Sabrina Rubin Erderly and the Ballarat support group. She penned the piece in Rolling Stone that catalogued the case which led to several wrongful convictions and one man’s death. And she may have, inadvertently, contributed to the unswerving work of the players in the Melbourne-based network who were busy themselves beavering away on another, otherwise unrelated, project. Erderly’s journalism was later show to be based on a fabrication. Sabrina should at least score an honourable mention.
Finally, the victims’ support group centred on Ballarat. This was all about the monstrous Gerald Ridsale, who was found guilty of sexual abuse crimes against many, including, sadly, his own relatives. Many of the Ballarat victims were closely connected to Vivian Waller, and Waller as we know pursued Pell over the alleged cover up of these Ballarat matters. That they never proved Pell had covered up crimes provided considerable motive for either getting someone for the cover-ups, or getting Pell for something else. And they went to Rome, fifteen of them, accompanied by the deputy mayor no less. They confronted Pell publicly in an ugly manner after he had given evidence to VicPol in Rome. They added to the pressure already building, keeping Pell in the news. More generally, they formed a network and they proved a valuable source of information for both Waller and for Broken Rites. They expanded the network and were a source of information for others in the network. Quadrant Online examined the allegations, more lurid and improbable with every retelling, of one of the social media-funded Rome tourists. In its final iteration, he would have us believe the nuns at the orphanage where he was raised had a BDSM-style dungeon in the basement where small boys were strapped to a St Andrews cross and whipped, had their teeth yanked with pliers, and were bathed in preparation for sessions of abuse by visiting priests. A sample:
…the sexual abuse got worse… as I got older it went on to the physical and dungeon type of thing. The horror rooms, they had medieval paintings, a big wooden X cross on one wall. I used to be stripped down and tied up and sexually abused by it.
In 2016, their anger was undiminished, their sense of justice by no means sated. Gerald Ridsdale’s nephew, David Ridsdale, himself a convicted child abuser, spoke for the group in Rome:
Ridsdale said none of the survivors was satisfied with Pell’s evidence or the Church’s response to it.
“You’ve got to be a delusional human being to even imagine that’s the truth,” he said. “A very small step was made, but none of us felt that the evidence he gave was representative of the man we met in the room.”
The survivors say Pell had been listening to them in private meetings, yet appears to be dismissive of them in public.
“The person up on the stand was the bureaucrat, he was the corporate man,” Ridsdale said. “None of us were satisfied with his evidence. Not in the slightest.”
The networking by the victim’s support group was perfectly understandable. Despite the massive shift in the Church’s approach occasioned by Pell’s Melbourne Response in the 1990s, and the payments made to victims and other services provided, Team Ballarat was still unhappy, dissatisfied and pursuing unfinished business. Pell was probably seen by them as not just a figurehead but also as a blame-shifter and probable cover-up agent (especially in relation to Ridsdale). Waller certainly believed this. Pell was accused of lying under oath during his evidence to the RC in Rome in relation to the Ballarat matters.
The “unfinished business” element of the pursuit of Pell has been enduring during the past decade of his pursuit, and across most many of his pursuers.
As American reporter Ralph Cipriano has concluded, speaking of Billy Doe:
With the Catholic Church under legal assault by prosecutors in 14 states, the case of a former Philadelphia altar boy dubbed “Billy Doe” serves as a cautionary tale that not every priest accused of sex abuse is automatically guilty.
The case also shows that crusading prosecutors don’t always play by the rules. And that no matter what the true facts in a sex abuse case are, it won’t matter to a biased news media.
The word “crusading” is important here. It captures perfectly the tone, the motivation and the intent of those involved in the pursuit of Cardinal George Pell.
That is the cast of characters in the Get Pell network. Yet there is another piece of evidence in building the case, circumstantial but, dare one use the term “compelling”, that Pell was shuffled into a position from which there would be no escape. This is the calendar of events from 2011 to 2017. Again, it suggests a long game, involving many assassins and the brutal use of State power to hound the innocent amid the drip feed of then, and still, unsubstantiated allegations.
CONSIDER the timeline as the Pell saga unfolded. There are highly suggestive coincidences that provide further evidence of a sting at worst and a well-connected network at best. These dates provide some of the missing links that underline the significance of the plays described above.
September 15, 2011: Rolling Stone article on Billy Doe in Philadelphia
April 2012: Graham Ashton submission to Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry accusing the Catholic Church of various failures in relation to sex abuse cases
October 2012: False allegations made by Vivian Waller about Pell covering up sex abuse in the Br Best case
November 12, 2012: Julia Gillard announces Royal Commission
November 30, 2012: SANO taskforce established
September 2013: David Marr’s Quarterly Essay hit piece on Pell
May 2015: ” Lyndsay Farlow” knows about St Kevin’s payout relating to incidents in 1970 that could be a spur for action by The Kid
May 2015: The Age pubnlishes a “Die Pell” graphic on its Facebook page, then removed.
May 28, 2015: Louise Milligan in contact with Lyndsay Farlow
May 28, 2015: Lyndsay Farlow tweet re the Billy Doe case in the USA
June 18, 2015: The Kid contacts Victorian Police with the complaint against Pell, setting in train the final act of the drama
November 2015: Julie Stewart reveals Pell letter appearing to show he had been untruthful
December 23, 2015: VicPol calls for anyone assaulted or who had information about assaults at St Patrick’s cathedral during Pell’s tenure to contact them
February 2016: Tim Minchin’s ‘Pell song’ released
February 19, 2016: Herald Sun story (by Lucie Morris Marr, shortly to publish a book on the Pell trial) that VicPol is investigating Pell, following leak by police. Milligan is now on the case
March 2016: Pell gives evidence in Rome, is confronted by Ballarat support group
March 7, 2016: Abuse victim Julie Stewart and Louise Milligan meet
May 2016: Milligan meets The Kid
May 14, 2017: Milligan’s book published
June 29, 2017: Pell charged by police; soon after this, Milligan’s book was removed from Victorian bookshops
So, was Get Pell a sting?
The actors in this network didn’t necessarily meet every Monday morning to monitor progress in Operation Get Pell. They didn’t need to. There were sufficient connections, and knowledge of the progress of the other actors in their endeavours, to not require anything so formal as a group designation. Modern teams, certainly in business, often do not meet, do not even know all the team members and their endeavours, but are connected through shared corporate objectives and single-minded commitment. They just get on and play their own part, working separately. They utilise social media and benefit from our hyper-connected world.
This is how it went. This is the beauty of networks, as Niall Ferguson and the public choice theorists know, only too well.