There is a disturbing photo of which those familiar with the travesty of justice meted out to George Pell will be aware. It captures Belinda Wallington, the magistrate who sent the Cardinal to trial in 2018, gazing grimly into the camera with ABC journalist-cum-Harper’s Bazaar fashionista Louise Milligan, author of the damning Cardinal which did so much to poison public opinion and perceptions before the case went before a jury.
The duo had just appeared on ABC radio when they posed for this little memento of their encounter. To this observer and keen follower of the Pell saga, the snap brought to mind something more than the sisterhood of strong women we hear so much about. Rather, it suggested the involvement of feministas, some ex-Catholics and all social justice warriors, who have been intimately involved in the getting of Pell. It might be opined, and certainly should be explored, whether and to what extent a certain kind of feminist imbued with anti-clerical sentiment has been hovering in the background since the get-go. For starters, consider the involvement of
Julia Gillard, the ex-Methodist (now atheist) and extreme feminist former prime minister, set the show on the road with her establishment of what became the Catholic Church-obsessed Royal Commission into institutional sex abuse.
Vivian Waller, Gillard’s old mate and Emily’s Lister, has made a career and a reputation on the back of what she and others see as the sins of the Church, its inadequate recompense to complainants and, by their reckoning, insufficient remorse for the sins of the fathers.
Belinda Wallington is the magistrate who refused to recuse herself from presiding over the committal hearing despite allegations of pro-prosecution bias from the defence team. “Don’t shout at me, Mr Richter” was her considered response to the QC’s request that she stand down.
Wallington’s social justice warrior and feminist credentials are on the record. Here, for example, is Wallington on the CFMEU’s John Setka:
“The language, the misogynistic language in the texts, is what’s causing concern.” Ms Wallington said.
Outside court, Ms Walters — who sat in the courtroom with Mr Setka and his eldest son — said her husband was not a misogynist.
“I’m his wife, he talks to me more than any of you, and I’m saying he’s not a misogynist,” she said.
Setka isn’t everyone’s cup of chowder, of course. Yet Wallington’s choice of words is a reminder of core feminist motivations and weapons. Playing the misogynist card is an old trick, as we know. There is even a “misogynist speech” entry in Wikipedia, thanks to Ms Gillard, when it was Cardinal Pell’s old friend, Tony Abbott, who found himself in the fembot PM’s firing line.
The “grim-faced” Wallington’s decision to be photographed with Louise Milligan astonishes me, given the circumstances. As noted in the Herald Sun in 2018:
Wallington appeared on the highly opinionated Jon Faine’s Conversation Hour last year with Milligan, who was plugging her book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell.
… Events around this photo have left lawyers “gobsmacked”, as a key prosecution witness and the magistrate in charge of the Pell case appeared on the same ABC radio program.
The Pell legal team, not unreasonably, called it “apprehended bias”. Milligan praised Wallington after their appearances on the Jon Faine show in mid-May 2017. Yes, a mere few weeks before VicPol charged George Pell, a year after Milligan met the surviving victim she identifies as “The Kid”, and two years after he contacted Victoria Police, under instructions from Waller. The Pell investigation, Operation Tethering, was already well and truly down the track.
And it must be remembered that Milligan wasn’t just an author. Not at all. She would also be a key witness at Pell’s committal, overseen by, let us repeat, Belinda Wallington! Apprehended bias, indeed. This leads us naturally to Louise “I was brought up Catholic” Milligan, who has said of her formative years:
I’m interested in the church, it’s one of those things about being Catholic – it kind of stays in your bones. It never really leaves you even though you may leave it.
Milligan left the Church as a teenager, having been “brought up a strict Catholic”. And she has all the hallmarks of a female ex-Catholic fired up over the patriarchal Church and people, like Pell, daring to preach about sexual ethics. Her myriad tweets are testimony to a spittle-flecked vitriol.
She was drawn into the Pell saga by another woman and Melbourne contemporary, abuse victim Julie Stewart, with whom she closely identified. One of Milligan’s drivers was that the Pell complainants – all believed by Milligan, every one of them – were fighting an institution “in denial”. Even the most casual observer of the Melbourne Response (instigated by Pell, as it happens, in 1996), and Towards Healing, would not find an institution “in denial”. Milligan’s employer might be said to be “in denial” about what goes on in remote Aboriginal communities and among child-marrying Muslims. The ABC might also be said to be “in denial” over one of its own, the late and unlamented Richard Neville, who boasted of sex with an underage girl. But that is another story.
Milligan’s book – described by First Things‘ Julia Yost as a “semiliterate regurgitation of police theories” – was published by yet another feminist and #MeToo warrior, ex-Methodist Ladies College girl and darling of the luvvies, Louise Adler. Having been shafted by Melbourne University Press, Adler has now joined Hachette Australia. Adler speaks glowingly of MeTooism: “The #metoo campaign is revealing the pervasive nature of predatory behaviour.”
Finally we come to Anne Ferguson, Chief Justice of Victoria and former student of the Brigidine Sisters at Springvale Victoria. A career contracts solicitor and married to another Victorian Supreme Court judge, Ferguson’s almost unbelievable Pell appeal judgment was politely put to the sword by fellow judge Weinberg and absolutely shredded by legal scholars such as John Finnis and Gerard Bradley.
Ferguson’s willingness to believe everything the complainant claimed, plus her scepticism at all manner of exculpatory evidence, reeks of the legal #MeTooism now embedded in the Victorian justice system. Her judgment on the appeal hammers even more nails into the coffin of justice for those accused of sexual offences.
On Ferguson’s appointment in 2017, the Australian Financial Review noted:
Her appointment to chief justice will continue the line of strong women holding senior judicial roles in the nation, including High Court chief justice Susan Kiefel and fellow High Court judges Virginia Bell and Michelle Gordon, Queensland Supreme Court chief justice Catherine Holmes, NSW Court of Appeal president Margaret Beazley, Justice Ward, and Family Court chief justice Diana Bryant.
The childless Ferguson took over as Chief Justice from yet another “first woman”, Marilyn Warren, appointed by Rob Hulls. More on him to follow. Warren was educated at Kilbreda Convent in Mentone and later became a policy adviser to Labor attorneys-general, including John Cain and, briefly, Labor Opposition Leader Jim Kennan. So yet another fine pedigree. Feminist lawyers and Catholic-or-other religious upbringings everywhere.
Then there is the feminist cheer squad on the sidelines.
To get a sense of the sheer vitriol with which certain women, especially feminist Catholics or, even more intensely, feminist ex-Catholics, view prelates such as Pell, one only has to consider the zany theology of someone like the sadly persistent Kristina Keneally. Only recently, Keneally told us she was appalled — indeed, “gobsmacked”– at the suggestion by Melbourne Archbishop Comensoli that Pell might actually be innocent. This view was sympathetically captured in a Guardian headline: “Labor senator says she can’t understand how Peter Comensoli can continue defending paedophile”. Keneally linked Comensoli’s quite reasonable defence of Pell to his statement that he would defy new Victorian laws mandating the breaking of the sacred seal of the Catholic confessional.
“Here we have an archbishop just declaring he is going to break the law rather than report a child sexual abuse that is revealed to him in the confessional,” Keneally said.
“I can’t understand how he can stand in front of the Australian people and make that statement, given all the evidence that has come out of the royal commission in relation to the Catholic church and child sexual abuse.”
Consulting Keneally, the gender-relativist Catholic, on matters of sacramental theology is a bit like getting advice on bushfire prevention from an arsonist. Yet it is useful as a measure of the sheer animus of feminists of a certain age in relation to matters Catholic, patriarchy and the sexual revolution. For an innocent Catholic prelate fated to enter the Victorian sexual justice system, the thought of endless angry, ruthlessly determined, systematised feminists coming at you must be akin to a recurring nightmare.
Sex abuse central in the Victorian legal system is the Sex Offences List of the Melbourne Magistrate Court. This has been going since 2006, having been introduced by Labor’s Rob Hulls, then the attorney-general, and now an adjunct professor running an outfit called the Centre for Innovative Justice at RMIT University. The driving force for the changes was to make the system “more responsive to victims of sexual offences”, and the legislative reforms followed on from a lengthy consideration by the Victorian Law Reform Commission. There is something immediately noticeable about the inquiry’s sexual offences advisory committee. Can you spot it? The committee members were:
# Antoinette Braybrook, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service
# Gary Ching, Sexual Offences Unit, Office of Public Prosecutions
# Marg D’Arcy, CASA House [Centre Against Sexual Assault, providing counselling and advocacy services; CASA’s approach is summarised thus: “CASA House’s approach to counselling and advocacy is based in our understanding of sexual assault as an act of violence that occurs within a social context and has both social and individual consequences. Victim/survivors often report the biggest impact of sexual assault is feeling they have lost a sense of power and control in their own lives. CASA House counselling and advocacy therefore aims to support victim/survivors to not only explore the social nature of sexual assault perpetration, but also to explore the individual impacts of sexual assault and regain a sense of power and control in their lives.”]
# Maria Dimopolous, MyriaD Consultants [also of the Victorian Multicultural Commission]
# Phil Grano, Office of the Public Advocate
# Karen Hogan, Gatehouse Centre, Royal Children’s Hospital
# Sgt Sandra James, Victoria Police
# Therese McCarthy, TMA Consult
# Inspector Lisa McMeeken, Victoria Police
# Pam O’Neill, Barwon CASA
# Her Honour Judge Margaret Rizkalla, County Court
# Her Honour Judge Meryl Sexton, County Court
# Dr Caroline Taylor, University of Ballarat [now a professor of social justice]
# Dr Alison Young, University of Melbourne [specialises in the cultural representations of justice and “graffiti and street art”].
Yep – two males out of 14 members. Some ways to go to achieve gender balance there. And look at the backgrounds of the committee’s members. There is more than a soupçon of advocacy. Not much chance the advice to the government would be anything other than a dramatic shift towards victims’ rights, whatever the consequences for the innocent accused.
Whether the preponderance of women here is the result of self-selection — perhaps lots of women go into the sex abuse victims field – or by design, the imbalance is noteworthy. But is it significant, either in its motivation or its legal or other impacts? It might be. Sex abuse victims are typically, though not always, either women or minors. The urge to right wrongs, to seek justice for a class of the oppressed, where the oppressors are mostly male, is clearly strong among activist women. But whatever the motivation, the outcome has clearly been to tilt the balance towards the identified-as-oppressed (victims), with significant legal consequences.
The Commission’s report, tabled in 2004, was a key driver of the Victorian Government’s subsequent actions. The Victorian Government received the Law Reform Commission report with open arms and set about root-and-branch change in the interests of victims. This system change had deleterious consequences for George Pell. The creation of this “trail blazing” Victorian operation and its systems, methodologies and priorities since 2006 have a number of features:
# Routine consideration of “complainants” as “victims” (see under Graham Ashton’s repeated, public use of the term “victim” in relation to The Kid);
# The deliberate biasing of the process towards complainants;
# Feeling public pressure to achieve convictions;
# The prevention of defendants cross examining complainants and “other vulnerable witnesses” in open court;
# Making testimony via closed circuit television “routine”;
# Restricting access to the complainants counselling records;
# Emerging me-tooism as the default philosophy of the Court;
# The interwoven networks across the system – including sex crimes police, prosecutors, complainants’ advocacy lawyers and female politicians;
# The preponderance of women in the sex offences system.
This amounts to a reform process built on an ideology. It is nothing less than groupthink delivering a new class of group rights, inimical to due legal process and our democracy, and privileging those thought to have been previously disadvantaged by “the system” at the expense of the accused’s presumption of innocence. This new stacking of the odds, delivered by ideologues, amounted to a revolutionary change to the basis of our legal processes. This is a system designed by activists and implemented by activists — and mostly aggrieved female activists at that.
A number of observers have noted the close resemblance of the Pell case in Australia to the Carl Beech debacle in the UK, especially in relation to the utter credulity of the police in automatically believing far-fetched stories about alleged abuse.
In this context The Salisbury Review has editorialised:
Why did experienced officers believe in such rubbish? Women are in charge of society now. Although they are just as predatory as men when it comes to sex, in matters of bed male justice will no longer do and the burden of proof has been reversed. The accused is now guilty until proven innocent. Consequently any allegation by the victim (the word accuser has been dropped), however wild and improbable, must be believed by the police until a court decides otherwise. As the accused is guilty until proven innocent, it is perfectly in order to publish his name in order to trawl for more of his victims.
… Where did this reversal of justice come from? “Believing the victim” has been a central tenet of a female-dominated counselling culture since the Sixties. [It is] usually known as “unconditional regard”.
Such feminised notions of sexual justice are all of a piece with the approach taken by Justices Ferguson and Maxwell in rejecting the Pell appeal. Their view was, as noted by Pell case expert Chris Friel, that “belief in the complainant is foundational”.
The reform process in Victoria and elsewhere was motivated by two converging drivers – even before the #MeToo tipping point in the mid-to-late 2010s. These were, first, the core reality of sexual abuse cases, viz. that they were witness-less and therefore often unpunished, and second, that the churches in particular were increasingly being revealed to have harboured multiple sex abusers over a long time. This was a perfect storm into which strode well-meaning (and other), strongly motivated politicians and others from their associated policy communities determined to right wrongs, and if necessary smash some eggs in the making of a better omelette – for the victims. As is so often the case with the good intentions paving company, there were unfortunate consequences, especially for innocent accused clerics in the crosshairs.
In 2016, The Age did a story on “a day in the life of the sex court”. Those featured include a now familiar name, Belinda Wallington. The story notes:
Although sexual offences can be notoriously hard to prosecute, Wall says her team tries to make every victim feel as supported and protected as possible.
“The public has a really high expectation that the courts and police are taking it really seriously.”
Here is the reminder of two critical aspects of the court process as it has evolved: the public pressure for scalps and the favouring of the complainant-as-victim. But there is more:
Another striking feature of the court is its gender imbalance. Most of the positions of power in the court, on this day at least, are occupied by women – the magistrate, Metcalf, her clerk, two police prosecutors, an Office of Public Prosecutions prosecutor, and many of the defence lawyers.
Apart from one exception, all the defendants are men.
The warrior’s warrior is, of course, the now famous Vivian Waller, The Kid’s lawyer. There is a slightly strange statement on Vivian Waller’s webpage: “Sadly, Catholic Clergy are vastly over represented as defendants in her practice.” The focus is unmistakable:
Dr Waller has [in 2014] more than 500 clients, almost all victims of Catholic clergy, and the number grows by about 10 a week. “You think it’s a finite group of people, but it just doesn’t stop,” Dr Waller said.
As of September 2019, Waller is pursuing 350 claims against Catholic institutions, helped as others have been by the Victorian Government’s 2018 decision to close a loophole (the so-called Ellis defence) that formerly protected the Church from being sued by sex abuse complainants. New South Wales followed suit. According to the NSW Attorney General, “We are changing the power balance so survivors can hold institutions accountable for horrific abuse and move forward with their recovery.”
Here again is the notion of “changing the legal balance” that informed those 2006 reforms that eventually did the Cardinal in.
There is now a veritable avalanche, no doubt helped by Waller’s indefatigable lobbying of government to snooker the Church. Julia Gillard’s royal commission, called in in November 2012, has certainly proved to be the gift that keeps on giving.
Waller has been personally pursuing George Pell for almost a decade. Here is Waller on Pell, in 2014:
Dr Waller said she had been “absolutely staggered” by what had come out at the Royal Commission hearings in Melbourne including the Catholic Church’s ability to pay more generous compensation and Cardinal Pell’s comparison of the church to a trucking company in relation to culpability if a driver sexually assaulted a hitch-hiker.
“I cannot even begin to tell you how many ways that is offensive”.
The latter phrase is redolent of Keneally’s response to Comensoli: patriarchal Pell is unsympathetic to victims. He deserved to be pursued.
If there were any convincing evidence that Catholic clergy were more prone to be accused of, or worse, guilty of, child sex abuse than, say, non-Catholic pastors, or non-clerical Church employees, or employees of state education systems or family members/stepfathers/creepy uncles, then Waller’s admitted targeting practices might be unobjectionable, even unnoticed. But because Catholic clergy are not more prone to sex abuse than other institutions and individuals, Waller’s slightly out-there commentary – on a legal practice web site – strikes one as symptomatic of something else.
Waller’s web page also notes:
In 2005 the Victorian Women Lawyers bestowed upon her an Achievement Award for her services to victims of sexual assault.
One encomium described Waller as follows, noting her prominent role in bringing about the state-led inquiry into the Church’s response to sex abuse, “Dr Waller is tenacious in bringing the powerful to account for their wrongs.”
It certainly helped the cause to have as a close friend and one-time mentor, the then-prime minister, only too ready to set in train a royal commission that would lead to scalps beyond the initial dreams of the activists.
Waller is a heroine to the sex crime victim “community” (for a community it is). One might even call it the Sex Crimes Victims Industrial Complex, such are the interconnections that run broad and deep south of the Murray. This complex is the place where law, politics, activism and social justice co-locate.
Waller explained her motivation in pursuing the law:
It’s a passion for social justice, I think. Often the law lags behind social change, in areas like legalising gay marriage. But sometimes the law does lead by example. In Alabama in 1955, Rosa Parks was asked by a bus driver to relinquish her seat to a white passenger.
Waller has spent time visiting remote Aboriginal communities, not to investigate that ongoing, nagging and yet very politically incorrect abuse within these communities. No, Waller’s focus was on abuse in “missions, schools and orphanages”. So, somewhat selective social justice. But who is the prime target of Waller’s outrage? “This work found me,” she explained. “It wasn’t something I set out to do but I cannot stand the thought of the bully in the schoolyard, and that’s what the Catholic Church has been. It’s thought itself to be above the state and a law unto itself”. Waller is but one member of this cadre of focused, sex abuse warriors steamrolling their way through the ecclesiastic patriarchy.
Feminism and anti-Catholicism seem natural bedfellows. As one feisty example of the breed suggested, “misogyny is the Catholic Church’s original sin”.
The faux theology, the sheer anger, the conflation of categories, the linking of sex crimes to patriarchy, are all present and in spades. There is little to be learned here, save for the explanation that it provides for the feminist attack on the Church. It is worthy of the “theologically trained” Keneally. It is all of a piece with what happens to Catholic churches on International Women’s day each year. As noted by Church Militant, former Irish president Mary McAleese blasted the Catholic Church at a women’s conference in Rome in early 2018, calling it a “patriarchal, misogynistic empire”. An empire ripe for destruction, one gathers.
There are, of course, many ways that an angry female mob can wreak vengeance on a Church that “stole their childhoods”. One doesn’t need firebombs and graffiti. There is always bankrupting the institution, attaining huge clerical scalps, death by a thousand public relations cuts, gaoling clerics who refuse to break their sacred undertakings in relation to Confession and de-sacralising the Church.
Not all anti-Catholic or ex-Catholic women are feminists. Not all feminists are anti-Church. Not all angry ex-Catholics are women. Not all social justice warriors believe all priests are paedophiles. Not all #MeToo’ers believe all complainants are necessarily truth tellers. Not all Victorian legal reformers are biased against defendants. All this might be true.
Was Pell hounded, then pursued, his reputation trashed, then charged, then convicted and then jailed just because of the efforts of a few crusading women? Of course not, you might think. Highly improbable. On this view, Gillard, Waller, Wallington, Milligan, Stewart, Adler, Ferguson, Keneally were, variously, simply “doing their jobs”.
Those of us who find utterly unbelievable the sheer number of extreme improbabilities and coincidences that had to have all occurred that day in St Patrick’s Cathedral, and which so convinced Anne Ferguson of Pell’s guilt, might well come to think that Pell was indeed the big target of those with a very particular and highly focused stake in avenging the Church for its misdeeds. For its daring to bring them up “strictly” Catholic, for its patriarchy, for its preaching against the sexual revolution and especially its “reproductive rights” that they hold so dear, for its “maleness” and misogyny, for its hypocritical preachiness, for its proven cases of sexual abuse and alleged coverups, for its failure to attend sufficiently to complainants in their quest for recompense.
Through heinous crimes and bungled and ill-informed, even if well-intentioned, institutional responses to these crimes, the Catholic Church in Australia and beyond has left itself open to the war cries of its long-term critics. Deserved or not. Many of these critics are radical feminists, daughters of the Sixties social revolution, the sisterhood’s sisterhood, and a goodly number of them are anti-religious, especially those once brought up Catholic. They are embedded in the legal system and the media. Their interests are well and truly aligned. They are leading lights among victims’ support groups. And they helped to bring about a system of justice in Victoria wedded to MeTooism.
These fembots come hard at the Church, fearsome advocates running amok. And they came for Cardinal Pell, the grim, hard faced, patriarchal old school prelate from central casting. He was asking for trouble. And the highly networked, victim-obsessed and ideologically driven new system of sex crime justice in Victoria made damned sure he got it.