Much has been, and will be, written about the Pell case, most of it by commentators much more qualified than I, but indulge me to offer, humbly, a few thoughts. If we go back to basics, we can ask ourselves the simple question, how probable is it that a middle-aged man, clever and ambitious enough to rise to the very top ranks of his profession, would risk everything by molesting two boys in circumstances where he could be discovered at any minute? Most people would say ‘not impossible but very improbable’, I would venture to guess.
That premise would, or should, inform a healthy scepticism from the get-go on the part of any competent and disinterested investigator. It should demand that evidence against the subject be compelling. That ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’ should be as apparent to the prosecution team as it would be to the jury.
Except, it seems, if the subject were Cardinal George Pell.
Another aspect the astute investigator might consider is if this alleged perpetrator, this highly intelligent achiever, is also something of a risk-taker? As far as I am aware, most paedophiles, at least those within the clergy, are not opportunistic predators. They carefully groom their victims over time. The investigator might ask himself, how probable is it that the past life of this self-indulgent middle-aged risk-taker with so little self-control as to take this immense risk for just a moment’s fleeting pleasure would not be littered with similar instances?
Most people would say ‘not impossible but very improbable’, I would venture to guess. Certainly there have been allegations against Cardinal Pell, but none of them have withstood up to scrutiny. If Pell were so careless, so heedless of the risk as a middle-aged man, how much moreso would he have been as a younger man before child sexual abuse by clergy had become the highly publicised scandal that it was in 1996?
Let me be clear. I’m not saying it is entirely impossible that a highly successful and ambitious man would molest children. I’m saying it is (a) highly improbable that he would do it in this insanely risky way and (b) if he did, then it is highly probable that his past life would reveal similar cases.
So before we even get to the highly implausible scenario considered in the actual case, we already have two major improbabilities that should have cautioned against a rush to believe the victim’s every word as gospel. From the very beginning, that the “facts” as presented in court could not possibly support a verdict of guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Keith Windschuttle and Andrew Bolt, to name two journmalists drave enough to stand against the mob, have provided considerable evidence to prove that Cardinal Pell simply could not have committed this crime. Now the High Court has all but said the same thing.
Were it not for the long-term hatchet job done on Cardinal George Pell by partisan agencies such as the Victoria Police and Their ABC, this case would never have come to court. Which brings me to the question of innocence. It was only a matter of time before someone donned the old ‘not proved innocent just found not guilty’ fig leaf. Barrie Cassidy was one of the first off the mark:
The High Court has found there was not enough evidence to convict. It did not find him innocent….
And Julian Burnside QC:
Bolt and Panahi say Pell is innocent. Even on the High Court ruling, the best you can say is that there is a “rational possibility” that he was not guilty of the offence charged.
Sorry, Julian. What the High Court actually said was that there was:
a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.
One hopes Julian Burnside QC pays more attention to accuracy when representing his clients
Then there is Chris Murphy, who appears to have been in such a state of apoplectic fury at Pell walking free that he tweeted up a storm. Here is one of his 280-chacter profundities:
High Court says jury found the altar boy ‘thoroughly credible and reliable’ but then without any new evidence found a doubt! I see juries as judges of the fact & HC judges of the law. Oh well! Silly me, but for Christ’s sake journos ‘not guilty’ doesn’t mean ‘Innocent’
Murphy, back to law school for you. There was no new evidence and none was needed because the High Court found that the jury did not place sufficient weight on the exculpatory evidence before them – evidence unchallenged by the prosecution. The principle of ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’ would seem to be a matter of law to me. But then what do I know? I’m not a tweeting lawyer.
The High Court’s reversal ‘restored the presumption of innocence’ for Cardinal Pell. By the logic of Burnside et al, no-one who is ever charged with a crime and subsequently acquitted is ever really innocent, merely presumed to be innocent. Burnside would know it is not the job of the High Court to retry the case – just to rule on the substantive issue that the jury should not have found guilt ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. That all seven Justices found a ‘significant possibility’ that Pell was innocent speaks volumes. As noted by Mathew Collins on The Bolt Report last night, judges do not like getting reversed on appeal and, presumably, appeal courts being judges themselves, do not do so lightly. Put another way, of the ten judges who examined the case — three Victorians and seven members of the High Court, eight perceived a miscarriage of justice. The deliberate use of the word ‘significant’ in the High Court’s ruling is telling.
But in a practical sense, from the perspective of the general public, there will always be those who harbour some doubt about whether or not the discharged defendant really is innocent. So Cardinal Pell’s ‘innocence’ will always be in the public eye a second-rate innocence. A ‘not really innocent, just not technically guilty’ kind of innocence.
By initiating this farcical and ultimately doomed prosecution, Victorian Police, ably assisted by the ABC and other interests, have robbed Cardinal Pell, not only of 405 days of his life and the hell of slander and hatred, but also of his reputation.
That was inexcusable. Someone– many if justice be done — has to pay.