Between the Lines: Decoding Witness ‘J’

In a long interview with Sky News after Cardinal Pell’s acquittal by the High Court, Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who had always expressed skepticism of the original verdict, went over the reasons for the paramount decision. But right at the end, he added

…And let’s, above all, spare our thoughts for Mister J. He gave a very moving statement there yesterday about getting on with his life, but knowing that there are dark periods…

Fr Brennan also waxed about the great psychological burden heaped on J by the incompetence of the police and DPP in pursuing a case so ludicrously improbable it should never have been investigated in the first place. This was a convenient, if unsupportable, way of maintaining the socially mandated “believe the victim” stance whilst simultaneously finding third parties on which to sheet home blame for the fiasco. He wasn’t alone in giving J a pass. Chris Kenny made similar comments, while the ABC reported the following from Archbishop Comsoli, who was “relieved” the legal system finally acquitted Cardinal Pell. “But at the same time,” he continued, “… my heart went out to J and his family.”

Nor was he alone. Archbishop Mark Coleridge, issued a statement on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. It included:

Today’s outcome will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the Cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process. We also recognise that the High Court’s decision will be devastating for others.

Many have suffered greatly through the process…

Archbishop Coleridge finds many who have suffered as a result of the trial, the second trial, the first appeal and the final appeal. I also find many who suffered, but the one who suffered most of all was Cardinal George Pell.

The bishops and Father Brennan were not alone in praising ‘J’ for his “moving statement.” Clearly, that statement needs to be interpreted for the innocent of heart and the naïve. Here it is, with comments by [this writer] exploring the subtext.

Here are excerpts, with comments

I respect the decision of the High Court. I accept the outcome.

[because it can’t be taken any further.]

I understand their view that there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court beyond all reasonable doubt that the offending occurred. I understand that the High Court is saying that the prosecution did not make out the case to the required standards of proof

[Pell did it, but they just couldn’t nail him.]

It is difficult in child sexual abuse matters to satisfy a criminal court that the offending has occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is a very high standard to meet — a heavy burden. I understand why criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

[Marvel at J as he defends the criminal justice system that ultimately let him down. The courts must be free to make mistakes, he says, even if a guilty man gets off. Admire him for acknowledging as much, even to his detriment.]

No-one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due and proper process.
This is a basic civil liberty. But the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.

[The selflessness is being laid on with a trowel.]

That’s why it remains important that everyone who can report to the police does so. I would hate to think that one outcome of this case is that people are discouraged from reporting to the police.

[Think of the poor lawyers missing out on all that work and their cut of the settlements.]

I would like to reassure child sexual abuse survivors that most people recognise the truth when they hear it.

[Unfortunately for J, the High Court, not being ‘most people’, recognises falsehoods and impossibilities.]

They know the truth when they look it in the face. I am content with that….

And so J’s statement goes on (and on and on).

The simple reality is that anonymous J made up the story about Cardinal Pell. That he is a liar can be said now, thanks to the High Court, but this recognition of a fabulist has been strangely missing from all of the public commentary I have read. J’s first statement, after Pell’s original conviction, and second, after the failure of his appeal in Victoria, as well as this most recent one, must all be read with Cardinal Pell’s innocence in mind. In that light they can be seen as masterpieces of deceit and misdirection.

Witness J’s lawyer is Vivian Waller. According to her bio at Waller Legal (motto: ‘In pursuit of justice’), Dr Waller has a PhD from Melbourne in “civil claims for compensation for childhood sexual assault.”

J’s second statement has this:

I have not instructed any solicitor in relation to a claim for compensation. This is not about money and never has been.

Well, given J’s proclaimed integrity, we can cross that motive off the list. I guess it is just one of those mysteries. Yet despite insistence that money was never a motivation, there are conclusions we can reach, and then there are unnecessary speculations that are gross overreach. Fr Brennan’s comments, cited above, continue

…and my regret is, those dark periods – sure, in the first instance they came because of some dreadful priest who abused him out in the suburbs or whatever, and I’m a Catholic priest, and I have to bear some responsibility for that.

Who is this priest, as anonymous as J himself? He is conjured into existence in another attempt to reconcile the innocence of Cardinal Pell with the ineluctable necessity to “believe the victim.” J cannot be believed in respect of Cardinal Pell, so “some dreadful priest” is invented. It is reasonable to assume that, if this suburban monster actually existed, J would have identified him, would he not? He was, after all, so very definite about the circumstances of the Cardinal’s purported predation, including the location, the timing (with the help of a little VicPol coaching), the robes of the bishop (more or less), and so forth.

J’s paean to his deceased mate was even more expansive in his second statement, after the dismissal of the Victorian appeal.

After attending the funeral of my childhood friend, the other choirboy, I felt a responsibility to come forward. I knew he had been in a dark place. I was in a dark place. I gave a statement to the police because I was thinking of him and his family.

The idea of going to the police came to J, not during the inevitable long decline of his heroin-addicted friend, when a valid complaint may have been helpful, but at the friend’s funeral. Imagine that! Dead men tell no tales, but they can be recruited into a lie with no risk of being tripped up by differences in the telling and the whole thing coming apart under cross-examination. To do such a thing — drawing a dead friend into an edifice of perjury — could only be the action of a man devoid of any concern for the suffering of others, especially for the dead man’s family, whose sense of outrage could be readily manipulated. And most especially of the man enmeshed in that web of lies, with his career, financial security and reputation in ruins.

J lied. He maintained those lies, and he retailed those lies under oath with vigour and conviction. This is not some rare phenomenon. We all have encountered and will encounter talented liars and been taken in by them. But now that the truth about the allegations has been laid bare by the High Court, there is no excuse for continuing to excuse J, if for no other reason than that by doing so Cardinal Pell is implicitly, in the eyes of those lacking Fr Brennan’s Jesuitical sophistication, condemned as a paedophile who has escaped justice.

There has been one outstanding victim in all of this: Cardinal Pell. Meanwhile, having tied up the courts for years and wreaked chaos across the social and religious landscape of Australia, J continues to hide behind the suppression of his identity; to hide behind his lawyer; to hide behind his family. Come on out, J. Break cover. Show yourself. Let your millions of fans get to know you, know the things you’ve done, the people with whom you’ve interacted.

Cardinal Pell had a place to hide but chose to return home from the Vatican, trusting, unwisely, to his day in court. Trusting, unwisely, in the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal. Trusting, finally and triumphantly, in the High Court.

Now it’s your turn, J, if you are man enough to take it. Come out to your public. Maybe Tim Minchin will even write a song about it.

21 thoughts on “Between the Lines: Decoding Witness ‘J’

  • DonOnTheLake says:

    What a travesty of justice.

  • Steve Smith says:

    It is a blight on the legal system that an innocent person can be accused and named yet the accuser, subsequently shown to be a liar, does not even suffer the penalty of being named. What is to deter the next person from making up similar imaginary scenarios, knowing that there is no penalty to be feared?

  • Finn MacCool says:

    A harsh view but one that is justified. The kindest construction is that he conflated Cardinal Pell with someone else, but as you point out, he was adamant that the Cardinal was the perpetrator. I thought J’s statement was crafted by his lawyer – it just sounded too clinical for someone who had just lost a case to his alleged molester. I think it’s possible that J thought that he would be paid an out-of-court settlement. He didn’t count on the zeal of Pell’s enemies. Before he knew it, he was enmeshed in a court process where he knew his story couldn’t withstand scrutiny. I detected a note of relief that it was over in his statement. This is not to excuse him but most people would cave in to senior police and lawyers. He won’t give any thought to who really attacked him, if indeed an assault occurred, because he has had too much approval from the Pell haters. Neither he nor they can admit they were wrong.

    On a happier note, the unredacted Royal Commission report appears to have been a fizzer and the Cardinal can live in peace.

  • Salome says:

    Finn MacCool–I detected a lawyer’s hand in that statement, too. I can’t imagine that a well advised client (if indeed J were ever well advised) would not get assistance before publishing something like that. And, yes, the RC report was also a fizzer–it lasted longer in the media because of the Cardinal’s defenders pulling it to bits than it ever did because of his enemies having a field day. The worst it said was ‘we think he’s lying’–which is a terrible accusation in itself–because what the commissioners think he was lying about wasn’t worth lying about in the first place, and he’d already made one admission against interest, so why not a couple more? It was all summed up when the Royal Commission was going ahead and a victims’ advocate said something like, ‘It’s all very well that he started doing things when he did have the power, but what about all those things he didn’t do when he didn’t have the power.’ He didn’t have the power, perhaps?

  • Warty says:

    It is by no means original my saying that the secular Left was out to get one of the highest representatives of the Church, and in that sense, to use a cliché, ‘it was nothing personal’, even if it seemed that way. To me it seemed so personal it was more like a jihad than a witch-hunt.
    That Chris Kenny, a reporter allegedly on the right, should acknowledge the suffering of the supposed victim is not at all surprising from one who not infrequently plays to overwhelming ‘public opinion’ when you read the utter claptrap he wrote in The Australian today: ‘Self-fascinated, impetuous, aggr¬essive, obsessed with social media and ignorantly disdainful of history or precedent, millennials have much more in common with Donald Trump than sets them apart. Perhaps that is why they are consumed with hatred for the US President; they sense they are seeing their older selves in the mirror’. These millennials he ludicrously compares with Donald Trump can be better compared with the seething, snarling crowds who would have loved to have been able to rip Cardinal Pell limb to limb, as he was escorted to a Victorian courthouse. Ignorant, secular ideologues the lot of them and they all love a victim, such as the ‘inexcusable killing of George Floyd’. Yet both the police and autopsy reports into the death of George Floyd, revealed a man testing positive to Covid 19, to having opioids in his system and being drunk out of his utterly numb skull.
    This was the same man who handed in a still wet counterfeit $20 note, having purchased cigarettes, which he refused to give back.
    When the police arrived, he was found sitting in the driver’s seat of a car with three other blacks ‘known to the police’. He had sufficient sense not to have sped off as it would have made things that much worse for him.
    The point is that it is considered de rigueur to preface every article on the issue with: ‘the inexcusable killing of George Floyd’, as though to minimise the impact or even justify the violent riots breaking out all across America. The reassertion of ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a false narrative, as more whites are killed by cops than blacks.
    I see little difference between Black Lives Matters catch-cry and the equally false narrative that the Catholic Church is run by a ring of paedophiles.

  • Michael says:

    False narratives against innocent people are always damaging and those who make them are culpable. Some seem even to delight in creating such narratives simply for their own enjoyment or aggrandisement, taking a power trip, spinning a wide web from their invented tales. Laws re defamation and slander exist precisely because of such tendencies in social life. Such narrative-making always been with us – the witchcraft trials of the seventeenth century and prior should have shown us that, but they didn’t, for hurtful behaviour of this sort is part of daily life in small as well as in large ways. We see this tendency to narrative formation becoming a defence in our legal system as things play out in Court – in the Family Court where female violence is discounted vs any male aggression; in numerous other ‘diversity’ situations where improbable excuses for behaviour are uncritically accepted (such as stoning wombats to death for ‘culture’ not fun); and also in contested sexual abuse cases where no-one making accusations can be disbelieved. Mass hysteria often takes over, as in the George Floyd matter in the US and as we in Australia experienced during the now forgotten case of Lindy Chamberlain and her dingo-taken baby. In the case of George Pell, justice has been done concerning charges now dismissed as false. The person making the complaints against the Cardinal should now not be believed and should examine his own conscience regarding the failure of his improbable tale to stand up to proper scrutiny. The best that can be said for Pell’s accuser is that he is under a psychological misapprehension; the worst is that he wanted money and was carried away by the possibility of getting it. Yet another explanation for this man’s tale is that he might have created his story in order simply to denigrate a Church that he disliked, for whatever reason, possibly nothing to do with sexual abuse, and that he was then used as a pawn in a larger political war being waged in Victoria against the Catholic religion.

    Criminal lawyers are well aware that motivations are many and that justice seeks to weigh evidence.
    They see this daily in their line of work. To be fair, narrative creation is part of their job too in an adversarial system; but evidence not uncorroborated accusation is still the foundation of all justice.

  • Michael says:

    Above comment written by Elizabeth Beare, Michael’s wife

  • drjavery says:

    The high court found that the crime was so vanishingly improbable that a rational jury should have been compelled to have doubts. Therefore J wasn’t telling the truth. He had made it up. Who knows why? It doesn’t matter: he should be charged with perjury, an egregious instance. The court may hear evidence about culpability etc. J’s perjury has caused immeasurable harm to Cardinal Pell, to the Catholic Church, to the courts, to the taxpayers, to the jurors.

  • Warty says:

    An excellent, coherent assessment by Michael’s wife Elizabeth.
    Whatever J’s motive was, his accusation was preyed upon and manipulated by those who sought to tear down the spiritual authority of the Church.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    ‘but knowing that there are dark periods…’
    Well, he’s dead right about that.
    Without saying so the ‘usually informed and capable’ reader would see he considers that Witness J could easily be suffering from depressive episodes.
    This is consistent with evidence given in another case, but suppressed in this one, that witness J has mental illness.
    The Jesuits play the long game.
    The purpose is to ‘build the kingdom’ as in ‘Thy Kingdom Come’.
    Just anecdotally when Pell was absolutely slandered on 60 Minutes some while ago I attempted to blog on a Jesuit site.
    The comment was about four lines, that I thought 60 Minutes had hit the bottom when it paid mercenaries to kidnap a couple of kids, involved in a custody battle, from the street in Beirut.
    However I was wrong, the Pell episode beat it.
    They blocked it.
    No doubt adverse to policy re ‘ad hominems’.
    Since then others noticed the problem.
    Advertisers, who made up about 22 minutes of the 60, left, as did viewers.
    The program, for itself, left on a ‘high’ note a couple of weeks ago, interviewing a crack cocaine addict.
    Not that the ‘Jesuits did this’, they didn’t have to.
    So someone put out a verbal that Witness J put his name to, that basically trashes, ‘kindly’ the decision of the High Court.
    The language is of a tertiary educated English/History /Law graduate, not the stuff of The Kid’ allegations.
    No doubt some of the justices will read this and never comment.
    Over a thousand mistrials will hit their in boxes after lawyer X.
    No doubt, someone will notice, who decides to shake things up a bit in the Victorian ‘Justice System’.
    As Gandhi predicted, he would win because of the essential fairness of the people he dealt with.
    He may have been wrong about the fairness, but he sure did win.
    The Jesuits play the long game.
    I pity any police prosecutor that hails from Victoria, coming up against the High Court, after this unfolding track record.

  • jt says:

    Most or all of the previous accusers … would never hold up in court, which is why the majority of them were dropped. Now comes along someone (witnessJ) who is very ‘compelling’…surely this one will prove fruitful. But alas, he is also revealed for the liar he is. Not all motives are money related.

  • Davidovich says:

    This great injustice done to an innocent man is unacceptable in a civilised society but that is a society which is rapidly disappearing.

  • Stephen Due says:

    Presumably J has by now realised that he has been used. What started out as a push for personal justice, or perhaps revenge, soon got out of control. J’s agenda was taken over by much bigger players, people who turned out to have more far-reaching objectives than helping J deal with his personal demons through the justice system. Once exposed, his carefully-crafted narrative proved to have major holes in it. These had to be patched up, requiring him to change his story. This in itself must have been a traumatic process, requiring him to learn a part he had not rehearsed. Miraculously, it all seemed to come together. But then, finally, disaster struck. J was not believed.
    It seems to me that if anything remotely interesting about about the once credible J remains to be revealed it is only his psychiatric history – although perhaps one could add a synopsis of the way he was used by the police, the lawyers, and support groups. But I doubt we will be hearing from J anytime soon.

  • pbw says:

    Thank you all for your comments. Hello to Lizzie, and I seem to recall seeing the name Warty in another forum.
    Some of you feel that J has been a pawn in a game being played by others. That’s unfair to J. He is at least a rook on this particular board. Undoubtedly his lawyer was instrumental in crafting his various statements, but please don’t underestimate J.
    VicPol brought a charges related to a swathe of incidents against Pell to committal. Only two complainants survived, and Justice Kidd refused to allow the prosecution’s proposed method of “proving” the second lot of charges, which prompted the withdrawal of the case. (Remember that it was this pending second trial that ensured the ban on reporting the first.)
    So the whole house of cards collapsed down to the Joker, leaning against a dead man. The whole case was J’s testimony. VicPol thought they were on a winner with this bloke, as did Dr Viv Waller. (Waller and the whallopers?) If J had been in the least bit reticent, had shown any lack of enthusiasm, the whole caravan could have packed up and wandered home.
    J seamlessly incorporated all of the necessary adjustments into his story without batting an eyelid. He was beyond embarrassment. We ordinary mortals call that being shameless.
    @Stephen Due – Stephen, when I was winding up the article, I was tempted to suggest to J that, with the degree of fanatical support he enjoyed, he could, by coming out, make a fortune, which would compensate for the loss of that lucrative settlement. I have no doubt that J is a considering his options, and there are undeniable attractions in milking his mindless supporters. Dr Waller has already, gratis, managed his communication with the press, including the overseas press, which has no publishing restrictions.

  • norsaint says:

    These days you can always rely on Catholic prelates to hit the wrong note. Their responses have been asinine. The accuser was, like so many before him, a stalking horse for greedy lawyers and ideological warriors. He is a perjurer and should be tried as such. As for bemoaning the state of the legal system etc al, it is just dandy thank you. Its business is about making business for itself (apologies to Dickens) and the more innocents that get railroaded in front of these ideological cesspits, the better for all concerned. Apart from the rest of us, that is.

  • norsaint says:

    I actually heard “J” being interviewed on ABC radio three or four years ago, and you can take it from me, he could barely get an intelligible sentence out. He was “fried” as they say.

  • James Franklin says:

    The High Court explained why the allegations couldn’t possibly have been true, but we don’t know that J “made up the story”. Another possibility is that he dreamed it and misremembered it as fact. Another is that the Victorian Police made it up for him and offered him an inducement to sign up. The case isn’t over until we know what really happened with him.

  • Daintree says:

    Excellent article that pulls no punches, and a range of delicious comments. Particular compliments to Finn MacCool and Norsaint.

  • PeterS says:

    My understanding of the results of Magna Carta and consequently Habeas Corpus is that a defendant has the right to face his accuser. The corollary to this in a public trial should surely be that the public should also know who the accuser is. From the second trial onwards it appears that not even the jury knew who the accuser was Because his evidence was all by video recording and it is questionable that the state Appellant judges even cared who the accuser was. That the accuser had some psych history seems to have subsequently emerged but we’ll never know whether that psych history included evidence that he was a fantasiser.

    From the time I was a very young child I knew of kids who were fantasisers. By the time I started school I met at least one who not only fantasised but at five years old was cruel and a wicked liar. I knew him until I left school and was unsurprised to learn many years later of his criminal adult life. He was incapable of telling the truth and at even ten years old was making up stories about his teachers, the brothers, which we all knew to be untrue. I had heard he had killed someone’s pet cat at age seven and I saw him on several occasions wantonly to kill birds. He was a bully, a liar and he made his first communion and was confirmed at the same time as the rest of us were.

    I make no accusation about witness J but I would vigorously repudiate the claim that children don’t lie.

  • norsaint says:

    Peter |S says: “I knew him until I left school and was unsurprised to learn many years later of his criminal adult life.”
    And here I was thinking you were about to say he went into politics via the law.

  • Karnjirrwala says:

    J’s statement was crafted carefully to insinuate that the Cardinal had abused him but (magnanimously) he wasn’t going to be defined by it, blah, blah. So he tip toes out of the picture in which he was always the invisible man. As a perjeror, he should be hauled in to court fully visible to face up to his crimes.

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