Softening up the judiciary

By February 27, 2019Society

All sorts of Catholics, both those working for the well known papal knight, Rupert Murdoch, as well as those from the church hierarchy and associated entities are all casting aspersions on the jury verdict in the Pell trial, which was unanimous. Mostly they are attempting to pretend that the jury either didn’t properly consider the evidence or simply that they could not believe that Pell could do such a thing. It is unlikely that many of these co-religionists sat through the trial and heard all the evidence, after all there was no way Pell could have been considered guilty, right? 

In Murdoch’s Daily Bellylaugh, columnist Miranda Devine wrote in defence of Pell (I cannot read it because it is behind a paywall; and I refuse to bay form Murdoch drivel). She also said, that she was sorry if her “defence of Pell upsets victims of child sexual abuse. What has happened to them is monstrous and no punishment is enough for the evil paedophiles who infiltrated the church, masqueraded as men of God and preyed on innocents. But making a martyr of an innocent man won’t right those wrongs. It just compounds the evil”1. Notice how she seems to be offering an implied protection of the church and indicating that paedophiles had infested the church from outside, whereas we know from experience in numerous countries, that it is the church which seems to be the main reservoir of paedophiles. How she thinks she knows that Pell is innocent, she doesn’t explain. This is especially curious given the unanimous verdict, by a jury which had heard all the evidence. Andrew Bolt and sundry others piled on too, in attempting to call the verdict incorrect, implying either that the jury were incompetent or the complainant was a liar. 

Vice Chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven, has stated in the Australian that what we have witnessed “is a combined effort by much of the media, including the ABC, and elements of Victoria’s law enforcement agency, to blacken the name of someone before he went to trial.”  One almost expects the government to start to pile on the ABC, and to eventually blame it all on the Labor Party, and in particular, Bill Shorten.

Jesuit priest, Frank Brennan apparently heard all the publicly available evidence. Much evidence was not available to the public, particularly a recording of the evidence from the previous trial in which the jury could not reach a decision. As Brennan said, “no member of the public has a complete picture of the evidence and no member of the public is able to make an assessment of the complainant’s demeanour.” Precisely. As Brennan notes, details of the recording could only be interpreted from quotes related by the barristers in their examination of other witnesses and in their final addresses. Brennan said that he heard someof the publicly available evidence and has read most of the transcript, but still he says he was devastated by the verdict, and surprised by it. Brennan seems to blame the Victorian parliamentary enquiry, the federal royal commission into child sexual abuse, the publication of Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal, the federal parliamentary apology to the victims of child sexual abuse, and even Tim Minchin’s song Come Home (Cardinal Pell) for swaying the jury3. That is drawing a long bow.

ABC journalist Louise Milligan has reported that she has been contacted by parents from catholic schools in Sydney and Melbourne; they were livid that every family was sent a copy of Frank Brennan’s article3, which they perceived as an attempt to discredit the jury verdict. One of these schools was St Kevin’s, the school attended by Pell’s victims. The victims lost their scholarships when they left the choir the year after being abused4.

Why are all the Murdoch nutters and sundry other apologists piling opprobrium onto the jury verdict in the Pell case? How come they didn’t support Rolf Harris this much when he was convicted? It is because Pell is one of theirs: one of the powerful and the nation’s top Catholic. He is the topmost member of the worldwide Catholic Church to be convicted of molesting children, and this will cause many ructions in the church, with many of the progressives glad to see the back of him. He is a social conservative, and was vehemently opposed to same sex marriage, which immediately endears him to many of the religious far right of the Liberal Party. He is also a climate change denier which immediately makes him a favourite of the Murdoch nutters as well as far-right Liberals. He is also in thick with the far-right climate change denying, neoliberal Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), having attended its 70thanniversary celebrations in 20135. However, overall, it is because he is an influential leading culture warrior, and to lose his voice and support would be another nail in the coffin of the far-right. While Pell’s conviction is going to be appealed, and nobody can really guess how that will turn out, it will be the end of Pell as a public and political figure. Frank Brennan accused various people and events of slanting the public climate such that it influenced the jury to lean towards a conviction. That is an old technique; to accuse the ‘opposition’ of that which you ‘side’ are guilty. All the opprobrium heaped on the Pell verdict by Brennan, the Murdoch hacks and others could be construed as part of a softening up of the judiciary to attempt to make it more likely the appeal will be successful.




    • admin says:

      Like some, it raises the peculiarities of the vestments as evidence against, and that was heard by the jury, but so was the video evidence given by the complainant. Other than that there is not much more to say. The thing that got me about the people who have queried the jury verdict is that none of them heard or saw the video testimony and yet they have opined that the jury got it wrong. One of the arguments that several of them seem to use is the argument from personal incredulity: I can’t believe that someone I admire could be a child molester, therefore it cannot be true. This is behind much denialism of climate change, and evolution, so I do not take it seriously.

  • Jim says:

    Not having ever seen the robes worn by a Catholic archbishop it is hard to comment on the validity of the arguments about his clothes. I have always worried about the validity of evidence given many years after the event, although it is clear that the evidence given by the only witness (‘The Kid’) was extremely convincing–to get a unanimous verdict in the circumstances was extraordinary. There are three articles on the case in today’s Advertiser, a News limited paper. None of them are pro-Pell and one includes Louise Milligan’s comment to the effect that she defied anyone to listen to “The Kid” and not believe him. As noted he had nothing to gain and a lot to lose by coming forwards–clearly a man with a lot of intestinal fortitude. He is to be admired. As noted by Admin it is hard to see what will happen on appeal. One other point is that I am not sure that any defendant, Pell or anybody else, should have to walk through a baying crowd on the way to court.

    • admin says:

      I agree that nobody should have to walk through a snarling crowd into court. And I think that the verbal attacks on Richter were beyond the pale. As Judge Kidd said, an attack of Richter was an attack on the court. That is not acceptable. Everybody should have the right to unimpeded legal representation. If I was accused of something I didn’t do, I’d want the best available barrister arguing my case! It is always wise to keep that in mind.

  • Arthur Baker says:

    Thanks for your comments, Admin and Jim. Let me first say I am not at all an admirer of, or apologist for, George Pell. I find many aspects of his past attitudes and actions objectionable, quite apart from the current discussion about his own alleged sexual abuse. And I won’t be shedding any tears for him if his appeal fails and he perhaps dies in jail.

    But some facets of this trial and verdict make me uneasy. The sole witness. The fact that one of the alleged victims had died and so testimony from him was not available. The whole thing about the robes. The place where the crime was allegedly committed, and the allegation that you would have to be nuts to even attempt such an assault in such a place. Frank Brennan is an honourable man held in very high regard by anyone who, like me, has been deeply involved in human rights (I encountered his work during my years as a refugee advocate). He’s officially a “Living National Treasure” and not at all a loudmouth unthinking Pell-apologist.

    Obviously, I wasn’t in court, and I don’t have access to the full information. But ever since the nation made its famous Big Mistake over Lindy Chamberlain, I’ve applied caution and scepticism on legal judgements which look somewhat shaky. And I’m applying that now, to this one. I’ve discussed this with my wife and five other close friends. Without any prompting from me, all six have stated they think the judgement may be suss, and that he’ll be acquitted on appeal.

    We’ll all wait and see, but for me, this is a potential Azaria moment.

    • admin says:

      Yeah, but it is always wise to realise that none of the commentators have seen all the evidence. In some cases, they have seen very little of it. I have enough confidence in the legal system to let it proceed through the appeal, and abide by that decision. The Chamberlain case was a little different in that she was perceived as belonging to an odd religious group and she was just an average punter. I actually knew the Magistrate who did the first inquest, and his assessment was spot on as far as I can remember (it was almost 40 years ago), and was vindicated before he died. He was a lovely bloke.

      • Arthur Baker says:

        7 April 2020. Well, there it goes. The High Court (all of whom DID see all the evidence) 7, the guilty verdict 0.

        Azaria moment, anyone?

        • admin says:

          There are several cases outstanding against Pell, it appears.

          Funny you should mention the Azaria Chamberlain case. A friend of my parents was a friend of Dennis Barrett, the magistrate who ran the original inquest, and when I lived in Alice Springs, we met him and spent a few evenings at his place. Lovely bloke, and his inquest turned out to give the correct verdict.

          • Arthur Baker says:

            Yes, the Pell saga has some distance to run, it seems. But this week’s reversal and acquittal may have some influence on future cases (not only Pell’s), in much the same way that the Azaria case became a significant landmark. I’ve never liked much of what Pell stands for, and still don’t, but I am somewhat reassured that Australia’s court system is reluctant to convict on what seems a shaky evidence base. I feel just as sorry as I always did for victims of abuse, many of whom must be outraged at this week’s result, but the implied news that the court system is giving both accuser and accused a fair go gives them at least a glimmer of hope.

  • Mark Dougall says:

    As a catholic who went through the whole gamut of that type of upbringing including primary and secondary schooling by dominican nuns and then christian brothers, and being an altar boy, and who saw, and experienced, physical abuse and was made aware of even worse abuse later, committed by a number of these paragons of virtue, all I can say is that yesterday’s decision disgusted, but didn’t surprise me. The catholic church protects its office holders, its foot soldiers and their reputations fiercely. The pope has stated that he hopes catholics will pray for all people who are unjustly convicted, as though this was the reality of this case. The reality is that if Pell had not been a senior figure in this hugely wealthy, very powerful, organisation and just some ordinary person convicted of an appalling sexual assault by a jury who accepted the evidence of a convincing and brave witness, then it seems most unlikely that there would have even been an appeal to the Victorian supreme court let alone the High Court of Australia. This is a result obtained by wealth and it is rank hypocrisy for the pope to talk about unjust convictions. But then again rank hypocrisy is what the catholic church, and most religion, is all about.

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