June 3rd 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Left poisons Trump's real achievements

EUTHANASIA It must be war, as truth has been the first casualty

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Dr David van Gend criticises AMA statement

GENDER POLITICS U.S. Target goes gender neutral; pays the price

GENDER POLITICS Where have all the transgenders gone?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Graceless new book takes hatchet to Cardinal Pell

CULTURAL HISTORY The prophets of eco-doom: a perfect record of failure

LAW AND SOCIETY Religion in the balance in Australia

MUSIC What's it all about?: when no amount of ado will do

CINEMA Alien: Covenant: Creature seeks Creator

BOOK REVIEW Insights for the euthanasia debate

BOOK REVIEW Assistance is an Australian strength


CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott strives not to join the forgotten people

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Is Cardinal Pell just the tallest poppy of them all?

Books promotion page

Graceless new book takes hatchet to Cardinal Pell

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, June 3, 2017

The title of the new book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, says it all: Cardinal Pell is guilty, and must be brought down.

Although no charges have been laid against the Cardinal, the author, ABC journalist Louise Milligan, has tried him and found him guilty.

With much fanfare, this new book, published by Melbourne University Press, attempts to claim that Cardinal Pell has not only routinely covered up for paedophiles in the Catholic Church, but is himself an abuser.

The 370-page book is littered with errors, small and large, which show that the author has little knowledge of the Catholic Church, and knows even less – if that is possible – about Cardinal Pell.

The small errors are too trivial to make anything much of except to allude to the fact that they are the sorts of errors made when deadlines are nudged forward.

Far more substantial is its portrayal of Cardinal Pell as an arrogant, overbearing bully. On a single page, he is three times described as a bully, as well as “very arrogant, overbearing, patronising” (p10), and a page later, he is again called a bully and “utterly ruthless”.

I have known Cardinal Pell for over 20 years, and this characterisation of a highly intelligent, plain-speaking and humble man is a creation of his enemies, secular and religious.


The author shows her lack of understanding by repeatedly describing the Cardinal as driven by ambition, when every academic honour he received was the result of hard work, and every appointment in his religious life was entirely in the hands of superiors who were deeply suspicious of unbridled ambition at any level.

Milligan says: “His bishop, James … O’Collins, a former plumber who had risen through the ranks of the Church, had Pell marked out as special. Pell became head prefect at Corpus Christi seminary at Werribee on Melbourne’s western fringe.” (p8)

Bishop O’Collins had no say over who was appointed head prefect at the seminary, and it is mischievous to suggest otherwise.

The seminary she describes as repressive: “a ghastly environment”, “an extremely regimented, authoritarian seminary and George [Pell] fitted in perfectly”.

Every propaganda technique devised in the 20th century – from guilt by association, direct quotes from anonymous sources, innuendo, selective use of sources and information, and suppression of facts which contradict the author’s claims – are used to lead us to Milligan’s foregone conclusion: that Cardinal Pell is guilty.

Melbourne Response “meaningless”

Cardinal Pell’s role in setting up an institutional means of dealing with the horror of clerical sexual abuse, the Melbourne Response, established not long after his appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and before any other diocese in Australia, is denounced as meaningless, divisive and self-serving.

Many chapters of the book recount events in the diocese of Ballarat, where Fr Pell was a young priest, and Melbourne, and like the public cross-examination of Cardinal Pell at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last year, implied that he was complicit in the appalling conduct of abusing priests, at least by covering up for criminal behaviour, or was himself involved in it.

This was a period in which grave allegations of sexual misconduct with minors have been proven against a small minority of priests and religious, and there was undoubtedly a culture of cover-up – as still exists today in the wider society. The author repeats the worst of these crimes, and tries to implicate Cardinal Pell in them.

These tragic matters have been widely traversed over many years in the media and in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

If there is a guilty party,
it is the book: guilty
of character assassination.

Cardinal Pell has fully co-operated both with police and judicial inquiries into all these matters, and despite the author’s repeated innuendo, there is no evidence that he acted improperly at any time.

At no point does the author give Cardinal Pell credit for the actions he took as Archbishop of Melbourne, and later, Sydney, in tackling these problems, through the formation of the Melbourne Response, reforms in seminary formation, and in instituting a “no tolerance” approach in Catholic parishes and Catholic schools.

The effect of his actions, and those of other bishops, is that the Catholic Church has been in the forefront of dealing with sexual abuse allegations in Australian society, compensating victims, and treating sexual abuse of children as criminal misconduct.

The evidence shows that there have been few cases of sexual abuse in recent years, and the cases that have come to trial have mainly involved misconduct in the period from 1970 to 1995, before the reforms to prevent child abuse were put into effect.

Something “new”, at least

This book breaks new ground in publicising an allegation against Cardinal Pell after he became Archbishop of Melbourne.

Using an uncorroborated allegation that supposedly has been made only to the Victoria Police SANO sexual abuse taskforce – but that mysteriously found its way to the author – it is alleged that while Archbishop of Melbourne, Cardinal Pell opportunistically forced two choirboys (one of whom has since died) to perform an act of oral sex.

The claim has no corroboration, and when one looks at the details, the allegation is, to say the least, flimsy.

This is the story the mother of one of the boys relayed to Milligan.

“ ‘He told me that himself and [my son] used to play in the back of the church in the closed-off rooms,’ she says.

“ ‘In the cathedral?’ I ask her.

“ ‘In the cathedral, yep. And um, they got sprung by Archbishop Pell and he locked the door and he made them perform oral sex.’ ”

It may seem a minor point, but St Patrick’s Cathedral is never referred to as “the church”. It is uniformly called the cathedral to differentiate it from the hundred other churches around the city.

The use of this word suggests to me that the event, if it happened at all, took place at some other church; but of course, Archbishop Pell would not have been present there.

There are other problems with this account. Sexual misconduct of this type is almost invariably preceded by a lengthy period of “grooming”. It is very clear from this account that there was none of that here, and the author admits as much, but then suggests that this is the type of abuse that he perpetrated.

Further, the claim is that the two boys were abused together. In other words, each of them was a witness to the abuse, and could corroborate it. At the time, a number of criminal cases had been successfully taken against predators in Catholic institutions.

It is hard to believe that an abuser would have acted in a way that would leave him vulnerable to public exposure and criminal proceedings in front of two witnesses, as is suggested here.

Further, where is the corroborating evidence by any of the other boys in the St Patrick’s Choir of such misconduct?

In fact, people involved with the choir, to whom I have spoken, say it was virtually impossible for it to happen as the choirboys – who attended schools elsewhere and were strictly supervised during their regular visits to the cathedral – were not allowed “to play in the back of the church in the closed-off rooms”.

In any case, Cardinal Pell was not usually around the cathedral. He did not live in the cathedral precinct, and his offices were elsewhere.

The only times he stopped in on the choir was before Mass occasionally, to thank the choir, and encourage them. And emphatically, choirboys were not left alone, without adults being close by.

When all these considerations are put together, it becomes clear that these allegations lack foundation.

If Louise Milligan were truly concerned that justice be delivered to the complainant, why did she publish this book at this time, when its release would most likely jeopardise any legal proceedings against Cardinal Pell, as Justice Alastair Nicholson pointed out, and as also did the Law Institute of Victoria and Aboriginal activist and lawyer Noel Pearson (Weekend Australian, 20–21 May, 2017)?

Or does she not care whether a prosecution is successful, provided media pressure can be brought to bear on the police to commence a prosecution, thereby forcing Cardinal Pell to quit?

Much more could be said about this book. It is an exercise in character assassination, apparently written while Milligan was working as an employee of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Need I say more?

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm