March 23rd 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Federally, the pro-family voter is starved for choice

SPECIAL EDITORIAL Has Cardinal George Pell been wrongly convicted?

EDITORIAL For politicians: lessons from Europe's emerging pro-family parties

ENERGY Hundreds of years of oil and gas reserves; if we want to use them

THE CARDINAL AND THE MEDIA Four Corners: the third trial of Cardinal Pell

SOCIETY AND RELIGION The future belongs to those who possess the past

SCIENCE Are summer heatwaves caused by climate change?

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE The roots of the breaking of a fundamental taboo

CARDINAL PELL CONVICTION Triumphalism over Pell verdict shows civilisation is just a veneer

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS President Donald Trump: an unlikely promise keeper Part 1

THE AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE Same old same old in our beloved sunburnt country

THE AUSTRALASIAN A three years' drought

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan reaches out to its regional neighbours

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Covington boys: left hoist on its bigots' petard

MUSIC Time's unfolding: One of music's raw materials

CINEMA Stan & Ollie: Past joys, past sorrows

BOOK REVIEW The three-part attack on the home

BOOK REVIEW What draining the DC swamp turns up



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Four Corners: the third trial of Cardinal Pell

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, March 23, 2019


  • Cardinal Pell and his barrister have both been targets of vitriol
  • The Cardinal was found guilty solely on the complainant’s testimony
  • The complainant did not give his evidence in open court
  • The program was a celebration of victory, not reporting of a story

Since the suppression order on reporting the trial of Cardinal Pell was lifted, there has been extensive commentary in the media. Cardinal Pell has been referred to as a convicted paedophile.

Scenes of people outside the court each time the Cardinal arrived or left shouting abuse and vitriol, metaphorically baying for his blood, have appeared in the newspapers and played on television night after night. “Pell go to hell” and “pig” and “monster” were words that I heard hurled at the Cardinal. Robert Richter QC, the Cardinal’s barrister, was also subjected to abuse and venom.

Into this volatile mix dropped the ABC’s Four Corners program of March 5, The Conviction of Cardinal George Pell.

Many commentators raised questions about the evidence –whether the evidence could support a conviction that the acts of abuse with which the Cardinal was charged were proved to have happened beyond reasonable doubt.

The abuse was said to have occurred straight after Sunday Mass. But this was a time when Cardinal Pell habitually remained outside, at the front of the Cathedral, speaking to parishioners who had attended the Mass. Evidence was given that the Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, accompanied the Cardinal from the time he arrived at the Cathedral until he left.

Mons Portelli would have noticed if Cardinal Pell went back into the cathedral immediately after Mass instead of remaining on the steps outside to speak to people. He would also have accompanied the Cardinal if he did go back into the cathedral and would certainly have noticed if the abuse took place!

The abuse was said to have taken place in the sacristy. But the sacristy is very busy after a Sunday Mass, with officiating priests, altar servers and sacristans clearing the altar, coming and going. Cardinal Pell would know people were very likely to walk in.

The key witness said that he and another choirboy left the procession out of the cathedral after Mass and made their way to the sacristy. But no witness saw the two choirboys leave the procession. The former choirboy interviewed on Four Corners said there were 60 members of the choir; so, if two boys were missing, “You wouldn’t be able to tell”.

He also said “It’s a big church – lots of space – anyone could get lost.”

The camera then panned scenes of an empty cathedral.

But the evidence was that there were crowds at the Sunday Mass and people stayed in the cathedral to pray and to listen to the organist, who continued to play for some time after Mass finished. It was not an empty space where no one would have noticed two choirboys in their red gowns away from the rest of the choir.

The Four Corners program seemed designed to explain away some of these questions raised by the evidence presented at the trials.

Further, there is no evidence of a pattern of similar abuse by Cardinal Pell. Four Corners repeated the allegations of abuse of two boys in a Ballarat swimming pool despite the fact such charges have been dropped.

Four Corners also repeated allegations by a gentleman called Les Tyack that he had seen Cardinal Pell exposing himself to young boys in the change rooms at the Torquay Life Saving Club sometime in the mid-1980s. Mr Tyack said he said to this fellow: “George, get dressed, p-- off and don’t come back to this club again.”

That he called this man by his name indicates that Mr Tyack was saying he knew who the man was. Why did it take until the Royal Commission investigations more than 20 years later to tell the police what he says he had seen? These allegations have not been the subject of any charges. This is smearing the Cardinal’s reputation with unproven allegations being repeated.

The witness on whose sole testimony the Cardinal was found guilty did not give evidence in open court. Only the judge and jury and the legal representatives saw and heard his testimony. So it came down to the credibility of this witness and that the jury found on his sole, uncorroborated evidence that the charges had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The public has not heard his evidence and so the public does not know what the witness may have said in response to the doubts about whether the acts alleged could have taken place. This has left great unease about the conviction.

The Four Corners program was not a report on the “conviction of Cardinal George Pell”. Rather it effectively further blackened Cardinal Pell’s name and reputation, with graphic detail of the acts of abuse repeated a number of times and coming out with further untried allegations against him.

Only towards the end of the program was it mentioned there is to be an appeal.

Host Louise Milligan, who wrote the book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, described the program as the story of how a “Prince of the Church” was brought to justice and how a “man who once cast an enormous shadow over the Australian church and culture … is now in jail.”

This is not reporting on the conviction of Cardinal Pell. It is celebrating a victory over someone Milligan had decided was guilty even before any legal process had begun.

The whole community has been affected by these trials. For justice to be done and be seen to be done we should await the outcome of the legal process without further trial by media.

If the appeal is upheld, Milligan may have to retitle her book, Cardinal: The Unsound Conviction and Subsequent Exoneration of George Pell.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm