June 1st 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Scomo routs Labor, the Green, GetUp and the left-wing media by Patrick J. Byrne and Peter Westmore

CANBERRA OBSERVED Surprise! Polls aren't what they used to be

GENDER POLITICS The true cost of childhood gender reassignment

OBITUARY Bob Hawke, R.I.P.: astute politician, flawed policies

POETRY AND SOCIETY T.S. Eliot and the modern condition

WATER POLICY The time is ripe to revisit the Bradfield scheme

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan upgrades U.S. links, asserts sovereignty

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Recapping the trial as Cardinal Pell's appeal approaches

THE FAMILY AND SOCIETY Working to bring down the Sexual Revolution

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki Part 2: Science and ancient cultures

HUMOUR A tidy planet is a happy planet

MUSIC Charles Ives: Modern elements aimed at sounding good

CINEMA John Wick 1: The lighting of the fuse

BOOK REVIEW Novelised true crime a true thriller

BOOK REVIEW The experiences of Phoebe Raye



FEDERAL ELECTION Queensland voted for jobs, life and country

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The trial of Cardinal Pell ... an injustice

EUTHANASIA D Day - June 19, 2019 - Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 begins operation

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Recapping the trial as Cardinal Pell's appeal approaches

by Peter Kelleher

News Weekly, June 1, 2019

Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction on five charges of sexual assault against two choirboys at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in 1996 is due to take place over two days in June (5–6).


 Since his sentencing on March 13, Cardinal Pell has been imprisoned at the Melbourne Assessment Prison.

It is true to say that there has been much coverage of the Cardinal’s case since then, a frenzy almost since the lifting of the ban on reporting on the trials. Moreover, some significant voices have been raised in astonishment at the verdict, given the flimsiness of the case against Cardinal Pell, and in defence of the integrity of the justice system; which, in the nature of the case, happens to be “pro Pell”.

Among these are crime journalist John Sylvester of The Age, Fr Frank Brennan SJ, Tom Percy QC, Greg Barnes in the Hobart Mercury, not to mention Gerard Henderson and Keith Windschuttle; and, internationally, George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II, and Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register.

In an atmosphere of moral outrage at the phenomenon of child sexual abuse, is it allowable to say that juries do get it wrong from time to time, even in this country? The Lindy Chamberlain case springs to mind; as does the more recent case of Josephine Greensill, a Melbourne teacher who was wrongly convicted in 2010 of child sexual abuse and spent 2½ years in prison before being acquitted.

Several elements strike me as distinctive about the case of Cardinal Pell. The first, and as The Age’s John Sylvester points out, is that the entire prosecution relied in the event on the testimony of a single witness, that of the complainant. It was his word against the Cardinal’s.

The second peculiar element is that the prosecution called more than 20 witnesses to the alleged assault, yet not one of them was able to corroborate the complainant in any way that mattered. The most that could be coaxed from them under cross-examination seemed to be that, although none of them could corroborate any detail of the complainant’s story – such as seeing the two choirboys breaking off from the highly disciplined ranks of the recession after Mass to go on a lark in the cathedral; or seeing the Archbishop, as Cardinal Pell then was, break away from the crowds at the front of the cathedral, where it was his custom to greet people for as long as they wanted to greet him, to give just two examples – none of them could swear that such had not happened. That is to say, the witnesses, mostly fellow choirboys, the choirmaster, and other officials concerned with ensuring the Mass went smoothly, could affirm only a negative.

If that amounts to contributing to “beyond reasonable doubt”, then we are all in the gun.

Another point. What comprises “beyond reasonable doubt”? Tom Percy QC gave an eminently reasonable definition when he wrote (“Victoria judicial system did not give George Pell a fair trial”, The West Australian, March 2): “I’ve always thought that the essence of a reasonable doubt is where 12 people – after a relatively short trial – can’t resolve a fairly simple question (in this case: ‘Did it happen or not?’) within a reasonable time.”

I can’t improve on that. I add only that the jury might have believed, though not on the evidence, that something had been proved “beyond reasonable doubt”; that Cardinal Pell was intensely disliked in the media and among factions in the Catholic Church; that the Church had to pay for abuse and cover-ups; that his tough stance against “rainbow sashers” (homosexual activists) fronting up for communion at St Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday after Sunday in the 1990s made him enemies. Anything but that he was guilty of the crimes as charged.

Which anticipates my next point: the poisoned public atmosphere in which Cardinal George Pell was to stand trial. With the above references in the previous paragraph, the following example must suffice here.

Keith Windschuttle in Quadrant (“Why the second trial found George Pell guilty”, May 13) drew attention to the fact that, on October 22, 2018 – after the first trial and before the second – Prime Minister Scott Morrison (and then Opposition Leader Bill Shorten chimed in too) issued an apology to victims of child sexual abuse on the recommendation of the Royal Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Mr Morrison’s statement, “we believe you” echoed throughout the media at the time.

Any reasonable person can see that a jury recruited in a high-profile trial of alleged sexual abuse of a minor at that time would have had those words, “we believe you”, starkly echoing at the front of their consciousness.

Even so, it proved impossible to “believe you” all. Because, we didn’t believe the choirboy who had passed away, the supposed second complainant. He had denied some years before to his mother, who was desperate to understand why her son had taken to drugs, that he had ever been abused. His denial was set aside. He was not believed.

The appeal will be on three grounds: that the guilty verdict was “unsafe”, meaning it could not follow from the evidence, especially to the level of “beyond reasonable doubt”; that the judge erred in not allowing the defence to use a video representation in its closing address of its argument that the circumstances of the day made it impossible for the assault to have taken place as the complainant described; and that there was a fundamental irregularity in the trial process because the accused was not arraigned in the presence of the jury panel.

I just add a corrective to a factoid that has been repeated even by many sober commentators, in good faith, no doubt. Despite many repeating that the first trial ended with a hung jury at 10–2 in Cardinal Pell’s favour, it is necessary to clarify that that outcome cannot be known. It may be true; it may not be true. It is something that only the members of the first jury know. To insist on it and repeat it is not to defend the cause of truth or Cardinal Pell.

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