May 2nd 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Gearing up to ditch free-trade policy

EDITORIAL Post-covid19, create a national development bank

CANBERRA OBSERVED Keelty water report misses the point on water shortage

ENERGY Pandemic has exposed our overreliance on imports

CARDINAL PELL Locating the golden thread

CARDINAL PELL High Court practically shouts 'not guilty'

FAMILY Dismantling myths around family tax benefits

REFLECTION Covid19 and the Church past, present and future

OBITUARY R.I.P. Bruce Dawe: poet of the people

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Doctors of WHO let the covid19 dogs out

INDUSTRY POLICY The rise and fall of Australian manufacturing and covid19

ASIAN AFFAIRS Politics done by stealth in the UN: China and the WHO

HUMOUR Get them hug-dealers off the streets

MUSIC Farewell to an Aussie jazz legend: Don Burrows

LOCKDOWN TV CLASSIC Unique, unsurpassed: The Avengers





NATIONAL AFFAIRS Crucial to get Virgin Australia flying again

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High Court practically shouts 'not guilty'

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, May 2, 2020

On Tuesday April 7, the High Court allowed Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his convictions on five counts of child sexual abuse. The High Court unanimously, 7–0, ordered the convictions be quashed and judgements of acquittal be entered in their place.

Does this mean that Cardinal Pell got off on a legal technicality? By no means.

It is a foundation stone of the rule of law in our legal system that a person is innocent until proven guilty. A prosecutor must bring evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that the crimes alleged were committed by the accused. That is not a mere technicality. It is the essence of criminal justice.

In our system, if an accused is acquitted, he or she has been found not guilty.

But further, the High Court, after detailed consideration of all the evidence (see pages 25–33 of the Judgement) held that “compounding improbabilities caused by the unchallenged evidence” of witnesses required the jury to have entertained a doubt as to the Cardinal’s guilt.

That evidence was:

  • That Cardinal Pell spoke to parishioners on the steps of the Cathedral after Sunday Solemn Mass (so he could not at the same time have been in the sacristy assaulting the two choristers).
  • That Cardinal Pell was always accompanied by the Cathedral Master of Ceremonies until he disrobed after Mass (so could not have assaulted the choristers unobserved).
  • That the sacristy in which the assaults were said to have occurred was a “hive of activity” after Mass with altar servers clearing away and storing sacred vessels and concelebrating priests disrobing (so, again, the alleged assaults could not have been unobserved).

Let’s be clear. The High Court, in a stinging rebuke to the Victorian Court of Appeal, held unanimously, that “the Court of Appeals majority’s findings ought to have led to the appeal being allowed. … The order of the Court of Appeal must be set aside and in its place the appeal to that Court allowed, the applicant’s convictions quashed and verdicts of acquittal entered.” (My emphasis) Hence, Cardinal Pell was found not guilty.


The Cardinal Pell saga began in March 2013 with Operation Tethering, described as an “intel probe” to determine whether there were any unreported serious crimes related to the Cardinal. The first complaint was not received until a year later. It did not result in any charges being laid.

VicPol patrol vehicle.

Then, in December 2015, it was reported that Victoria Police were investigating claims of assault at St Patrick’s Cathedral between 1996 and 2001 when Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne. At the same time, Victoria Police advised: “Investigators are appealing to anyone who was a victim or with any information relating to any alleged sexual assaults committed at the church during this period to contact them.”

Was this an investigation of claims made or a fishing expedition seeking claimants?

At the trial, the prosecuting officer admitted that the “operation” (a more accurate term than “investigation”) was to “get Pell”: “When asked by Cardinal Pell’s lawyer whether the operation was a “get Pell operation” Supt X said: “I wouldn’t use those words but I guess you could term it the way you did.”

There were 26 allegations made against Cardinal Pell. Only five made it to trial and the High Court quashed the guilty findings in relation to those charges and ordered verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien described the High Court decision as “an embarrassment to Victoria’s legal system”. He was reported as saying that the High Court judges had in effect “expressed no confidence” in the state’s justice system, and that all the officials involved in convicting Cardinal Pell owed the public an explanation.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman Ed O’Donoghue also made scathing comment on the Pell decision. He wrote in The Australian: “The decisions of Victoria Police, Director of Public Prosecutions and others to pursue this case so aggressively must now be questioned.”


At the very least an independent investigation into the role of Victorian Police in the prosecution of Cardinal Pell should be instituted as a matter of urgency as, despite the High Court decision, it has been reported that Victoria Police are investigating another allegation.

The police have made no comment on this report but, if there are any further allegations, they should be handled by an independent body, not by Victoria Police, whose credibility in regard to Cardinal Pell is seriously questionable.

The media, especially the taxpayer-funded ABC, should also have to answer questions about its single-minded, aggressive pursuit of Cardinal Pell. The media hype as though this case was a trial of the Catholic Church for the crimes of all the priests who have sexually abused children, can’t have helped but cause anguish for those who have been so abused.

In the statement he made on his exoneration by the High Court, Cardinal Pell turned his mind to the complainant, saying: “I hold no ill will towards my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough.”

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm