May 16th 2020

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Basin inquiry raises more unanswered questions

EDITORIAL Rebuilding industry won't just happen: here's what's needed

CANBERRA OBSERVED Regret over our rushed marriage to China

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Giving back from the top

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Crucial to get Virgin Australia flying again

REFLECTION The ridiculous attack on reason

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell: The story of a targeted assassination

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS The China bear in the global living room

FAMILY 'Coronaschooling'

ECONOMICS Looking back for the purposes of going forward

POLITICS The willy-nilly manufacture of rights

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY 'The hours have lost their clock'

HUMOUR A tribute to Bond Stott, late of BC/AD

MUSIC Punk is defunct: Long live de funk

LOCKDOWN CINEMA CLASSIC A journey through Death's dark kingdom: The Masque of the Red Death






ROYAL COMMISSION Hatchet job on Cardinal Pell breached basic principle of fairness

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Hatchet job on Cardinal Pell breached basic principle of fairness

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 16, 2020


Listen here to Peter Westmore in conversation with Australian Family Association national president Terri M. Kelleher on the release of the previously redacted parts of Cardinal George Pell's answers to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Findings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that Cardinal George Pell covered up allegations of child abuse in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s are totally unsupported by the evidence, and constitute an abuse of power by the Commission. They could more accurately be described as accusations.

Nevertheless, the ABC and other sections of the media that for years have been running a vendetta against Cardinal Pell and were clearly unhappy that his conviction for child sex abuse had been overturned in a unanimous judgement of the High Court of Australia, reported the sensational claims at great length.

In doing so, they further trashed the reputation of the first Australian church leader seriously to deal with the problem of child sexual abuse, and the first to set up a redress scheme for victims over 20 years before the Royal Commission recommended such a body.

Cardinal Pell also reformed the Catholic Church’s approach to child abuse, to end the culture of silence that was pervasive until that time.

The accusations against Cardinal Pell appear in the now unredacted pages of the Royal Commission report, which was originally released in December 2017. At the time, the Royal Commission no doubt felt comfortable making the accusations, as Cardinal Pell had been charged by Victoria Police with 26 counts of sexual abuse of children.

However, all the charges against Cardinal Pell were either withdrawn, set aside in the committal hearing, or, in the case of five charges, overturned in the High Court.


Cardinal Pell was working in Rome when the Royal Commission was sitting, and could simply have declined to appear as a witness. Instead, he fully cooperated with the Royal Commission, to the extent of supplying documents and facing hostile cross-examination for four days in 2016.

Cardinal Pell fully answered all questions put to him over a period of about 20 hours, covering his knowledge of clerical sexual abuse of children from the time when he was a junior priest in Ballarat in the 1970s, until his appointment as Archbishop of Sydney in 2001.

I went to Rome in 2016 and attended the four days of Cardinal Pell’s cross-examination where all these accusations were aired. I described it at the time as “a travesty of justice”.

I wrote: “I sat through many hours of accusations by counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, Gail Furness SC, that Cardinal George Pell was complicit in or covered up the disgusting sexual abuse of children in Ballarat where he served for many years as a priest, then as an auxiliary to Archbishop Frank Little in Melbourne from 1987.

“Dr Pell was directly and repeatedly accused of lying to the Commission, of covering up evidence of sexual abuse of children, and of blame-shifting to exonerate himself.”

At the end of this cross-examination, Cardinal Pell’s barrister tabled documents to the Royal Commission that corroborated his statements that he had not been complicit in nor covered up child sexual abuse, including evidence in relation to Gerald Ridsdale, a priest of the Ballarat Diocese now in prison for child sexual abuse.

Cardinal Pell’s counsel referred to a witness named Dr Peter Evans, a psychiatrist, who gave evidence that he had Ridsdale as a patient briefly in the 1970s. According to Dr Evans, he was later visited by police who told him that they did not intend to charge Ridsdale with child sexual abuse, although they believed he had been involved in some abuse of children.

The point was clear: if the police did not have evidence about Ridsdale that warranted his prosecution, why should then Father Pell, who was director of the Catholic Teachers College in Ballarat at the time and not involved in parish life, have known about it, let alone had any share of responsibility?

Further, why was the local parish community not held to be responsible also, including local primary school teachers and the school council, as well as the local police?

There is a well-understood principle in the administration of royal commissions: that people called to give evidence should be entitled to procedural fairness, should not be harassed in giving evidence, and should also be given an opportunity to respond to any suggestions of impropriety in the commission report.

It is clear from statements made by Cardinal Pell in an interview after his acquittal by the High Court that he was not given the opportunity to respond, and was blind-sided by the allegations of improper conduct made in the Commission’s report.

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