THE FULL BENCH OF THE HIGH COURT of Australia today unanimously granted George, Cardinal Pell special leave to appeal, which was heard instanter and allowed. All his convictions were quashed, and verdicts of acquittal ordered to be put in their place. He will be free for Easter when no doubt he will celebrate the Great Feast with a joy he has probably never known before.
The hate-fest has begun already on social media. Evidence is ignored if ever first consulted. Pell, a social and moral conservative in the eyes of secular Australia who stood for all that they hate about religion, and the Church most of all, and who had—beyond their wildest dreams—been accused of one of the worst of modern crimes.
Many issues will soon emerge and demand attention. One is the role of the media in creating an atmosphere that made a fair trial almost impossible. The national broadcaster, the ABC, has been particularly guilty of a bias bordering on criminal.
Another is the conduct of the Victoria Police in Operation Tethering, a police task force that was admitted in court as being essentially out to get Pell. It was set up before any complaint was even hinted at, and then set out with a vengeance to fish for anything to use against Pell. Twice the director of public prosecutions sent back the police brief. Victoria Police pursued it to the bitter end. The role of Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton is of particular concern, who has been accused of leaking material about the Pell investigation to the media in the early days of the police “investigation.”
Also of critical concern is the atmosphere created by the media prejudicial to any fair hearing for Pell. The ABC ranks high on the list of those who consistently poisoned the public perception of Pell, but they were not the only ones. David Marr, Louise Milligan are names that come immediately to mind. Journalists like Andrew Bolt who dared to question what was happening were voices crying in the wilderness, or rather in the midst of the mob.
The trials themselves merit review. Of the two trials, one collapsed under the weight of its own evidential inadequacy. The other saw a hung jury, 10-2 in Pell’s favour, and thus a retrial was necessary. The second jury found unanimously against Pell. The conduct of that trial merits special attention. It was the hugely flawed evidence of one complainant, whose alleged fellow victim had claimed before his death that Pell had not abused him.
A decade or two from now this legal fiasco will mark a watershed moment for Victoria, if not for Australia. Only a Royal Commission will bring closure for all. It would, I have little doubt, not only reveal official malfeasance but the machinations of the media which duped, manipulated and used the general public and formed from among them something tantamount to a mob.
It is surely impossible for Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton to remain in his position. The Premier of Victoria too should consider his position after he has done the decent thing and called a Royal Commission. Which he must; if he will not, this writer will confidently assume he has much to hide.
Pope Francis has been shown to have been fully justified in not starting any proceeding against Cardinal Pell. Pell was clearly no McCarrick. Blind Freddy could see that; the blind mob could not; the malicious would not.
It is not for me to say other than as a personal opinion, but I really do not see how the deep wounds the Pell Affair have produced in every quarter can ever be healed without a Royal Commission. Australian Catholics should begin now to demand one. For you can be sure that in many respects Pell was the fall guy in a campaign that has its sights set more fundamentally on the Church, and Christianity in general.
This may well prove to be Australia’s own Dreyfus Affair.
A Royal Commission now.
To end, the cardinal’s own statement, a model of its kind.