Cardinal Pell’s Appeal

LAST WEEK THE DUE DATE PASSED for the last submissions to the High Court of Australia with regard to Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction for sexual assault. Next month the High Court, the Commonwealth’s highest court which can hear appeals from state supreme courts as in Pell’s case, will hear his appeal.

No one doubts the fact that clerical sexual abuse and misconduct has been more widespread than had been previously assumed, insofar as it was even envisaged at all. What has aggravated the matter has been the number of cases in which ecclesiastical authorities have mishandled cases when they have become known. Some bishops and religious superiors in earlier days acted in a combination of ignorance of the effect that sexual abuse has on minors, whose youth magnifies the trauma not least because they have precious little of the psycho-emotional equipment needed to deal with it healthily, and a naive optimism that either a change of scene or professional therapy would set things to right. We know better now.

Other bishops and religious superiors have acted far more cynically. Revelations of such cynicism and duplicity are emerging most clearly from the United States. While the more egregious examples have led to the downfall of the prelates concerned, that is certainly not universally so. Some prelates seem teflon coated, others seems able to ride out the storms of revelations with gritted teeth but little more than that. Continue reading “Cardinal Pell’s Appeal”

Pell and the Failure to Testify

I write this in haste, on a train using a phone. Not ideal. But here goes…

A number of people are raising the reasonable question of why Cardinal Pell did not take the stand at his trial to testify in his own defence. Some, not all, suspect that his failure to do so implies he might be guilty, or that it makes him look guilty.

A few considerations might guide our assessment of the failure of Cardinal Pell to testify.

The trial was essentially one man’s word against another’s. A good defence barrister would want to focus on other evidence.

If Pell had taken the stand, it might have looked as if it were a contest between a powerful man of high reputation against a small victim. It would not be a good look in the current climate.

Moreover, it is known that before the trial the defence team thought it would not even reach the stage of jury deliberation; the evidence should collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.

Given that view, why put the defendant on the stand, especially given the fact that a good prosecutor could possibly get the defendant to say something that could be construed in a way damaging to his defence? One false step, once made, cannot be taken back nor can the impression made on the jury. For example, occasionally a judge will direct a jury to ignore a piece of evidence or a segment of testimony. That is, psychologically speaking, almost impossible. While the jury may not use such evidence to inform their verdict, they cannot easily banish the impression that evidence may have made on them. Thus, it is better to avoid the risk if possible.

Some argue that Pell should have insisted, that an innocent man would want to declare his innocence. Yet, his innocence is technically, supposedly, presumed. It did not need to be asserted. It is the datum that must be disproved beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution, not a claim to be proved by the defence.

Moreover, due to the kind donations of others, a professional of high repute, a Queen’s Counsel no less, was retained to conduct the cardinal’s defence. In light of the above, he clearly would have advised Pell not to risk taking the stand and being bamboozled by a clever prosecutor. It would have been brave, even arrogant, to disregard the advice of the professional for whose services others were paying.

Mr Richter QC made a correct assessment of the objective worth of the evidence against Pell. He made a serious mistake in disregarding the subjective effect of the jury having heard only the complainant’s testimony. Perhaps he was too sure of himself. But this is 20/20 hindsight, and rather too late now.

Mr Justice Weinberg QC provides considerable grounds for considering Pell’s conviction unsafe. The cardinal must appeal to the High Court in Canberra. He busy do this not only for his own sake, but for the sake of all clergy. If this conviction stands, no priest is safe.

#prayersforpell