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A Response to John Howard’s Character Reference for George Pell

Former Prime Minister John Howard has written a character reference for Cardinal George Pell, who was recently convicted of child molestation. Mr. Howard is one of many conservative politicians and pundits who have come out in defence of Mr. Pell, with one even going so far as to call his conviction this generation’s Dreyfus affair. Such a comparison is absurd since, unlike Captain Dreyfus, Mr. Pell was convicted based on the evidence. But the focus of this post is to respond to Mr. Howard’s character reference for Mr. Pell.

Following an introduction stating how long the two have known each other, the statement is fairly brief. The entire text of the actual character reference is as follows:

Cardinal Pell is a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character. Strength and sincerity have always been features of his personality. I have always found him to be lacking hypocrisy and cant. In his chosen vocation he has frequently displayed much courage and held to his values and beliefs, irrespective of the prevailing wisdom of the time.

Cardinal Pell is a lively conversationalist who maintains a deep and objective interest in contemporary social and political issues

High intelligence and exemplary character, you say? His conviction would tend to argue against both of those claims. His character is surely questionable in light of his conviction for inappropriate sexual interactions with children! It is amazing how Mr. Howard can continue to defend this man after his conviction. Strength and sincerity have always been features of his personality, you say? This man repeatedly lied and took every possible step to avoid testifying about the issue of his alleged involvement in these matters, including claiming to be too unwell to fly, which inspired comedian Tim Minchin to pen the song Come Home Cardinal Pell. Sincerity is evidently not part of his character. As for strength of moral character generally, the immediate response to this is to quote the cardinal himself. In July of 2002, he said that ‘abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people’. Moral character indeed.

Mr. Howard then says that he has always found Pell to be ‘lacking hypocrisy and cant’. If it is necessary to point out that someone has never applied double standards in your view, that in itself is not much of a standard. Not being a hypocrite is not a virtue; it should be the default position. Principles matter, and not doing something negative does not mean doing something positive. Also, this man is of the cloth. He practices hypocrisy daily by claiming to be the moral compass of the human race while preaching from the bible of all books; a text which quite explicitly condones (indeed, it orders) slavery, mistreatment of women and genocide among other highlights. To say that Mr. Pell does not practice hypocrisy is either a bald-faced lie or it comes from a place of visceral tribalism which demands that the team be defended at all costs.

The statement then says that ‘he [Pell] has frequently displayed much courage and held to his values and beliefs, irrespective of the prevailing wisdom of the time.’ Translation, Mr. Pell has stuck to his fact-free, utterly subjective religious beliefs regardless of how society has progressed and moved away from such ideas. Seemingly, Mr. Pell is a man after Mr. Howard’s own heart, since he did the exact same thing while in office. But back to Mr. Pell. Doggedly sticking to your own beliefs regardless of how well they fit in with an ever-evolving society is not something to be praised: that is being an ideologue. The evidence should guide your actions rather than your beliefs which seemingly are not subject to change. That kind of rigid idealism is, frankly, out of place in a society where information on any topic is available at the press of a button (or, indeed, the use of one’s voice). Mr. Howard’s praising of Mr. Pell’s moral and social rigidity, statements best understood as he opposed marriage equality, is repugnant.

We end with Mr. Howard’s last statement

Cardinal Pell is a lively conversationalist who maintains a deep and objective interest in contemporary social and political issues

To suggest that a religious individual of any persuasion maintains an ‘objective interest’ in contemporary issues is absurd. Their views are determined by the underlying religious beliefs of the institution of which they are a part. Their views are pre-determined, the diametric opposite of the term objective. Indeed, a cynical reading of that statement might be that ‘objective’ is best understood as being in accordance with Mr. Howard’s own views.

So much for Mr. Howard’s defence of Mr. Pell.

This article was originally published on CRITICALANALYSTSITE.

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25 comments

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  1. Bronte ALLAN

    Should any of us take any notice of what this failed, flat earth, climate change denier, lying toe rag Hogwart has to say about anything? And of course, the same goes for the bloody Rabbott too! Although, it seems, there are plenty of others who have come out in support of this bloody so-called “religious” man–who is in fact a sexual ;predator & a liar to boot! The less we hear or see of the Hogwart, the better, in my opinion! He was a bad PM, & he has done nothing to erase that “look” since he was booted out by his electorate voters.Good article Tim!

  2. New England Cocky

    Uhm …. John Who???

    There was a Little Johnnie Flakjacket who offended famers by attending an anti-gun buyback meeting after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre.

    There was a John Howard who was both member for Bennelong and Prim Monster who was only the second Australian politician to lose both government and his seat simultaneously.

    There was the nice John Howard who starred in many television series in the 1990s.

    Then there was the John Howard representative of the Liarbral Party who initiated the destruction of egalitarian Australia for the benefit of foreign owned multinational corporations.

  3. Kaye Lee

    There was George Pell, then an auxiliary bishop, walking side-by-side into court with Gerald Ridsdale, the man later found to be Australia’s worst paedophile priest after being convicted of sexual abuse and indecent assault charges against 65 children — some as young as four.

    Cardinal Pell himself acknowledged his PR problems back in 2013, saying of his decision to support Ridsdale that day 20 years earlier: “I intended no disrespect to the victims. I understand now that they perceived it — and probably rightly — as such, but I did not at the time.”

    Can Howard not see he is doing the same thing?

    So much for “We hear you and we believe you”.

  4. Zathras

    I saw a tweet that said – “Howard was Australia’s most profligate PM. The war criminal who unleashed racism in Australia through his deliberate “children overboard” lies. That’s like Ivan Milat vouching for Martin Bryant”.

    There was no no mention of the nature or seriousness of the charges or even the victims in the reference, just that he thought Pell was a nice guy.

    Fellow prominent Australian Rolf Harris seemed like a likeable chap too but where was Howard’s concern then?

  5. Oliver Hardly

    I thought Pell’s lawyer’s ‘vanilla’ comment was an admission that he, the lawyer, thought Pell was guilty. Since lawyers are supposed to pretend their client is innocent, that was pretty damning.
    And a reference from the two most reprehensible politicians in 50 years is hardly something to be proud of.

  6. David Bruce

    Maybe they are birds of the feather? It certainly begs the question!

  7. Adrianne Haddow

    There’s no surprises among those who sing Pell’s praises. Bolt, Devine, Abbott, Howard, and possibly some nut jobs from the ‘IPA infiltration of the ABC’ brigade. Not one of them displays any depth of character or empathy for the victims, and the permanent psychological damage done by these priests.
    Little gods in their parishes, surprised that times have changed and they can’t hide behind their ‘holiness’ anymore.

    I am particularly outraged by the sycophantic rubbish coming from the ‘truth sayers’, Devine and Bolt. Their articles questioning the verdict reached by a jury with knowledge of the evidence, should be seen as attempts to influence public support and bolster his appeal.

    I have been humming Tim Minchin’s, ‘Come home Cardinal Pell’ since the news of the verdict. Just got it out of my head, then read this article, and now it’s back.
    Thanks Tim.

  8. Shaun Newman

    It makes one wonder whether or not there is a paedophile connection with these supposedly high ranking people, including of course Pell’s great mate and former Prime Minister, one Anthony (Tony) Abbott I do not believe in coincidence. I have wondered to myself for many years whether or not there is a paedophile ring in the judiciary also. This began (my wondering) last year when Jack Braham’s son received 6 months gaol for raping a 6 year old girl, which was followed by a 55,000 strong petition of protest which achieved absolutely nothing. As my old father in law used to say “a very interesting case.”

    I wouldn’t put too much credence on what a lawyer said, lawyers, like politicians will say anything. I would like to know who chose the lawyer, Pell, or someone in the catholic church?

    Surely if the third most senior catholic on Earth, clearly does not believe what he is preaching, that is damning on the concept of religion, which has been the biggest con job on humanity that I can ever think of?

  9. Perkin Warbeck

    Shaun, you will know of the awful ‘family murders’ in Adelaide many years ago. A good friend of mine wasn’t detective in the SA Police and I once asked him about the rumours that there were notables among the suspects. He just burst out with ‘You don’t know how we feel seeing that fat bastard on the bench….! Shit! Forget I just said that! Please don’t tell anybody.’

  10. Perkin Warbeck

    ‘Was’, not ‘wasn’t.’

  11. Yvonne Robertson

    It makes sense to me. Unrepentant war criminal and manipulative liar who was for many years the leader of this nation’s Government, seeks to give character reference for Pedophile and protector of same who for many years denied the voices of the suffering within his congregation, and was leader of this nation’s Roman Catholic Church.

  12. John Hermann

    Don’t forget that Pell was given his Order of Australia award during Howard’s time as prime minister. By providing a character reference, Howard does not then need to address the issue of whether the award – made with Howard’s blessing – was a serious error of judgement.

  13. Lambert Simnel

    How would the likes of Howard, Bolt, Devine and Abbott have even a clue as to what constitutes “good character”?

  14. Perkin Warbeck

    Lambert, they have their own definition.
    And ‘Big George Pell’ meets all their criteria.

  15. Lambert Simnel

    A bit like Von Einem’s “family (murders) back in Adelaide SA, Perkin?

  16. Kerri

    Good article Tim.
    What else would you expect from “the lying little rodent” (the most factual words ever uttered by Brandis)
    Howard claims
    “Cardinal Pell is a lively conversationalist who maintains a deep and objective interest in contemporary social and political issues”
    To which I quote “It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me,”

  17. Diannaart

    Know them by how much concern these ‘leaders’ of our nation express for the vulnerable, weak, powerless, poor or infirm.

  18. GraemeF

    My father was a kindy and primary teacher in a one teacher school yonks ago. Great way to learn as a nipper. All classes up on the board.

    The local Catholic priest in the nearest small town used to ask Dad to join him for dinners. When my non believing ‘Anglican’ father asked him why he was invited instead of someone from his church, the answer was “sometimes I like intelligent conversations instead of deference”.

    Religion can stuff up peoples heads, but this lot use it as an empire building exercise.

    Pell was a right wing, bible basing, climate change denialist. A worthy general in the Right Wing Culture Wars. That is why his defense was paid for by the IPA and they are joined at the hip with the Liberal Party. To these people, it is a war, and of course, truth is the first casualty. They are very Muslim in their belief that lying to the ‘enemy’ is not the same as bearing false witness.

    There are enough other stories to throw shade on the idea that this was not part of his behaviour. The ‘right’ are yet again blaming the victims and kicking them while they are down. That is not to say that another attempt at an appeal will not result in an overturning of the decision on a ‘technicality’. The rich and powerful, plus their wannabe sock puppets, look after their own.

  19. Jack Cade

    I half-expected Pell to say ‘God has forgiven me, so why can’t you?

  20. Keith

    I watched Pell being interview by the Royal Commission via video link when he was in Rome. To me he seemed quite evasive at that time.

  21. Christopher J. Ward

    The Murdoch press misses no opportunity to wheel out the Little Tin God. Today’s Australian was sickening and is obviously intent on being the voice of the new defence. I’m not a criminal lawyer but the judge’s summing up really nailed the problem. I think we can view the whole mess by seeing who else crawls out from convenient rocks.

  22. Jack Cade

    Ad I posted the other day, Pell’s barrister describing the sex as ‘vanilla’ was evidence that even his defence team thought he did it.

  23. Matters Not

    Jack, Pell’s defence team only used the ‘vanilla’ descriptor after (not before) the trial was over and Pell had been convicted. It was during the sentencing hearing that the vanilla adjective was applied re the appropriate penalty. Nothing to do with the trial or the conviction – just the sentencing.

    Hope that helps.

  24. Jack Cade

    Matters not.
    I am aware of that. But defence lawyers are expected to pretend to believe their client is innocent and customarily protest that an appeal will be mounted. I cannot recall a case where a lawyer accepted the verdict but that the crime was not as bad as the jury thought. Obviously Richter will not conduct the inevitable appeal. It seems, in Australia, that every verdict is appealed these days, no matter how clear the evidence. Not that I think this case was all that clear.

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