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Abbott, Pell And Waleed Aly – A Tale Of Two References

In one of those coincidences, earlier in the week, I was thinking how Waleed Aly’s character reference for a footballer drew more flack and attention than Tony Abbott’s 1997 decision to write a letter describing Father Nestor as a “beacon of humanity” when the priest was facing indecent assault charges. So when charges against George Pell were announced, I had to wonder if Tony would be rushing to write another such letter!

Now, I want to say at the outset that I’m not judging Cardinal Pell and that I firmly believe that everyone has the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. I remember arguing that John Howard’s position on David Hicks bordered on absurd because Howard basically agreed that the presumption of innocence was very important but it didn’t matter in the Hicks’ case because we all knew he was guilty. You don’t pick and choose who has something we regard as a right, because, quite simply, if you don’t believe that people automatically get it, then you obviously don’t consider it a right.

So, I’ll strongly argue against pre-judging George Pell and I’d also remind people that it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be “exonerated” as some people are suggesting. At best, he’ll be able to say that he was found “Not Guilty” which simply means that a case against him wasn’t proven. To suggest that this would mean he was “exonerated” is no more true than for Pell, than it was for O.J. Simpson.

Of course, this belief in the necessity of proving guilt is what enables a fair trial. Or at least, that’s the way it should work. The media shouldn’t be trying to influence a trial, and a person’s guilt or innocence should be determined by the evidence presented in a court of law. Neither the media nor politicians should be trying to put pressure on judges and juries, even if they argue that they’re just reflecting public opinion. I can’t emphasise this enough: There is an enormous difference between commenting on sentencing generally and putting pressure on a court for a particular result while a trial is in progress. After all, do we really something like this:

“Your honour, we didn’t feel that the prosecution demonstrated what an evil man we’re dealing with here, but thankfully we all got to watch ‘A Current Affair’ and we’d like to find him guilty in spite of your instruction that we should dismiss the case on the evidence presented.”
“Thank you, you’re discharged and I’m very glad that you chose to ignore my instructions because my good friend Dyson Heydon rang me during the week and pointed out that the defendant seemed to be lying just like some of those Labor politicians at the Royal Commission. Not only that, but Malcolm Turnbull announced that if only judges gave tough sentences then he’d find it a lot easier to argue for an increase to our pay.”

No, courts make decisions because they look at evidence. And there are rules around what constitutes evidence which make the legal system, if not completely fair, at least fairer than the sort of hatchet jobs that the media does from time to time.

Of course, the interesting thing with Pell is the number of people keen to defend him. While it’s reasonable to remind ourselves that, of course, he may be innocent of all charges, this is certainly one case where we don’t need to do that. Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt and others are doing that for us. In fact, I’ve never seen so many reminders that the person might not be guilty. In Devine’s case, she’s gone as far as to say something that may lead one to infer that this was a trumped-up charge designed to take the attention away from crime figures, which is a pretty serious charge to be levelling against the police. I imagine she must have some evidence for this and isn’t just speculating in a totally irresponsible way. I expect that Pell’s defence team will be contacting her as one of their star witlesses… Oh, sorry, that should be “witnesses”…

Andrew Bolt is content with telling us what a wonderful bloke old George is. Yep, Malcolm and Waleed did give Houli a testimonial too but, in the end, the AFL tribunal decided that character was all very well, but the important thing was what Houli did on the field that counted. But, while reminding myself that good old George should be presumed innocent, the history of sexual abuse cases suggests that simply being a good bloke is no guarantee that the person is innocent. There are more occasions when the guilty party has been a pillar of the community than where parents have said, “Yes, well, we always thought it a bit strange the way, Fred kept wanting to take our sons on weekends. We were always a bit dubious and we used to wonder what he got up to with our kids, but hey, it was free babysitting so we figured it was best not to ask too many questions even though we were pretty sure that he was up to no good.” Still, if Andrew thinks that talking about how much people have hated George for being a “conservative warrior” is somehow relevant, I guess it’s a free country. Some might consider it an attempt to influence people who could potentially be on the jury, but I think we need to give Bolt the benefit of the doubt and to presume that he wouldn’t intentionally do something like that.

Personally, I’m going to try very hard not comment from here on. Even if Cardinal Pell’s doctor decides that he’s too ill to travel, he still needs to be given the presumption of innocence. So I’ll leave to the likes of Devine and Bolt to suggest that only Pell deserves the presumption of innocence and his accusers can be presumed guilty.

16 comments

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  1. Carol Taylor

    A problem with public opinion is that it is often lacking one important thing – the facts.

  2. Kaye Lee

    Yes Carol…the facts.

    Soon after becoming prime minister, in November 2013, Mr Abbott was asked about findings by the Victorian Parliament’s Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations.

    The inquiry’s report found Cardinal Pell had “a reluctance to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the Catholic Church’s institutional failure to respond appropriately to allegations of criminal child abuse”.

    When asked about that statement in the report by 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, Mr Abbott said he hadn’t seen the evidence before the committee or read the report, but that “he is, in my judgement, a fine human being and a great churchman.”

    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-praises-fine-man-cardinal-george-pell-20170629-gx17uk.html

    So that’s that then. Why let the facts inform your opinion?

  3. Leah

    George is/was of course an active participant in a world wide conspiracy coordinated by the denizens of the rat can (vatican), including the uno numero to pervert/prevent the course of justice re the hundreds of priests who were caught with their pants down.
    See http://www.bishop-accountability.org
    The “catholic” church, especially the rat can is of course easily the worlds most obnoxious institution – even more so when it defines itself as the “holy” see
    See also http://www.concordatwatch.eu

  4. Winston Smythe

    Prediction : Pell will take a cyanide pill on the plane just before it touches down in Australia.

  5. paulwalter

    Yes, Kaye Lee, it is true that Carol Taylor often has useful contribution to make.

    But Carol needs to understand that many conservatives have worked very hard over decades to turn this country into a lobotomised info and ideas free zone.

  6. Michael Taylor

    I think Carol understands that, Paul. It’s the reason we started this site. ?

  7. Carol Taylor

    Indeed Kaye Lee, it works both ways, those who would condemn because of the “take” that the Murdoch media decides will provide the most effective click bait and those such as Abbott and Devine who protest a person’s innocence..as presumably all of the witnesses will be “liars”.

  8. Jennifer Gregory

    Comment from Tony Abbott on Lateline a few years ago. “If you spent more time with Cardinal Pell, your life would be more interesting.”

  9. wam

    I do not consider pell directly involved with child abuse. Equally I doubt if he knowingly felt responsible for the abuse in his diocese.

    The sanctity of confession is still powerful but all powerful 50 million tears ago when the rabbott was being injected with the doctrine.

    But my history of religious beliefs interferes with my observations, colours my interpretations and forms my opinion:

    I believed lindy’s religion allowed azarias death but she would never have been found guilty had the judge not influenced the jury, by law or not down to a simple choice believe lindy or not.
    I cannot look at waleed without thinking why has he the western trappings and his wife hiding her hair.
    I realise that it is not that long ago when christian and jewish women ritually covered their hair after marriage because hair was considered erotic and should be hidden from the sight of men.

    With such a believe it is very difficult to see houli’s little children dressed in a ‘modesty’ driven hijab. It is even more upsetting to see children dressed, by adoring mothers and fathers, in erotic outfits and trained to parade their booty before judges,

    Howard is a victim of his upbringing via his father’s sharp trading and his mother’s christian fear of the left. He rationalises his family shame by his stated belief that “we are not responsible for acts of an earlier generation.” I hope he will be remembered for being a hypocritical arse.

    But I guess I am just an interfering old wowser

  10. Kyran

    Sooo, wait a minute.
    The rule of law applies to some, but not all?
    And the rule of law is judged by the media?
    Or some vocal politicians, with legal degrees, who operate their mouths before their brains?
    The media used to have court reporters. They were the reporters who would sit through the entire proceeding before reporting. This was based on the most basic of precepts. Without understanding the context, comment (or opinion) was impossible. Sooo last century.
    How far have we advanced? Mr Hicks was charged and convicted of a confected crime, wasn’t he? The fact that he was incarcerated before the crime was invented, let alone before he was convicted, speaks volumes for due legal process.
    In the 21st century.
    We have convicted felons, who have become exemplars of the flaws in the legal system, a la 21st century. Messrs Voller and Storrar are merely two examples. Both felons, that any half-baked article clerk could have defended the charges. It was not until they became exemplars of a flawed system, that their misdemeanours were paraded by a flawed press. Ignore the wrongs done to them. Discredit their voice, by amplifying their crime.
    Do the crime, do the time, is no longer good enough. Not if you want a voice, to point out flaws.
    There are currently nearly two thousand people incarcerated on Nauru and Manus. No charge. No conviction. No trial. Certainly, no rule of law. Certainly, no presumption of innocence. We haven’t even confected a crime yet. They have, after all, only been incarcerated for a few years.
    Perhaps Pell can he be tried on Nauru or Manus?
    They should be able to find an impartial jury pertaining to the indiscretions committed on these children. Goodness knows, it’s more likely there than here. Not the indiscretions. A jury would be impartial over there. They have no media. Unlike here. Oh, wait a minute. Distinction needs to be made between MSM (you know, infotainment) and here.
    Ah, justice, a la 21st century.
    The burden of proof in a criminal trial is ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. The burden of proof in a civil trial is on ‘the balance of probabilities’. Distinctions that will assist those enduring their days in court.
    Neither of which will be availed to those we are currently incarcerating.
    Please, can we try Pell on Nauru or Manus? He may well be innocent until he’s proven guilty. He may, at the very least, converse with those proclaimed guilty, without charge or conviction. Where innocence is something to be defiled, rather than a presumption you are entitled to.
    Thank you Mr Brisbane and commenters. I have no opinion on pell. Take care

  11. paulwalter

    Poor old Hicks and Habib, crucified to uphold the Iraq war oil grab as myth as fixtures to do with bogus “terrorism” scare campaigns. Identical in the sense that the victims at Manus and Nauru have been sacrificed to uphold the fiction of a resolute defence of white civilisation’s “homeland security”.

    But, as has been mentioned, the tabloid media will stoop to any depth to present Pell as a victim, while his victims are slandered as unbalanced pawns in a devilish campaign to discredit Cathoiicism in the interests of godless communism.

    But Catholicism’s adherents insist only it can be an exclusive and perfect conduit to humanity of God’s will, via resolute and morally infallible culture warriors like George Pell and his self disciplined cadres of persecuted priests, eyes raised skywards in the teeth of devilish persecution; redoubtable shepherds to an innocent flock, wolves in sheep’s clothing having been revealed as a physical impossibilty as the Vatican itself had previously announced the doctrine of Papal Infallibility based on the Bible, thus proven fact.

  12. Matters Not

    wam – re:

    I do not consider pell directly involved with child abuse

    While I wouldn’t know, clearly the Victorian Police force and the DPP are of a different opinion – that Pell has a case to answer. That Pell and his accusers should have their day in court . Pell says he welcomes it and I suspect that his accusers do as well. Volunteers one and all.

    Perhaps that’s how our justice system is supposed to work?

  13. Lurline O'Brien

    I have a personal friend who was a victim of the “good” Cardinal and another priest who is already serving a sentence, partially because of his evidence. Therefore I do believe he needs to come and face trial.

  14. paulwalter

    Agree, MN.

    wam’s comment is a bit risky, now that a trial is foreseeable. We are going to have to see if the trail is scotched somehow and if not, whether the evidence seems to confirm or deny the truth of the accusations.

    It is possible that Pell may be found not guilty of abuse, yet fail n the eyes of the public for turning a blind eye to others more culpable, say?

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