Yesterday came the momentous news that Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple allegations of the crime of sexual abuse of children, following their investigation of complaints made by multiple accusers.
The matter is now sub judice, which means there can be no commentary on the charges and allegations, and no predictions of verdict. Sub judice does not forbid all commentary, and the above link is a guide to what may and may not be published. Please read the first couple of pages before leaving inflammatory comments that might be in contempt.
There is also an interim suppression order on the details of the charges, requested by Pell’s lawyers.
My thoughts are with those complainants who now face an arduous courtroom experience, during which our adversarial legal system will permit Pell’s lawyers to tear them to shreds. Already there has been much commentary from Murdoch hacks that the charges against Pell have been instigated by a vengeful and incompetent police force hell-bent on conducting a witch hunt. In other words, as far as Paul Kelly, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson and the other usual suspects are concerned, the complainants are liars and it is necessary to question police integrity. How this commentary is not flagrant abuse of the sub judice rule, I have yet to ascertain.
Much media coverage to date has focused on Pell’s right to justice. However, the complainants also have the right to justice. It is indicative of an almost entirely unexamined societal attitude that, particularly in sexual matters, the rights of the accused are likely to be the subject of greatest concern, while the complainants are, in the very essence of our law, obliged to prove they are not liars.
It’s amazing that Pell has been charged. In itself, this signifies an extraordinary change in societal attitudes to the sexual abuse of children, a change set in motion by the Gillard government’s Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, itself so fiercely opposed by several of those who yesterday claimed a witch hunt.
I have no idea how this will play out. Obviously, Victoria Police consider they have sufficient evidence to proceed. They have not assumed the complainants are liars. Pell is the highest ranking Catholic to be faced with such allegations, and the case has drawn global attention. For the sake of all concerned, most particularly the complainants, this situation must be allowed to run its legal course, whether you agree with the system or not. It’s the only one we’ve got.
I’ve decided to add this astounding rant, published this morning by The Australian and written by Paul Kelly, as the site is pay-walled.
In this momentous event, it is not just Cardinal George Pell who is on trial — it is the integrity of Victoria Police, the justice system and our capacity to deliver a fair trial.
There is no precedent for this situation. The most important Catholic leader in Australia since Daniel Mannix and close adviser to Pope Francis is being tried against allegations that Pell himself has perpetrated historical sexual offences.
This decision by Victoria Police comes after an unprecedented and manic campaign against Pell, leaks to the media, vicious character assaults in the mainstream media and grave doubts about the way police have conducted their inquiries.
The risk now is that the historic, unforgivable and appalling extent of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has taken yet another tragic turn — a show trial against the nation’s most senior Catholic figure. This is precisely what many people want.
The justice system must ensure it does not eventuate.
The issue here is not Pell’s handling of child sexual abuse allegations within the church — it is something entirely different; that Pell himself has engaged in sexual offences.
The decision to charge Pell is a shattering blow to the Catholic Church. The ramifications will last for years even if he is cleared.
The campaign of hatred against Pell transcends the deep and legitimate grievances of the victims and families. It is tied to the idea that Pell must be punished for the sins of the church and that this constitutes a form of justice for the victims.
Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, when venting his concern last month over whether Pell would get a fair trial, put the moral issue up in lights — the wrong done to victims of sexual abuse cannot justify a wrong being done in a witch hunt against Pell.
The case against Pell draws upon allegations of sexual offences by many complainants.
He has declared the claims are false. It is hard to believe these court proceedings will be finalised quickly. Whether Pell can receive a fair trial hangs in the balance. This is not just a trial for Pell and the church. It is a test of our institutions, our justice system and the culture of our civil society.
Convince me this isn’t written with intent to foul the Pell case.
This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.