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Presumption of innocence, or attacking victims and the legal system?

I’m somewhat baffled by the insistence of George Pell’s more vocal and public supporters that he is being unfairly treated. He has, they assert, been subjected to years of suspicion and innuendo and this, they argue, makes a fair trial impossible. Their opinion: he is the victim of a witch hunt and should not have been charged. The ludicrous conclusion of this argument is that nobody should be charged with anything if there’s been public commentary prior to those charges being laid.

I would like to see some proof of this claim of inevitable prejudice due to Pell’s profile, though I doubt there’s relevant data. What is interesting is that whilst Pell himself has welcomed the opportunity to at last defend himself in court, his Australian supporters seem hell-bent on declaring the process already poisoned. Obviously they aren’t respecting Pell’s desire for his day in court. So what are they doing?

Amanda Vanstone, former ambassador to Rome and Pell admirer, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in May: how would you like to throw out your own right to a fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place together with the right to a fair trial if you are charged? Vanstone goes on to further question the integrity of the Victorian DPP (to whom she was presumably referring in the phrase “fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place”) and Victoria Police, and to rail against latte sippers in cafes who she claims deny Pell the presumption of innocence. Vanstone’s descriptions of those calling for Pell to be held to account include “a baying crowd” and a “lynch mob from the dark ages.” Inevitably, she includes victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in her derogatory commentary.

Then take Tasmania Archbishop Julian Porteous’ comments in the Hobart Mercury on Thursday, when police announced they‘d charged Pell:

HOBART Archbishop Julian Porteous says he is “shocked and disappointed” his former colleague Cardinal George Pell has been charged with historical sexual offences by Victoria Police.

“I think it’s terrible these claims have been made against him. I don’t believe they’ve got any substance to them,” Archbishop Porteous said. [emphasis mine]

He said he was also worried about the impact the high-profile nature of the case would have on a fair trial.

“The possibility of a fair trial is compromised. I don’t know how a jury could proceed with a trial where [there is] so much media out there.”

Archbishop Porteous also referred to journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal, published in May, which details some of the allegations made against Cardinal Pell.

He said media coverage and the book were “creating a very unfair environment for justice”.

Cardinal Pell, 76, the Vatican’s finance chief, was charged by summons today with several historical offences dating back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Archbishop of Melbourne.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney — where Pell was Archbishop from 2001-2014, and where Archbishop Porteous was an auxiliary bishop from 2003-2013 — released a statement saying the Cardinal was “looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously”.

Archbishop Porteous said Cardinal Pell was “a man of absolute integrity”.

The Porteous and Vanstone reactions are little different from the reactions of some family members when one of their number is accused by another of sexual abuse. There is disbelief and scapegoating of the alleged victim, and blind defence of the alleged perpetrator. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s taking a side, and it’s prejudiced.

Pell has welcomed the opportunity afforded him by Victoria Police to put his case in a court of law. His supporters must respect his stated wishes, and cease muddying the waters by attempting to manufacture cause for a trial to be abandoned. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s a denial of justice, both to Pell and to the complainants.

It is worth reiterating that nobody, not Vanston, not Porteous, not Paul Kelly, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine or indeed anyone one of us can know the truth of this matter. None of us were present. Pell was present. The alleged victims were present. This matter must be left to the best process we have: the process of law. It is not presumption of innocence to deny that process to Pell, and it is not presumption of innocence to attempt to denigrate and undermine the institutions that, in this intensely scrutinised case, are all we have to administer justice.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.


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  1. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Spot on, Jennifer Wilson.

    Vanstone, Devine, Bolt, Archbishop Porteous and others should be required to explain what they would prefer to happen for the alleged perpetrator’s accusers. Should they be ignored again and their alleged perpetrator allowed off to continue as an alleged menace to the international community?

  2. Florence nee Fedup

    Why is the emphasis on the word historical? Don’t recall same in many others charged & convicted.

    Because of the Cardinals powerful position and history of taking legal redress to all that criticise him, police are taking extra actions to stick to the law. That I understand. I hope it is enough to ensure the alleged victims get same deal.

  3. Rossleigh

    Mm, it’s interesting that in recent high profile crimes there’s been no similar concern about media attention preventing a fair trial, and I have to conclude that it’s because the Devines and Bolts of this world work off the belief that the only people who deserve a fair trial are the innocent and that – as they agree with George on a range of issues and he was loads of fun at the IPA dinner – then it’s clear that he can’t be guilty, and even if he was, so what, he’s one of us!

  4. Jaquix

    You get an idea of what the children victims of sexual and physical abuse have had to put up with all their lives – the cover up, not being believed, frustration at not being heard. Of course Pell like anyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Unfortunately for him, his own actions in refusing to front the Royal Commission, have come back to bite him on the bum. The tide of public opinion is against him. David Marr on Insiders this morning had a 2 pager of instructions (from some legal entitly, I didnt catch which/what) which I understood to be instructions to journalists (which would include the likes of Miranda Devine as a political commentator) as to what they can and cannot say or report re Pell case. He also said the case could drag on for 4 or 5 years, if the cases were heard separately, one after the other. The reporting gag would apply until the last case was completed. Hang on folks, its going to be an interesting ride!

  5. Matters Not

    or indeed anyone one of us can know the truth of this matter. None of us were present.

    Indeed – that’s why we have a judicial system where (hopefully) we can separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Be interesting to see the exact nature of the charges. As well as the numbers and the like. Were there any witnesses?

  6. Florence nee Fedup

    I am sure within next five years or so, we will read much condemning the alleged victims. Seems Pell intends to use the legal system & media to his advantage.

  7. pierre wilkinson

    the rampant hypocrisy of the far right is totally unbelievable in this and most of what they do and say

  8. Aortic

    Just read an article in the mainstream press in the fact that the Pope has fired the Card in all overseeing responses to child sex abuse cases. The second paragraph ponders the possible affect on the Pontiffs legacy.,WHAT? It ia always the same, protect the institution and the top layers at all cost never mind the thousands of innocent victims and their shattered families. I do have a genuine sympathy for those who truly believe that the Catholic Church is the one true Church but are sadly being let down and deceived by some in their hierarchy who choose to neglect the innocent in favour of what amounts to nothing less than corporate power.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Were there any witnesses?

    MN, makes me think of the old saying, “God is my witness”. ?

  10. Michael Fairweather

    These complaints on abuse have been around for decades and for a person in his position and length of time he has been a minister of the clothe to deny doe’s not ring true. The very least he would have heard some thing but did noting to stop it.

  11. Baby Jewels

    Presumption of innocence actually doesn’t exist under the LNP. Not since Centrelink (not the police) are hacking “suspected” fraudsters’ phones.

  12. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Spot on, Baby Jewels.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

  13. Noel

    The social media I have been reading has Pell convicted…of what we are yet to find out.

  14. Keitha Granville

    It is for justice to decide, none of us can know. I am skeptical about the whole matter and whether justice will be done for anyone but we have no other system.

    To all commentators, let it alone.

  15. king1394

    If Cardinal Pell is innocent, he needs to be able to put his case before the court. I am surprised that he has taken so many steps to avoid the scrutiny of a court case. Like with anyone else, the accusation should be tested. If he can show he is innocent than that will be it. The decision to prosecute such a highly placed and powerful person would be based on substantial evidence.

  16. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Well said, king1394.

    Why should this mere human have special protection from public scrutiny than anybody else brought before the Court?

  17. Freethinker

    One small step in the right direction, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller have been show the door by the Pope.’
    He was a very powerful conservative cardinal in the church and he opposed the Pope reforms also he was in charge of the sex abuses claims against members of the church.
    After secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Pell and Muller are the most important cardinals in the Vatican.
    Now, with Muller gone the Pope have to start cleaning up the conservative cardinals in USA that together with Muller were criticising the Pope reforms.
    The Pope knew about this group of cardinals and perhaps because them he was not sure if he will live longer enough to reform the church.
    Time will tell.

  18. diannaart

    Those wonderful ‘philanthropists’ from the Institute of Public Affairs; John Roskam et al, are out collecting funds for George Pell’s defence.

    Not that this is illegal, but did the Catholics within IPA ranks not ever have issues with their clergy?

    In fact, is the entire IPA magically separate from any trials or tribulations that beset the average person? Does this explain their lack of compassion for child abuse victims?

  19. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Ditto Dianna

  20. john ocallaghan

    Pell is a protected species on 3 fronts,first as the 3rd most powerful figure in an organisation that is as powerful and corrupt as the Catholic church is, and all the protection that that Deep State Cabal affords him.
    Then he is also a revered member of another corrupt powerful organisation in the form of the IPA,backed and protected by another extremely powerful corrupt organisation in the form of News Corp,and also backed by powerful influential figures like Bolt Kelly Abbott Murdoch,the entire and equally corrupt Liberal party,and it does’nt stop there.
    He is also protected by every shock jock, ala Jones, Hadley,et el… all commercial tv stations and most news print companies,……….. So if anyone thinks this bloke is going to be brought to justice for his \ At this stage un-proven sexual crimes against children / then i have a beautiful bridge in perfect working order i would like to sell to you!

  21. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I’m currently listening to Greg Sheridan on RN about Gardening Smell and other notable figures in various Christian churches predominantly the Catholic Church.

  22. Freethinker

    Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has revealed she will fight to stop the federal parliament from opening every day with the prayer.

    Good on her!!

  23. Peter F

    OF course CP is entitled to his day in Court. He is also entitled to be considered innocent until PROVEN guilty: It is not for him to prove his innocence. However, I might ask why he seems to have resisted any opportunity to give any evidence on the matter face to face until now. Will he make it to the Court? We can only wait to see.

  24. silkworm

    Jesus is rolling in his grave.

  25. margcal

    I doubt Pell will get treated well by some of the media (but as a saint by others in the media) or by social media. I nevertheless think he will get a fair trial. What will be telling, if found guilty, is the sentence he gets.

    It is a bit rich that he demands a fair go when he and the Catholic Church have given abuse victims anything but that.

    BTW the removal of Mueller has little to do with handling sex abuse – headlines which imply as much are misleading if not downright wrong. It’s much more about how doctrinal matters are handled.

  26. paulwalter

    Mygod, JMS (6.46), these masochistic tendencies!

    Have you not considered counselling?

    But, in the end it comes back basically to what people like Margcal and Peter F have said, presumption of innocence, fair trial etc.

    A bad verdict for Pell could open the church up to more lawsuits, of course, but it would really be no more the business of Greg Sheridan or Andrew Bolt than anyone else to presume any right to interfere.

    Let the evidence speak for itself without attempts to influence prior to presentation on which a conclusion can begine to be be formed..

  27. Freethinker

    margcal, Muller was in charge of investigating sex abuses and at the present time has hold more than 2000 cases.
    He together with the extreme conservative cardinals in USA are the ones trying to sabotage the Pope reforms.
    Pell is a moderate conservative and IMO the Pope put him there to put a brake on the conservative movement.
    Pell was one of the 13 cardinals that signed the letter criticising the Pope reforms so I do not think that th Pope will think twice in removing him when the conditions within the church allow that.
    The Pope already mentioned that he will resign if he cannot longer have the strength to reform knowing that the conservatives are doing the best to get him out.
    The only hope is for the pope to nominate the most progressive new cardinals and place them in strategic places.

  28. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I like the show not the man, Paul.

  29. Terry2

    It was suggested on ABC RN Breakfast this morning that a judge only trial could be granted on a request from the Defence team on behalf of the defendant.

    I’ve been checking and that does not appear to be correct. All criminal trials in Victoria are heard by Judge and Jury :

    Anybody know if a judge only trial would be permitted ?

  30. Bec Brown

    Its funny how the conservatives will howl at prosecutors in Victoria telling them to do their job, and that they are allowing a crime wave to take over the state…but apparently when pursuing paedophiles they are being too diligent and are probably biased.

  31. margcal

    Freethinker, I’m only too aware of the abuse cases the CDF is (not!) dealing with. But as I said, that’s not the primary reason for the non-renewal of Mueller’s appointment. The pope has soft-pedalled on sex abuse and would be happy to let that arm of the CDF continue on at a slow pace. (cf Marie Collins resignation from the sex abuse committee – forget its name) It’s the doctrinal issues that the pope is much more anxious to act on. More’s the pity.

  32. paulwalter

    I would not have thought other, JMS . Listening would have been bad enough, sound and vision together, you shudder in recall..

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