[Comment: The rest of the team at CP&S thank our Australian collaborator, Crow, who has written this excellent and well researched article on the outrageous treatment of Cdl. George Pell by the High Court of Australia and the secular media. Only one journalist, not even a Catholic one, but clearly a man of personal integrity, spoke out in articles in the Quadrant Magazine at the injustice meted out to the Cardinal. His name is Keith Windschuttle.]
QUADRANT BOOKS, 2020, SYDNEY
Over the gruelling course of the trial of George Cardinal Pell, Keith Windschuttle, the editor of the conservative Australian magazine, Quadrant, was perhaps the sole journalist in Australia to raise a voice in his defence.
While international commentary expressed disquiet at the result of the trial and a pervading unease regarding the soundness of the conviction, the almost unanimous commentary by the Australian media shamed Pell and sought to undermine every aspect of his conduct, including his departure for Rome, his return to face examination and subsequent charges, his reputation, his public presentation, (handcuffed), his departure from court and imprisonment and the appeal processes. Such was the manufactured division and hysteria within the community created by the media and, as illustrated by Windschuttle, the long, drawn out operation of legal process beginning with the Royal Commission and the Victorian Police, that the reality of his guilt or innocence on the actual charges brought was almost irrelevant – he was guilty of something, whatever it was.
Keith Windschuttle’s commentary, published in Quadrant Magazine throughout the period of Cardinal Pell’s trial, the Cardinal’s appeal to the Victorian Supreme Court and his subsequent successful appeal to the High Court of Australia, revealed an extraordinarily perceptive forensic analysis of the legal issues, together with the courage to call it out. To even print such views at the time in Australia, it must be noted, entailed a level of personal bravery that today, in the final establishment of the Cardinal’s innocence, is easy to disregard. At that time, however, commentary on anything touching the Cardinal or his trial was consumed by invective, to the extent that any expression of support, or any opinion other than that which conformed to the general discourse, would invariably attract vituperative and unrelenting personal attack. The attacks on any supporters or any observer finding fault with the process, of course, were expressed in terms that justified the invective by reason of concern for “victims” or “survivors”. At no stage was it ever noted that the conviction of a person on false charges does not help genuine victims of sexual assault.
The dishonesty of the media, the historical tragedy of the homosexual networks in the Catholic Church, the corruption of some members of the legal profession and the cowardly self-interest of the political caste are carefully revealed in this book.
More unsettling, however, from a personal perspective and from personal observation, was the almost complete conformity by the Australian public to a judgmental and bigoted smugness by a substantial minority who controlled the discourse. The complacency of right-minded people to the possibility of a travesty of justice of such monumental proportions as was shown in this trial failed to acknowledge the repercussions of the verdict against all of us; If Cardinal Pell was convicted in the circumstances of these particular accusations with the feeble evidence supporting them and in the face of such strong evidence refuting them, then no-one is safe.
At the conclusion of the book, Windschuttle observed that “[t]he decision of the High Court of Australia on 7 April 2020 was more than the end of a witch hunt and the acquittal and release from prison of an innocent man. Legally, politically and morally Australia had walked to the end of the civilizational abyss and peered in. The High Court allowed us to take a step back and walk away. It was a near run thing.”
The book takes us through the journey to this abyss, one which I am not convinced has been altogether circumvented. This is a journey that has been a long time in its arrival – and the book takes us back in an unravelling of the factors that operated both in the Church and the secular world in a marvellously accurate causal analysis.
Of utmost concern was the failure of the justice system. As observed by Windschuttle, this failure was rescued by the integrity of the High Court, a unanimous decision which, in the cultural climate, would have taken commitment on the part of the Justices. Of course, the appellate success is also testimony to the success of the judicial process, the appeal system instituted by men whose wisdom anticipated abuses of the trial process.
After a trial in which the evidence was suppressed, Cardinal Pell was convicted by a jury. His sentencing before the trial judge, in contrast to the lack of public scrutiny of the evidence, was sensationally televised in a hearing that was replete with pejorative adjectives – the public heard, without knowing the details of the allegations, that he was ‘arrogant’, coupled with damning comments on the severity of his abuse of power. He was, as was observed by Windschuttle, made to sign the sex-offenders’ register for life, following which he was immediately imprisoned. He appealed to the Victorian Court of Criminal Appeal. Thathearing was televised and was the subject of endless chatter and analysis by those who watched, feeding the popular media and community outrage.
The majority in the Victorian Court of Appeal resorted to flawedapplication of a traditional appellate basis of reasoning, and effectively found that the jury enjoyed a benefit not available to the appeal judges and thus the case could be resolved on whether the jury was entitled to believe the complainant. Thus belief by the jury in the account given by the complainant assumed a paramouncy and inviolability. The complainant had not been present in court, but had, in fact, given his evidence by video, recorded at a prior trial. However his testimony had changed as a result of revelations of its inaccuracy during cross examination over the various hearings, and his account was inconsistent with the church practices of the time and particular place and was completely refuted by a number of witnesses whose character was not challenged. However, the majority refused to disturb the conviction on the basis that the jury was entitled to find that they accepted the complainant as ‘believable’. The decision effectively introduced a new legal standard – any assertion would be sustained, as long as a jury found it to be so, no matter that no evidence supported it, no matter that it possessed contradictions and despite the fact that there was credible evidence to disprove it. What remained unstated though, was that it was not any assertion, but only assertions made by a given class, and, perhaps, against a given class. The repercussions of the upholding of the jury verdict were all-encompassing in the potential to undermine the integrity of the legal process.
The minority judgment of Weinberg J was as courageous as it was legally principled. Before taking his appointment, first to the Federal Court and later as President of the Victorian Court of Appeal, Weinberg J was a formidable Crown Prosecutor and Professor of Law specializing in crime and evidence. He did not withhold his views and expressed them forcefully and without regard to the political and social discomfort his reasons might inflict. It was his judgment that permitted an inroad into obtaining the grant of leave to permit High Court consideration of the case and in turn restoring the presumption of innocence back into the criminal process. Weinberg J’s fellow justices however, with their contorted legal analysis, revealed the frightening vulnerability of the legal system to the pressures of populism.
The failure of the media in all this was far more than a failure to perform their responsibility as the Fourth Estate. The media, almost without exception, under the guise of a fake sympathy for ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’, used the privilege of their position to create a climate that was poisonous against the Cardinal. They created a narrative of the little person against the authoritarian power-base of the Catholic Church, epitomized by the Cardinal, an arrogant authority figure, capitalizing on residual anti-Catholic, or anti-conservative Catholic, bigotry in the population to fuel a ‘witch-hunt’ as described by Windschuttle, in which the Cardinal’s achievements as the person who initiated serious prosecution of sexual offenders was overwhelmed and negated by a portrayal of him as a key element in the covering up of the abuse.
In creating the climate of hysteria and promoting the personal pursuit of the Cardinal, the media failed in their self-proclaimed role of guardians of liberty and free speech, in its stead performing the role of disseminators of propaganda and scrupulously silencing dissent. To their shame, but to no-one’s surprise, upon his exoneration, they have not only refused to acknowledge their failure, they have even continued in their vicious pursuit; a particularly cynical example of this is the frequently mademisrepresentation of the criminal process that the 7-0 finding by the highest court in the land only shows that the case against the Cardinal was not proved, and does not establish his innocence. That the presumption of innocence should be so eroded by the media and that it should be accepted by the public to the degree that the average person is not outraged by these statements is concerning. It not only reflects poorly on the Australian journalistic lack of integrity, it reveals an alarming ignorance or apathy on the part of the public. In actual fact, additional to their unanimous finding that the case was not proved, the High Court hadtaken the judicially unusual step of stating that there was a possibility in the circumstances that an innocent man had been convicted. As regards this statement by the seven justices of the High Court, there has been, predictably, complete silence.
The failure of the political caste too, was apparent. Conservative politicians were lambasted for any expression of support of Cardinal Pell, and few had the courage or integrity to defend those principles upon which our democratic government and system of justice is founded. In fact, to illustrate the point- immediately upon the decision of the High Court, the Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, undermined the authority of their decision in the following terms:
“I make no comment about today’s High Court decision. But I have a message for every single victim and survivor of child sex abuse: I see you. I hear you. I believe you.”
This is a book about the trial and appeal of one man, but it is also about how the most privileged members of our society failed in their responsibilities to protect our system of justice and the individuals who come before it.
It is a book about the forces at work in our society and our fragility in addressing the encroachments on our freedoms that we assume to be immutable but which rely upon some degree of integrity in the culture and the legal system at large.
It is a book about the weaknesses, perhaps the venality and cowardice, of the Australian public and the ease with which the prejudices of the general population were goaded and manipulated to the degree that the Cardinal became, to many, a cartoon villain where his humanity was denied such that there were people in the community who did not care whether the trial was or was not fair.
This is a book that has incisive commentary on the forces at work in the Catholic Church leading up to the sexual abuse scandals that have caused so much suffering. It is a book that reveals a fascinating analysis of the interests and manipulations operating in the trial and surrounding it. However, it is more than all of that: it is a commentary on our culture, our institutions and the liberties that undercut and sustain our freedoms. This is an important book – as grave as the subject matter is: As moving as the injustice done to the Cardinal is, this book deals with forces that are greater than the persecution of George Pell. Keith Windschuttle’sobservation about the abyss we encountered is a warning – one which we must not take lightly.