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July 6, 2022

Thus Spake Mungo: Paedophile Pell and the suppression order

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Scott Morrison may be shedding ministers like the early leaves of autumn, but, as usual, there are distractions – and for once he can be profoundly grateful.

The big one was that it was finally revealed what anyone remotely interested had known for weeks – that George Pell had been convicted of child abuse and the media, frustrated for weeks by a suppression order, piled in.

So the assertion that Pell is a paedophile is no longer an allegation – it is a legal fact, which can only be overturned by a legal appeal. However, this did not faze the zealous Christian soldiers defending the man.

They said they accepted the verdict – they could hardly do anything else. But without drawing breath they added that they didn’t really believe it, and zealously rehashed the case for the defence, which had been unanimously rejected by a jury.

And if that was not enough, they looked for a conspiracy: the Victorian police and in particular the media, some of which had reported on the investigation and charges, had made a fair trial impossible.

Their own media campaign, insisting that their man was totally innocent of everything, was apparently entirely appropriate, although in the end ineffective. But their outrage was unbounded – a couple also invoked Jesus as an analogy of judicial persecution, which must surely border on blasphemy for a true believer.

Given Pell’s record in office, in which he consistently favoured profits over parishioners, he can hardly claim to play the holy martyr.

An appeal is pending, so unlike the Cardinal’s crusaders we will not comment too much – except to point out that the complainant of the abuse was grilled for more than two days in the witness box by one of the toughest silks in the business, while Pell chose, as is his right, to offer no testimony and thus no cross examination. He can hardly complain that the process was unfair.

And given his record in office, in which he consistently favoured profits over parishioners – look no further than the Ellis defence, designed to prevent victims suing for compensation – he can hardly claim to play the holy martyr. What goes around comes around, even in the cloisters of the Vatican

And the suppression order on the verdict may well have been made for the best of reasons, but even the most sheltered judge must have realised that it was utterly futile in these days of the internet. Once its mere existence was mentioned, it took me just five minutes to discover the details.

And in the process I felt a nagging sense of deja vu, which I traced back some 50 years ago, long before the days of the internet, when another suppression order spectacularly failed.

It was the time of the 1969 election, when Gough Whitlam was pursuing John Gorton in what turned out to be a surprisingly close result. A key marginal was the seat of Adelaide held for the Liberals by Andrew Jones, the youngest member of the House who had been swept in by Harold Holt’s landslide in 1966.

Jones was brash and bumptious – at one stage he had been forced to apologise to his fellow MPs for calling them ‘half drunk half the time.’ The irony was that Jones himself quickly became a lush, and one night during the height of the campaign did a thorough job on himself and was subsequently arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

He was duly convicted, but the sympathetic magistrate suppressed his name from the media. However, beak’s writ ran only to the South Australian Border, enabling the Melbourne Age to trumpet the poster: ANDREW JONES NAME SUPPRESSED. What had been a local issue became a national embarrassment. Unsurprisingly, Labor won the seat.

It will be interesting to see if Pell is more successful in his appeal; but you would have to say that the suppression order has not helped him. Censorship seldom does – it is more likely to encourage publicity than quell it. A lesson both lawyers and judges would do well to ponder.

But the Pell verdict has consequences not just for the church and the law, but also for politics, as the cardinal is not only a prince of the church but an inflexible cultural warrior. And this means not only is he a hard-liner on matters of what are generally called morals, by which the right regards as overwhelmingly about sex, but also on more general issues, one of which is climate change, on which Pell is vehement denier.

On one level that is not surprising: the Catholic church has never been a great supporter of science – think Galileo and Darwin just for starters. And like most of his more reactionary predecessors, Pell has always assumed an air of infallibility which has encouraged many other recalcitrants, particularly in the Liberal Party room.

His fall is unlikely to change their minds, but it has removed one of their sources of authority. And this may have implications for Scott Morrison’s most recent attempts to hose down the perennial quest to pacify this most fraught of issues.

His announcements last week were almost universally derided; another reboot of Tony Abbott’s so-called direct-action plan, which Malcolm Turnbull rightly called a fig leaf to cover the fact that the coalition didn’t really have a policy at all. So Morrison threw in a bit of extra foliage.

There was the funding of Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 which might actually help, but not until Morrison and his crew are long gone, far too late to deliver lower power prices. And there was the promise of an undersea cable from Tasmania to the mainland to harness the hydro already provided to the island state, which was immediately dismissed as unviable short of a major change away from coal-fired generators, a revolution which is never going to happen under the regime of our coal-cuddling prime minister.

So, as last year was confirmed as the hottest ever recorded and the highest emissions, with more to come, the climate wars go on – but without one of their most unyielding warriors.

Morrison did have one win – the appointment of the immaculate Ita Buttrose to the ABC, a captain’s pick which was almost uniquely applauded. But he also had another loss – his beloved football team, the serially offending Cronulla Sharks, were fined a motza for cheating on their salary cap. Well, you can’t win them all.

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  1. Mungo has not lost his touch!
    He rolled them all into one brilliant summary of the week’s
    activities: politics, religion and SPORT!


  2. I agree that this is a very readable article.

    I hope the voters in Warringah give Abbott the thumbs down. How could people like Howard and Abbott know about the character of Pell in relation to this matter? Unfortunately for Pell his powerful position taints the favourable court testimony of those who witnessed his more day to day ‘hands on’ behaviour as a priest. Loyalty to the reputation of the Catholic Church has lead to many transgressions.

    An appeal court may yet find the jury verdict unsafe. The judge’s instructions to the jury will be scrutinized. But I wonder what other motivation the complainant could have to subject himself to 2 days of cross examination. For those parents of the victims assaulted by other priests, who were allowed by Pell to continue, it is easy to see how they would feel the verdict is justice. Likewise the people I know who were molested by priests and unsupported by family when they spoke of it. The church should not have elevated Pell after those revelations of complicity. By rewarding him it damaged itself as well as Pell.

  3. Ita Buttrose is just another LNP crony and we can expect the same interference from her as from her predecessors

  4. After viewing all Pell’s victims and witnesses on the previously suppressed 4 Corners episode last night, it is more than obvious Pell’s conviction was always going to happen.
    Then the response to the 4 corners episode on QandA.
    No doubt more victims of Pell will now come forward, now he has been convicted, those that can handle the 2-3 day questioning inquisition of a QC and all that go’s with it. Those still alive and have not committed suicide after their lives ruined!
    As for Howard, Abbott and their other extreme right media attack dog, pell supporters.
    All I can say is after decades of living in an extreme right media protected bubble, they have become immune from any accountability, empathy and remorse.
    How else could they and their LNP Coalition party’s possibly behave the way they have for so long?

  5. I was recently humbled & honoured to help a Priest-rape victim and family with their Afidavit of Impact Statement, stating that family members became consequential victims. That statement was not required in court as the Priest confessed and was later sentenced. The Ellis defence protecting churches failed because Priests are not employees of the Church, merely having Authority To Officiate.

    Under Section 316 of the NSW Crimes Act of 1900 and its further amendments, those who do not report criminal behaviour or advise or direct others not to report criminal behaviour, are themselves ( if employees ) liable to receive up to 2 years jail and their employers are vicariously liable for compensation.

    I have maintained the above and made submission to the Abuse Royal Commission to that effect, drawing the Commissioner’s attention to the role played by such employees as are described as Professional Standards Directors. I have noted that one such PSD was employed by both the Anglican and Catholic Churches…. and as an employee….

    Further, given the actions and in-action of the Pope and the conviction of members of the church, Australia and the UN members should seek to have the sovereignty status of the Vatican removed. Where else can criminal offenders find sanctuary under the guise of religious freedom?

  6. James,
    I think Ita may be a good choice. Anyway, it would be difficult for her to be as bad as the last!
    I wonder if ScMo might have taken the ´safe´ choice to avoid the backlash. He sure needs all the help he can get!
    As far as Pell goes, not being a Catholic, I think it is time the church learnt humility, as well as recognising the other 50% odd of the population in its management. There is a precedent: Pope Joan from 855 to 857. Even the celibacy was introduced many years into the Catholic Church. Time to change again I feel.

    Nuff said


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