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August 1, 2021

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The recent ABC series Revelation is a tragic reminder of the power imbalance afflicting Australian society where Catholic clergy are able to dominate susceptible, often orphaned, young persons, perpetrating shocking sexual abuse and causing life-threatening psychological damage.

As Cardinal Pell’s appeal case was argued before the High Court I felt uneasy about the difficulty the Crown had in seeking to have his conviction upheld. There was that window of 5-6 minutes in the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral, which raised credible questions about whether the opportunity for the acts to take place really existed.

In the opinion of the High Court, the Crown was not able to discharge the onus of proving that the acts, as alleged, did occur. In such cases, if a doubt lingers, then despite the jury finding that the case was proven beyond reasonable doubt, an appeal court will likely override the jury’s verdict.

The most troubling aspect of this whole sorry saga is that the power relationship is so heavily weighted against the victim.

Consider the notorious members of clergy interviewed in Revelation. They are manipulative, opportunistic, often charismatic, skilful at transferring guilt to gullible youth, and are chronic repeat offenders, acting with apparent impunity. They have immediate recourse to the cleansing power of the confessional, so why be concerned by the law of civil society? And then there was (and possibly still is) the over-arching protective umbrella of their clerical hierarchy.   

Lawyers would argue that the presumption of innocence is sacrosanct in our system of justice; that a case needs to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, and that despite the glaring power imbalance, the accused may choose not to give evidence, and so is spared the possible threats inherent in cross-examination.

I harbour serious misgivings about these principles in cases like those involving innocent young persons who have been abused, who live in awe of the clergy, who feel so guilty, or shamed, by their experiences that they do not speak up to their parents (if they have them) or guardians (who are often in awe of the very same abusive clergy). And in many cases years go by without investigation, and so the body of evidence diminishes with time.

Given that the abusing usually occurs in private, and that the abuser likely acts strategically in committing abuse, how can a young victim hope to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt?

In such cases much more emphasis should be given to the jury’s finding, as they are the ones who viewed first hand a victim’s demeanour in testifying. I feel, that with inadequate protection of these tragic victims, that Australia might have a legal system – but it is not a justice system suited to victims of abuse.

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  1. I read your article and I don’t agree. You should read and study the HCA transcript. In this particular case a person was wrongly convicted. Juries are not infallible and they system of ch3cks and balances must be initiated to maintain the integrity of our judicial system. Memory also is not infallible. Your argument is emotive and not based on fact. The truly sad thing about this case is, that I believe a vulnerable person was manipulated by others including the Vic Police and the ABC for their own interests and gain. These are the institutions your should be criticising in this matter..

  2. I’d like to believe that…… every time there’s a drop
    of rain a flower grows but that does not exactly
    happen. Phone counselling as well as face-on
    work years ago allows me to say that in many
    cases the molested ‘victim’ takes his life & no
    batch of ‘lawyers’ would have believed the words
    of a 13 year old yet a jury might. I also recall how
    many teenage lives went to hell & back because
    the Clergy looks after itself. It’s also a horror
    when a 70 plus year-old man is reduced to tears
    because at age 11 he was too ashamed to admit
    way-back-when. We need to stop pretending the
    law isn’t an ass.

  3. The ABC impartial ?? Dont think so .
    When ? Apart from never would the ABC
    Hold to account other Religion’s and the
    Appalling record on Child Brides ?
    YES in this country happening every day !!
    Defund the ABC ASAP ..


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