On the morning of April 7, national television relayed the announcement of my verdict from the High Court. I watched in my cell on Channel 7 as a surprised young reporter informed Australia of my acquittal and became still more perplexed by the unanimity of the seven justices.
That is George Cardinal Pell writing on My Time In Prison for First Things magazine. The surprise and perplexity reflect the response of the majority of those hearing this news. Those of us who were delighted by the news had long experienced perplexity, though not surprise, at the years of relentless persecution of George Pell. We were in a tiny minority. We still are.
Was Cardinal Pell’s eventual acquittal, then, a victory for the Australian justice system? Was it a re-affirmation and consolidation of the principle of the rule of law? Has justice been served?
In one sense it was. An innocent man was, finally, released from his ordeal. He was, formally speaking, vindicated, and the innocence purportedly presumed at law before his trials was brought out of the woodshed and burnished by the unanimous High Court finding. Some overseas observers, sympathetic to the Cardinal, expressed the opinion that the High Court was the last chance of redeeming Australian jurisprudence in the eyes of the world. In such circles, the sigh of relief could almost be heard.
For Cardinal Pell, the personal victory is great. His unwavering trust in his Lord has been vindicated in this life, and his courage and faith will serve as an inspiration to his fellow believers. In this ultimate sense, the Cardinal’s is the victory. But the ultimate victory would have been his had he not taken his appeal to the High Court, or had the High Court refused him. In the City of Man, justice is elusive, and often violated, but in the City of God, Truth is on the throne. Was this a victory, though, for the body politic?
The prospect of punishment acts as both retribution for the offender and deterrent for observers. Crime and Punishment are connected as cause to consequence. What is deterred in others by the consequence is the behaviour which led to it. If the punishment is determined and meted out in secret, though the crime is known, it appears as though the behaviour is not regarded as a crime. What if the punishment is known, but the crime is a secret? Such a situation is literally Kafkaesque, with the onlookers to whom the punishment has been revealed sharing in the nightmarish disorientation of Josef K. in The Trial.
Cardinal Pell is our Josef K.; a demonstration to the citizens that the power of the State is arbitrary and virtually untrammelled. His punishment is manifest: 404 days in solitary confinement; his career in the Church abruptly terminated; his good name traduced; detested by many; derided by more; living in straitened financial circumstances; his acquittal made possible only by the generosity of admirers; and under threat of new trials. All of this manufactured by the State and by unaccountable propagandists, all of whom escape indictment. There was no crime, but there is comprehensive punishment. Since the man to whom this was done is our most senior Australian Catholic, what message is being sent to the rest of us?
After I lost my appeal to the Victorian Supreme Court, I considered not appealing to the Australian High Court, reasoning that if the judges were simply going to close ranks, I need not cooperate in an expensive charade. The boss of the prison in Melbourne, a bigger man than I and a straight shooter, urged me to persevere.
Cardinal Pell’s vindication hinged on the encouragement of his prison warden. His legal expenses began to accumulate from the time he was first interviewed in Rome by the man who is now the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, through committal hearings on dozens of charges, two trials, the appeal to the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal (VCSA), and the final appeal to the High Court. He remains in debt.
Let us suppose that a different man had been the chief of the Assessment Prison, and that the Cardinal had not appealed to the High Court. George Pell would still be in prison, and would not be eligible for parole for about two years. On his release, he would be a pariah to most of his fellow Australians. Like that perplexed Channel 7 reporter, the bleating herd who front news cameras and who write newspaper reports would continue in invincible ignorance to feed boiler-plate lies to the public, who in turn would rest comfortably knowing that the monster Pell was paying for one of his many crimes.
Ex-Cardinal Pell would probably have been laicised by the Vatican, and would never again be able to celebrate Mass. Those who contemned him would also likely contemn the Catholic Church, and everyone involved in the conspiracy to bring him low would be glorying in their iniquity, and planning mopping up operations on any remaining pockets of resistance.
Since the man to whom this was done is our most senior Australian Catholic, what does that say to the rest of us?
With all of these evil outcomes averted, there is much to be thankful for. However, in a State approximating to being just, every attempt would be made to rehabilitate Cardinal Pell’s good name. Those who engineered this vile persecution would themselves suffer the negative consequences of having their conspiracies unmasked. Crime and Punishment. Likewise the propagandists would themselves experience the public opprobrium they whipped up against Pell. But so far from being just is the Victorian regime that, emboldened by a series of increasingly brazen affronts to justice, it has now suspended virtually every tradition of Westminster government, and in this it is merely the bell-wether for the other States, and for the Federation itself. All of this is not only made possible, but is applauded, by a servile people – us.
Those who are unshakeably convinced that Cardinal Pell is a serial offender and protector of other offenders will find plenty of high-profile support, starting with the Premier of Victoria, and continuing down through the shameless VicPol hierarchy, who immediately after his acquittal suggested that Cardinal Pell was being investigated over “new” allegations, and including the egregious gang of Pell-haters at the ABC, who tried to set up the basis for new charges without pausing for a moment to consider the shellacking the organisation’s reputation had taken, indirectly, from the High Court.
For those at the top of this sorry pile, George Pell’s innocence is, and was, irrelevant. For those further down the food chain, his guilt is a sine qua non, like the peril of climate change or the curse of white privilege. It’s common knowledge, and his acquittal demonstrates to them that the High Court is a stumbling block to justice. For this crowd of Pell-haters the Cardinal “got off on a technicality.”
This distrust of, or outright contempt for, the High Court has its obverse in the perception of the VSCA amongst those who, anticipating the High Court, were dismayed by the lower Court’s finding. What respect for the Victorian courts and police can survive in the Pell supporters, whose every criticism of the persecution and prosecution was vindicated by the High Court?
Between the two is a large group who have made the terrible mistake of trusting the news media to inform them honestly. Because of the widespread reliance on TV for news and discussion, even those who, through of some personal knowledge of a current controversy, realise that the media are peddling agenda-driven lies in that particular area, tend still to accept the story told in a range of other areas of which they are personally ignorant. They probably take most news stories with a grain of salt, but are sceptical that the Australian news and opinion media as a whole could, Pravda-like, embrace an agenda not grounded in truth or reality, but which effectively builds a Potemkin facade over an irrational and dystopian new reality. “It can’t be that bad,” “The truth must be in there somewhere,” “I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories,” and so forth. Who can blame them?
It is this group – call them the bemused – who are destabilised in their assumptions about who can be trusted for information. Either the High Court or the whole apparatus of prosecution – involving two chief commissioners, the committal process, the County Court, and the VCSA – is seriously broken. And if it is the latter, then every ill report of Pell over the years that it took to build up animosity against him was inaccurate or deliberately false. Most of the media were so committed to the destruction of Pell, and so oblivious to the flaws in their own stories, that errors in good faith can be ruled out. The conclusions from this moral and professional collapse do not bear thinking on by the bemused; not, at least, without shaking their worldview.
For most of those who never accepted the demonisation of Cardinal Pell, disillusionment with the myth-making of secular society set in long ago. Many rarely pick up a newspaper or turn on television news. Once these sources are perceived as propagandists and ideologues, only some overriding duty or an addiction to impotent anger can encourage their consumption. When this gestalt switch has occurred, the nagging question arises as to whether this has always been the case. Can we pinpoint a time when the situation changed for the worse? Reporting seems to have been a more honourable profession at times within living memory, but the suspicion lingers.
The newly disillusioned, trying to make sense of Pell’s disquieting acquittal, may dismiss that event as an aberration, and so shore up their ongoing acceptance of the daily drama of “the news.” They may, however, be unable to recover their previous confidence in what they are being told, and start down a path of the more comprehensive alienation that Cardinal Pell’s supporters have experienced for some time.
Is is better from the viewpoint of social re-engineers that all of these people rest easy in believing they have been told the truth, and that George Pell is guilty, and guilty of more and worse crimes that couldn’t be pinned on him?
There was certainly an effort in some legal academic circles to encourage the High Court to discreetly look the other way when Pell’s case came before them. Andrew Dyer, Colin Phegan Senior Lecturer at the Sydney Law School and Deputy Director of the Sydney Institute of Criminology, and David Hamer, Professor of Evidence Law at the Sydney Law School, published a paper in the Sydney Law Review early in 2020, in which they argued that “if the HCA grants Pell special leave to appeal, it should reject his argument that the VSCA majority reversed the onus of proof…” The finding delivered, two academics from the Queensland University of Technology Law School, Professor Ben Matthews and Senior Lecturer Mark Nicholas Bernard Thomas published in The Conversation (Academic rigour, journalistic flair) the article How George Pell won in the High Court on a legal technicality. To state the obvious, these men train lawyers.
Is it, on the other hand, preferable that the bemused lose confidence in the executive and judicial structures of society, and find themselves adrift, plagued by doubts which, in our conditions of wide-spread myth-making, are likely to broaden and become more corrosive? For those with revolutionary aspirations, this outcome is preferable, and such people are obliged to the independence of the High Court for putting the cherry of disillusionment on top of the work of VicPol and the VCSA.
Disillusionment, real or manufactured, is the traditional weapon of Marxist agitation. In return for the “illusions” it exposed, Marxism promised knowledge of the true engine of history: the struggle between classes which would wind its inevitable way through capital-H History until the victory of the proletariat and the unleashing of vast productive forces that had been hobbled by capitalism. This analysis proved illusory, and, stripped of the last illusion, Marxists In Name Only focussed on one reality of Marxist experience – undermining the State and the culture through manipulating the illusions of others.
George Pell’s was a voice of both faith and reason on a range of the most contentious social and politico-economic issues of the times. Often he stood against the prevailing view, but concerning the sexual abuse of children by clergy, he was a new broom, cleaning the clerical stable, and being the world leader in easing the path for victims to recognition and compensation. Paradoxically, it was along this most highly emotive vector that the main attack was directed. Every tout to whose favourite scheme, scam or socially destructive proposal Pell had been a stumbling block, then piled on, amplifying the volume to the detriment of such comity and reason as still existed in the public square.
Now he is free, and he is still a Cardinal and Bishop; but the lessons his expected destruction was designed to teach have been well-learned anyway. The Australian Bishops, and not only the Catholics, now cower in resignation before the power of media and State or play the fool to curry favour, as has been most recently seen in their enthusiastic support for the State’s trampling of religious liberty on the excuse of the Covid-19 pandemic. Once an important voice for those liberties, they now collaborate in their destruction, if only by their silence.
There’s a bonus for radicals. Whilst a sizeable number of Pell-hating fanatics hold unshaken their faith in the forces that brought the Cardinal low, a much greater number have had their confidence in the integrity of news reporting, police forces, parliamentary executives and state judiciaries shaken or shattered, without any counter-balancing increase in confidence in Cardinal Pell or the Church he so courageously serves.
The Cardinal’s persecution had global significance. It was of a piece with the accelerating series of attacks on Christianity and on Western culture as a whole. To attack the former is to attack the latter, although it is hardly the only vector. Cultural violence so widespread inevitably morphs into the physical violence that we are now seeing. There are no doubt many who perceive their advantage in the current disruption, and seek to maximise it. But Western societies are inherently chaotic (in the mathematical sense) and the reins of control that do exist have all been loosened, in spite of the best efforts of social and legacy media to re-tighten them. The outcomes of our chaos (in the social sense) are beyond human intelligence to predict. Everyone is a reactionary now.
Two millennia ago St Paul wrote to a world in transition, identifying the nature of the conflict.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
The City of Man, the work of human hands, is crashing down around us. To what city shall we look now?