Eight months after the Herald Sun broke news of a Victoria Police investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic was questioned by police in Rome on Wednesday.
It’s an important development for the nation’s Catholics, as well as the victims of child abuse around the country. But it’s also notworthy for the journalists who wrote about the investigation, who faced intense criticism from supporters of the cardinal in response. When then Herald Sun journalist Lucie Morris-Marr broke news of the year-long investigation on the front page of the paper in Febuary, Pell dismissed it as a political leak designed to damage him before his royal commission appearance. There was also internal condemnation from within the paper, principally from columnist Andrew Bolt — he called it a “vicious and shameful” “attempt to destroy a man without giving him a chance to defend himself”.
As far as scoops in this year’s papers go, this was undeniably a big one. But you won’t hear about it at this year’s Walkley Awards, as the story did not get a nomination in any category, which ruffled some feathers at News Corp. It didn’t pass unnoticed that 7.30, which followed up and expanded the story by finding and interviewing several of the men who had made allegations against Pell, had nabbed a nomination in the audio-visual current affairs category.
So what happened? Morris-Marr told Crikey on Wednesday that the piece had been entered into two categories, but it missed out on the shortlist against “incredible competition”. Morris-Marr had been on a maternity leave contract at the Herald Sun, and has since left the paper — she’s working on a book.
“I’m very proud of the work I did at the Herald Sun, especially breaking the world exclusive in February on Cardinal George Pell about a secret police dossier into child sex abuse allegations,” she said. “The story took 10 months to come to fruition, and after it was published it generated some damning condemnation from commentators, including speculation about my sources for the story which I found challenging. It was then announced that the [Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission] were launching an investigation into my story due to ‘media allegations’ of leaks from police. Initially it was a worrying time for myself and my young family as it could possibly have meant our home could have been raided by [the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission], and there was a slight chance I could ultimately have been jailed on contempt charges.”
After five months, the paper learned that the IBAC case had been dropped. — Myriam Robin