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Pell is guilty. The law has spoken. Again.

Anyone attacking the trial verdict, attacking the appeal decision, or ignoring the facts is recklessly undermining the rule of law. There can be no place for it.

The hands of Cardinal George Pell (Image: AAP/George Anderson)

George Pell remains, as he was yesterday, a convicted paedophile. The unanimous verdict of his jury — that 20 or so years ago he committed one rape and four indecent acts against two choirboys in St Patrick’s Cathedral — has been upheld by Victoria’s Court of Appeal.

It took Andrew Bolt a few minutes to declare the court’s decision “appalling” and reject it out of hand, as he did with the jury’s verdict in February. No need to read the 300-page judgment or even pause for breath. No need for such inconveniences when you know the truth.

Pell’s appeal had three limbs to it, and they all failed. The big play was his assertion of impossibility: for 13 different forensic reasons, his counsel argued, for Pell to have done the crimes was “physically impossible”. The defence at trial had piled on the circumstantial evidence to argue that Pell just couldn’t have done it even if he’d wanted to.

Although, as the appeal court was careful to point out, Pell had no onus to prove impossibility, he had the problem that the jury had believed his accuser. To overcome a jury verdict, the appeal court has to be convinced that it is unsafe: that it was “unreasonable and cannot be supported having regard to the evidence”.

This is a hard ask. It’s not about whether the appeal judges agree with the verdict, but whether they consider it was open to the jury at all.

In that context, Pell really needed to undermine the crown case to such an extent that the appeal court could decide that nobody could ever have found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The best way to get there was to show that he just could not have committed the crime.

One of the judges, Justice Weinberg, was with Pell on this. He found aspects of the complainant’s evidence unconvincing and implausible, and was persuaded by the impossibility argument. The other two, Chief Justice Ferguson and Justice Maxwell, didn’t buy it. The appeal judges joined the trial judge and jury in being the only people who have seen the testimony of the surviving victim and, having watched his evidence, they said that “he came across as someone who was telling the truth”.

In the end, the majority judges found there was nothing in the case compelling a finding that the jury “must have had a doubt” about the truth of what the victim said. They didn’t find a doubt within themselves, and so there was no basis for deciding that the jury necessarily got it wrong.

Pell’s other two appeal grounds were technical. All three judges were against him on these. One was that the trial judge had erred in refusing to allow Pell’s counsel to show the jury an “animation” of the cathedral, showing how people would have moved through it on a typical Sunday after mass (when the principal crime occurred). The trial judge excluded it because it wasn’t evidence; it was an interpretation of evidence. The appeal court agreed, stating that it could have misled or confused the jury.

The final ground was a very technical alleged irregularity in Pell’s arraignment, which is required by law to take place in the presence of the jury panel. The panel was in a different room at that moment, watching by video link. The appeal court held that “presence” doesn’t require being in the same room.  

After the trial verdict was made public, I wrote that those attacking it were undermining the rule of law and behaving with deep hypocrisy. They, through the medium of Pell’s appeal counsel Bret Walker SC — the absolute best representation one could have — have now had their objection heard. It was singular: that Pell could not have committed these crimes. The Court of Appeal’s reply: no, you’re wrong, it was entirely possible and, in fact, we can see why the jury reached the verdict it did.

Put aside anyone’s personal reverence for Pell the cardinal, or the church for which he has been a steadfast warrior; ignore their consequently blinkered conviction that he must be innocent at all costs. Look at the facts.

These include, apart from the evidence in Pell’s own case, the objective truth of child sexual abuse. It happens in the dark. Its perpetrators are men of power, wielding that power, frequently within institutional settings. The royal commission exposed that the men who do this evil are men like Pell.

That doesn’t mean that Pell is guilty, of course. It means that the loud protestation that he could not be guilty because of who he is, is as lacking in foundation as the Catholic Church’s continuing claim to moral authority.

Add to that the testimony of his victim, believed by an impartial jury and now further vindicated by the Court of Appeal, and there is nothing left to accept but that the law has spoken with definitive force. Pell’s disgrace is affirmed.

Survivors of abuse can find support by calling Bravehearts at 1800 272 831 or the Blue Knot Foundation at 1300 657 380. The Kids Helpline is 1800 55 1800.

Peter Fray

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Mr Smith
Mr Smith
1 year ago

Agree that the conviction now cannot be questioned.

I don’t have any expertise in this area, but wouldn’t most perpetrators of sexual abuse this grievous, no matter how powerful, be far more careful in their offending? Grooming the victim over time, ensuring they are alone, choosing a more private location?

None of which makes Pell less guilty. But the “facts” of sexual abuse go both ways in this case. Some aspects of the offending are very unusual, at least from my layman’s perspective.

Richard Shortt
Richard Shortt
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Smith

Dear Mr Smith, you continue to discount the findings. Why?

Mr Smith
Mr Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Shortt

@Richard: I’m not trying to discoun the findings. Just responding to the “facts” around sexual abuse raised in the article (“It happens in the dark. Its perpetrators are men of power…”). Those particular facts do fit this case, but (in my non-expert view) other characteristics of Pell’s offending are well outside the “normal” pattern of sexual predators.

As I said, I accept the verdict – no one outside jury and judges have seen the victim’s testimony.

But I think it remains a highly unusual case compared to other trials brought against abusers who are priests or similar. The article though, seems to be proposing we see it as an unremarkable case given the history of clerical abuse.

Graeski
Graeski
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Smith

I agree. I think to many of us looking from the outside, the case against Pell seems extremely weak from many viewpoints, including its statistical improbability (so many people having to be in just the right place at just the right time) to the recklessness and stupidity of the actions by such an obviously risk-averse and intelligent man. I can even almost feel empathy for Andrew Bolt: if someone with such a low opinion of the Catholic Church as myself feels this way, how much more difficult must it be for a member of the flock?

The one thing we are all missing, though, is the testimony of the witness. And clearly, in this case, the testimony of the witness must have been absolutely believable. So much so that, even though they must have had the same doubts we had, it was enough to convince the judge and jury of Pell’s guilt.

This means that no matter how much we might question the likelihood of the charges, we are just not as qualified to make a judgement as the jury. Of course, juries do get it wrong sometimes. That’s why there are avenues of appeal. But for us to insist that we might have it right on the basis of lesser evidence than the jury, which has reached its decision on the basis of greater evidence, is to undermine the foundation of our justice system. We nominate twelve good men and women true to stand for us as society and to hear and consider all the evidence so we don’t have to. They are the final arbiters of guilt or innocence in our system.

To continue to attack their decision in the face both a verdict and an appeal, as some pundits are doing, is therefore to undermine the rule of law in this country. I think it needs to stop.

Bill Hilliger
Bill Hilliger
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeski

If ever there was a “Typhoid Mary” opinionist Andrew Bolt is it. He writes what his boss tells him to write. The man has no credibility on many issues he covers.

Marcus Hicks
Marcus Hicks
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeski

The unwillingness of Pell to be cross-examined was also not a good look, if we are being honest.

Mr Smith
Mr Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeski

@Graeski: agree entirely. The verdict, however unusual, must be regarded as settled. Bolt’s vituperation simply reveals how far he has slipped into his own solipsistic echo chamber.

It does raise an interesting legal precedent though: will we see more convictions where an alleged victim’s testimony is the sole grounds for the verdict? It seems to shift the burden of proof to the accused, to have to demonstrate that he (or she) could not possibly have committed the offence.

RoRo
RoRo
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Smith

Speaking as a legal practitioner who works in the magistrates court, it’s actually not uncommon for a complainant’s evidence alone to be accepted without any corroboration from other witnesses. The finder of fact is lawfully able to find the accused guilty based on one witness.

One of my colleagues appealed a matter where our client had been found guilty of assaulting his ex based on the ex’s evidence alone. The magistrate said that he considered that she was a “witness of truth” and accepted her evidence. We appealed on the basis that you can’t find someone guilty based on one witness and the appeal was struck down because the appeal court said “well the trial magistrate found the one witness to be a witness of truth and that is enough for a finding of guilty”.

You’re right to say that it reverses the onus of proof somewhat. Although if the defence can’t demonstrate reasonable doubt because the complainant’s story and credibility holds up through cross-examination there’s no reason why a single witness cannot ground a finding of guilt.

R. Ambrose Raven
R. Ambrose Raven
1 year ago
Reply to  RoRo

This issue simply highlights how people ignorant of the law themselves pass judgement on it.

old greybearded one
old greybearded one
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeski

The law is also dogshit if it allows someone who, at the very best interpretation facilitated the predatory paedophiles in his diocese to continue their work, to go unpunished. I do not know if he is guilty, but I know there is no reason why he could not be. What you are saying is that the victim cannot be the sole witness to the crime because hey he’s a cardinal. Bullshit. We have a pope who was canonised despite being a massive protector of paedophile priests and embezzling bishops. His name was John Paul II.

BaBr
BaBr
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeski

Then why hear any witness statement at all?
The witness does not have to prove anything. Not does a victim have to prove anything.
The onus of proof is on the prosecution. There’s no reason why the prosecution could never possibly base their case on witness statements. And if they do, it is up to the jury to decide whether the proof brought on by the prosecution is good enough.
Which is exactly what happened here.

R. Ambrose Raven
R. Ambrose Raven
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeski

” “The witness is believable”. Isn’t this what actors (Hollywood) train to do? It does not mean he was telling the truth. ”

Pathetic. It does not mean he was not telling the truth. My confidence in the jury and the appeal court majority is steadily increasing as I read the comments from the naysayers.

Observe their refusal to allow reasonable doubt. Just as Cardinal Pell could not recall what was discussed at a relevant meeting, he said he could recall that the concealment of a sexual abus eclaim was not discussed. He was in no doubt about that, either.

portal1943@gmail.com
1 year ago
Reply to  Graeski

This is quite funny Greaski. Like some others (e.;g. mr Smith) you say how implausible the conviction and then say we all have to respect it. My arse. Richard Mullins [email protected]

wifeofbath
wifeofbath
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Smith

As to being ‘careful’, this was addressed at the trial. Consistent with cases considered in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual
Such confidence, where status/power/authority is assured, is not at all uncommon.

The ‘Grooming’ you mention needn’t occur at all, but in this case, the catholic church had (inadvertently) done the job for Pell as it had for all of the offending priests: the priest, the cardinal represents God, to all intents and purposes IS God.
If you read the comments Justice Kidd made prior to sentencing, this distinction between the power embodied by Pell (his own council attempted to portray him outside the actual church service as ‘just a man’, an argument rejected utterly by Kidd) and the total lack of power, the vulnerability, of the choristers (the boys described as whimpering, crying, struggling; terrified, pleading to be let go) is striking.

As Graeski has mentioned, we have to remember that we – unlike the jury and the judges involved in both the case and the appeal – have not heard the full testimony of the complainant. A complainant who gave evidence and was subjected to cross-examination for several days (unlike Pell, who, as the complainant noted ‘did not allow himself to be cross-examined’): a complainant who has asked for nothing – specifically, nothing by was of financial compensation – but to be heard:

“Some commentators have suggested that I reported to the police somehow for my own personal gain.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I have risked my privacy, my health, my wellbeing, my family.
I have not instructed any solicitor in relation to a claim for compensation. This is not about money and never had been.
Although my faith has taken a battering it is still a part of my life, and part of the lives of my loved ones.’

Mr Smith
Mr Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  wifeofbath

@WifeOfBath: Agree with your points. However, it still seems to me like a hugely risky undertaking to cause two young boys such grievous harm – in the same place, at the same time – with the expectation that neither would speak, and no one would subsequently notice their distress and investigate.

Yes, I understand that the boys would have felt horribly ashamed and afraid. And that the idea of abuse from a trusted church leader would have been incomprehensible to their parents. It still strikes me as an odd way for Pell to conduct himself at such a critical time in his clerical career. (And that no other complaints have yet been brought forward of similar seriousness. If there have been other victims of Pell that are alive, I hope they gain some confidence from this decision and provide testimony in a way that heals rather than hurts them.)

Clearly, the victim’s testimony must have been received as utterly compelling and truthful.

BaBr
BaBr
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Smith

He died need to expect that they’d never speak. He only needed to expect that if they ever spoke, they wouldn’t be heard.
And he pretty much would have known that to be the case. Wasn’t he the one who made sure that victims wouldn’t be heard? That just because people noticed their distress, didn’t mean anyone would investigate anything?
It’s a perfectly reasonable assessment of the world, if oeople in power assume that their crimes against those weaker than themselves will go unpunished. *Especially* sexual crimes. But not exclusively.

BaBr
BaBr
1 year ago
Reply to  BaBr

*died ->didn’t.

Wayne Robinson
Wayne Robinson
1 year ago
Reply to  wifeofbath

Richard,

What evidence do you have that the plaintiff complained because of his seeking financial or other advantage?

Tell you what. If he does claim financial compensation, I’ll admit you’re right.

But anyway. His solicitor made the statement, because he’s anonymous. It would be pointless for him to make a statement personally if he’s going to remain anonymous.

BaBr
BaBr
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Smith

Why would he have been particularly careful? He could be confident that even if the children confided in anyone, they’d be shut down – nobody would listen to them, or their parents, or whoever else more decent but less powerful than himself. That’s what the RC showed: someone could have practically walked in on him, and the police wouldn’t have lifted a finger, his career would have continued, and the victim’s families would have easily been bullied into silence.
And he was the one who’d primarily set up the system that ensured that!
Powerful men such as Pell had (and frankly, have) very little reason to fear prosecution or even career setbacks for crimes against people with little power. Especially for sexual crimes, they could pretty much assume impunity. Why be especially careful?

Wayne Robinson
Wayne Robinson
1 year ago

Lindy Chamberlain should have been found innocent on the basis of the ‘impossibility defence.’ Several eyewitnesses had testified that she was out of their sight for no more than 5’, during which time she went to the Chamberlain tent, took Azaria to their car, slit her throat with a small pair of scissors, secrete her body in a bag, clean herself of the blood splatter, then return to the tent to start the search…

The prosecution got around this by suggesting the the 5’ was actually much longer.

Well, we don’t actually know when the assault happened. It could have been immediately after Mass. Or 30’ after. The actual window of opportunity could have been very long.

Mr Smith
Mr Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Wayne Robinson

She should never have had to prove it was impossible for her to kill her child. The burden of evidence lay with the prosecution to prove that no other explanation was possible.

Her conviction was deeply and obviously unsafe.

BaBr
BaBr
1 year ago
Reply to  Wayne Robinson

Then what’s your explanation for the jury unanimous reaching the conclusion that not only are they not confident it never happened – they are confident beyond reasonable doubt that it DID happen? What is your theory why they can’t see what you see so clearly?

portal1943@gmail.com
1 year ago
Reply to  BaBr

A lot of juries are not very bright people. Nor are some judges. Frank Brennan’s father was one of the two high court judges who opposed acquitting lindy chamberlain on a 2:1 decision.

BaBr
BaBr
1 year ago

Oh, I see. You think the problem is just that the whole world (well, at least 12 out of 12 jurors and 2 out of 3 judges) aren’t as bright as you are. Garden variety arrogance from a know it all. Well, that fits your posting elsewhere that you suspect the judges who disagree with you just don’t understand the law as well as you do – a layman whose knowledge extends to having read the entire report (that they wrote)! Okay…

Wayne Robinson
Wayne Robinson
1 year ago
Reply to  Wayne Robinson

Richard, no we can’t be ‘abundantly confident that the assault did not happen at all.’

Richard Shortt
Richard Shortt
1 year ago

So, let’s just remember the torturous trail the complainant in this matter has had to walk to arrive at the point where the Appeal Court ruled him a truthful witness and Pell the offender. He had to convince the police. Then he had to convince the DPP. Then a County Court had to agree the case should go to trial. Then a jury had to be convinced. Finally, the Appeal Court judges had to be convinced. So, five layers of a system designed to weed out untruthfulness and fabrication on our behalf. This was not just a man who shouted ‘Fire!’ causing everybody to run.

zut alors
zut alors
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Shortt

Another pertinent matter is the fact that the victim is not seeking monetary compensation. He has pursued his abuser for no other reason than seeing justice being served.

AR
AR
1 year ago
Reply to  zut alors

You must have enough straws by now to build a substantial man.

Mike M
Mike M
1 year ago

And yet we still have senior religious figures trying to justify deliberately not reporting child abuse to the police……what a strange world they must live in.

They have learnt nothing and are in danger of losing what remains of the moral authority they once had.

What would Jesus do?

Mr Smith
Mr Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike M

I’d like to think he would beat a child abuser within an inch of his life, given his rambunctious response to mercantile activity in the temple of Jerusalem.

I really don’t understand why the church has not already been shut down by the courts or legislation. Any corporation or statutory body with the same history of crime and concealment and injustice would have been dismantled long ago.

Too many people in power answering to a higher imaginary friend?

Marcus Hicks
Marcus Hicks
1 year ago

Funny that these very same people will declare a Muslim guilty of terrorism, even if the charges against them are thrown out of court.