The Case of Cardinal Pell

WARNING : Sex crimes references incl. child rape. Quite graphic, confronting and likely upsetting.

This needs a big disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, but.

I think the main point is that Cardinal Pell was convicted, justice was seen to be done, we all heaved a sigh of relief, and then – once nobody was watching closely – Pell was acquitted. I’ve watched similar cases happen over and over in the US, where black Freddie Gray was murdered by the Baltimore City Police and there were big criminal charges and an investigation, in which the DA quietly dropped all the charges a year later and the murderers got off free. [sun] Or, Breonna Taylor, whose murder occurred in a blaze of improper procedure and falsified justifications, turned off body-cams, and – the grand jury was directed not to recommend charges against the cops. Or Laquan McDonald in Chicago, or, or, or… And now Cardinal Pell. How these cases go down usually revolves around some procedural issue where, on appeal, the murderer or cardinal’s lawyers can claim that the case is invalid. In some of these cases, like Laquan McDonald, it seems obvious to me that the case was designed to fail in this manner; the whole thing is a weird butoh performance.

The findings of the judge that cleared Pell are [here] and I’ve spent a few hours trying to make sense of them, to see how and why Pell was cleared. It appears, to me, that there are slight changes in the testimony of some of the victims – which I think makes sense given that they were testifying about things that happened when they were teen-agers 30 years ago – but those changes indicate that their testimony is not valid. Money shot: let him go. [appeal court review]

Q: You say you have a specific recollection of the first two Masses that Cardinal Pell said in the newly renovated St Patrick’s Cathedral. Is that right, have I got that right, or not?

A: Yes, because I was responsible for setting up all those on those occasions.

Q: But you were responsible for setting up every occasion throughout the five year period that he said Mass on Sunday, is that right?

A: Because the Cathedral was closed and reorganising the new sanctuary, it was on that — those were special occasions and they became a unique occasion, opening the Cathedral for the consecration of the altar and things of that nature.

Q: Who were the altar servers carrying the mitre, for example?

A: I’m afraid I couldn’t give you — I’m sorry.

Q: Who was the altar server bearing the crosier?

A: That — the name [escapes] me at the moment ‑ ‑ ‑

Q: What did they look like?

A: The altar servers were between 12 years of age to 14 to 15. Usually they used to be Year 7, yeah 7 or 8 at the school, ‑ ‑ ‑

Q: Sorry for interrupting, but you said that you accompanied the mitre altar server and the crosier altar server back to the sacristy and you have an image of those two persons?

A: Well the altar servers, you’d have 30 altar servers, and so they’d be rostered on, on a fortnightly or weekly basis to serve different masses.

Tell me, do you recall whether Pell had long, or short, nose-hairs at the time? Oh, you don’t recall? Well, I suspect you are making the whole thing up.

What interests me about the appeal court’s review is that it does not actually make a case that there’s exculpatory evidence – it simply points out problems in the evidence that convicted Pell in the first place, then concludes that the state did not make its case “beyond the shadow of a doubt.” That can be said of pretty much any case in which the perpetrator was not caught red-handed at the scene of the crime – you know – like all the cops that are caught on video shooting someone in the back and lying about it, and they get off, too? It seems to me that all justice is thrown under the bus in these cases, because basically the state has to admit that it is incapable of proving fucking anything beyond the shadow of a doubt unless the perpetrator is poor or black or an immigrant.

There is a more detailed description of the swirl of events surrounding Pell’s acquittal, and – interestingly – it dwells heavily on vatican politics. [commonweal] Well, naturally, since the magazine is a catholic-oriented magazine, but in case anyone missed the point: who is fucking whom in the vatican has nothing to do with whether Pell was abusing children. That should all be a great big “so what?” except it amounts to that Pell is important because he knows where the bodies (financial and sexual) are buried so for goodness’ sake maybe the case against him was a put-up job by another vatican faction. That sure seems like a possibility except that we’d expect the vatican has much better kompromat evidence they could put forth against everyfuckingoneelse in the vatican.

Pell had been charged with assaulting two thirteen-year-old boys in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996. From the beginning, there was nothing normal about the way the proceedings against him unfolded. The first trial ended in a hung jury. In a second trial, he was found guilty by unanimous ruling. Then, in an appeal heard by three judges, two found him guilty while the third, Justice Mark Weinberg, dissented in a lengthy 204-page opinion. Meanwhile, a “suppression order” applying to cases involving sexual abuse resulted in what amounted to secret trials that in countries like the United States would be considered unconstitutional. The proceedings were kept under wraps from the public as they happened, and only a handful of people were permitted to hear testimony. The media was not allowed to report on the details of the trials until the verdicts were publicly announced.

Oh, that sounds legit. It is not enough that justice be seen to be done – but when it’s undone, that happens behind closed doors.

Now Pell has been acquitted. In their unanimous ruling, the seven High Court judges pointed to egregious mistakes in the police investigation, and legal errors in the decisions of previous courts. But that does not mean the cardinal has been found innocent. Australia’s High Court can’t declare guilt or innocence; it issues decisions based only on the rules of evidence, and in the case of Pell, it found insufficient evidence to support the guilty verdict. As Jeremy Gans, a professor at Melbourne Law School, noted: “The High Court’s key ruling – that there is a ‘significant possibility’ that Pell is innocent of the charges against him – isn’t a conclusion that he is innocent; it is a conclusion that the prosecution failed to prove that he isn’t.”

A “significant possibility” hangs somewhere between “a snowflake’s chance in hell” and “no chance at all” but that’s what the suppression order is for. After all, the 204-page opinion discloses sufficient facts in the case that nobody should, um, have access to again. Or something. It seems to me that there’s a significant possibility that the Australian courts are as fucked as the US justice system, and they don’t even have Bill Barr to help them.

The subtext is that Pell is important to vatican operations, so, whatever, let bygones be bygones. [reuters]

“He always intended to return to Rome,” said Katrina Lee, Pell’s close friend who is an executive adviser to the Archdiocese of Sydney.

She confirmed a report in the Herald Sun newspaper which said Pell was flying to Rome on Tuesday, but said she did not know how long he was going for or the aim of the trip.

When he left Rome in 2017, Pell was head of the Vatican’s Secretariat of the Economy which was working on cleaning up the church’s vast finances and eliminating abuse.

His trip to Rome comes just days after a powerful Vatican cardinal, Giovanni Becciu, was fired after Pope Francis accused him of embezzlement and nepotism.

Pell and Becciu were at odds over reform of the Vatican’s accounts.

In a statement sent to the Catholic News Agency on Sept 26, Pell said: “The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments.”

What bugs me is that Pell was probably expected to crawl under a rock and disappear after being acquitted but instead he bolted to Rome where the law can’t touch him again and got right back into the swing of vatican politics. The fucker’s 80 years old – can’t these sick old fucks let go of the reins of power? It seems they’re all set on clinging to it as long as they can, which says a great deal about what they truly believe regarding “the afterlife.” All I can say is how unfortunate that Pell didn’t share a limo and a coronavirus with Trump.


  1. StevoR says

    Pell was convicted beyond reasonable doubt by a jury who heard the victim live in court.

    Pell, who has had a lot of other cases that didn’t go to court or were dropped due to the ill health or death of his victims was then acquitted by a High Court that included several Justices ( ) with either religious incl Catholic and politically “conservative” / reichwing” backgrounds appointed by among other people Tony Abbbott who is famously close to this undoubted child rapist and child molestation coverer-upper & enabler. The appeal did NOT hear the victim live and accepted a defence argument that the jury had already rejected. It looks dodgy as and stinks to me.

  2. StevoR says

    ^ WARNING : Sex crimes references incl. child rape. Quite graphic, confronting and likely upsetting.

    Ditto here :

    Its hard to know the exact background of some of the Aussie High Court Justices but at least two or three are decidedly religious and Catholic linked specifically & others are also linked to former far reichwing PM Abbott who was famously close to & influenced by the child rapist in question here. My view at the very least those Justices should have recused themselves yet didn’t. I think Pell’s pattern of behaviour and historical comments minimising and almost approving of priestly abuse need to be considered here and weren’t – not adequately.

    Personally, I have no doubt of Pell’s guilt in that case and (almost?) all his other cases. I feel sure he’s committed a lot more crimes than we know of here.

  3. says

    Thanks for the reminder on the warning. I’ve fixed the OP and stole your words.

    The whole thing stinks like a well-aged bag full of fish guts and cat shit. Like you, I believe Pell did a lot of crimes, and what we’re seeing here is that the court has decided to do crimes to exonerate him. It’s shit all the way down.

  4. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 StevoR

    Pell was convicted beyond reasonable doubt by a jury who heard the victim live in court.
    Then why the hung jury?

    Pell sounds like a really arrogant SOB, and quite likely guilty but courts seem to consider all sorts of thing regarding proof that I probably would not. If the police messed up the investigation, then Pell may have slipped away on technicalities. That blasted “shadow of a doubt” can let people walk. Well, assuming you can afford a good lawyer.

    @ Marcus
    The subtext is that Pell is important to vatican operations

    And that the prosecutions may have been partly because of his muckraking/investigating, whether he is guilty or not. Vatican finances have been a hellhole for decades. You may, or may not, remember the Vatican’s banker found hanging under a London bridge.

    Assuming Pell “was” doing some real investigations a lot of people from senior prelates to crooked bankers to Mafia dons may have been nervous.

  5. kurt1 says

    Wonder if Tim Minchin updates his song about him: Come Home (Cardinal Pell) – Tim Minchin
    I will never understand why the insane QAnon people always storm heavily armed into pizza places, where they suspect underaged sex slaves, and not the places of all the convicted sex criminals who go free because of corruption.

  6. vucodlak says

    @ kurt1, #7

    I will never understand why the insane QAnon people always storm heavily armed into pizza places, where they suspect underaged sex slaves, and not the places of all the convicted sex criminals who go free because of corruption.

    Oh, that’s an easy one: because they don’t give even the most infinitesimal fuck about victims. The QAnon people want to hurt people, with a minimum of risk to themselves. They want soft targets to sate their appetites for torture and murder, and “pedophiles” are easy targets. The targets in question don’t need to be guilty of assaulting children, or even of actually being pedophiles- so long as the QAnon people can make enough people believe their chosen victims are guilty of harming children, the Qs will have the cover they need to commit the atrocities they so desperately want to commit.

    They would never attack a hard target* like a genuine child molester who is protected by wealth, power, and prestige. They don’t want to take risks. They just want to kill and maim people who can’t fight back. Most of the sort of people who espouse QAnon-style hate love powerful abusers, because that’s exactly what QAnoners aim to be. That’s why they worship Trump.

    *There is an exception to this rule: especially naïve and gullible QAnon/pizzagate/blood libel believers will occasionally take the rhetoric seriously, and attack some powerful entity to “save the children.” It never works out, because they’ve fallen for lies, but these “insane” individuals are nevertheless slightly more respectable than the average QAninny. At least they tried to do the right thing, no matter how wrongheaded their attempt may end up being.

  7. cafebabe says

    Yes Marcus, a horrible outcome. Worst of all, for those of us who live in Australia, we have to put up with people saying shit like: “Well, in the end he was found to be innocent”. NO! All the high court found was that there was a shadow of a doubt, in spite of the unanimity of the jury. The bastard was acquitted, not found to be innocent!
    Sadly, one of the two victims of the offence with which he was charged did not live long enough to testify.

  8. says

    Wonder if Tim Minchin updates his song about him

    It’s kind of covered under his “fuck the pope” song, but I hope he does. Shining a light on this slime-leak is good.

  9. jrkrideau says

    @ 6 Intransitive

    There seems to be something wrong with that article.

    He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison by Mr. Justice Wally Oppal, who is now British Columbia’s attorney general. After serving six months, the disgraced clergyman was released on $1,000 bail.

    I could be wrong but I have never heard of anyone being released on “bail” from a Federal prison. Also one gets parole not bail.

    The Christian Brothers scandal in Newfoundland was even more egregious, I think. The complainants were just ignored bf the authorities and sent back to the school.

  10. lorn says

    The bad, good, palliative, and prospects for a brighter future … maybe.

    Bad: Youths simply don’t make good witnesses. Particularly when the church, police, and courts push for or allow the case to drag on for decades. As in this case, there may be no way to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The good: Sexual abuse is so common in churches that it seems reasonable to demand special protections. Such as requiring that more than one adult is always present and otherwise entirely eliminating any one-on-one interactions that are not observed by a third party.

    The future: Churches are closing, Religion in general is losing power. The wider respect for authority is diminishing. The reason these boys were allowed to be alone with a priest comes down to an overarching and undeserved respect for the church, religion, and authority. Remove the respect for authority figures, remove taboos about talking about sex, and establish the rights of children to bodily autonomy and these sad event will not repeat as often. If we respect authority figures and religion less, and children more, the problem can be managed.

    Nobody should be able to molest children and get away with it based upon being special and above reproach because you, and the organization you work for, have a close personal relationship with a very powerful imaginary friend.

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