Flat White

Hell’s Pell: the High Court has ruled, but the media demonisation continues

12 April 2020

6:07 PM

12 April 2020

6:07 PM

The recent High Court decision which unanimously upheld the appeal of George Pell against the Victorian Court of Appeal’s decision proves — once, and for all time — that the Cardinal is not guilty of the charges levied. But that hasn’t stopped sections of the media from continuing their journalistic witch-hunt (especially the ABC, whose editorial directly Craig McMurtrie has written a lengthy encyclical which finds their journalism as infallible as any Pope.)

Like many quiet — and an increasing number of even loud — Australians, I find it remarkable how tone-deaf our national broadcaster, in particular, has become. I mean, if Pell has essentially been punished for the failure of his institution, then according to the same logic, a string of police commissioners in Victoria should arguably be in gaol for far more egregious crimes. If this is the game the ABC wants to place, then what’s good for the goose is good for the gander…

I tried to helpfully point this out to Leigh Sales on Twitter but was subsequently blocked from having any further contact. Sales shouldn’t be surprised at Pell’s reluctance, though, to being interviewed by her, since she has taken every opportunity to use her taxpayer-funded platform, to declare that he was a “convicted paedophile”. If I were Pell, I wouldn’t want to be interviewed by her either.

However, without doubt, the most shocking example came from Clementine Ford, whose tweet would almost certainly result in a defamation lawsuit if it were directed anyone else but a twenty-first-century Roman Catholic Cardinal:

George Pell is a child abuser, a sexual predator and a life ruiner (sic). Apart from the children he personally harmed, he oversaw the harm of countless others. If there’s a hell, he can rot in it. I don’t care what the High Court and his high profile pedo defending friends say.

Only slightly more restrained was pillar of the ABC and moraliser on the media Quentin Dempster, who Tweeted:

Pell “innocent” headlines @australian. Also, His Holiness @Pontifex Australia’s uses the word innocent in a Tweet. This is a misrepresentation. High Court has determined that Pell’s guilt had not been established “beyond reasonable doubt”.  

In a similar vein, Barrie Cassidy pontificated:

The High Court has found there was not enough evidence to convict. It did not find him innocent. You are then entitled to maintain your view and you are under no obligation to apologise for holding those views.


How can both Cassidy and Dempster — both ABC career journalists — know better than seven High Court judges? Even more seriously, is their total disregard the central tenant of jurisprudence — that one is innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. So much for democracy, the rule of law, or even the guise of neutral reporting.

Not to be outdone was the ever-predictable Philip Adams, who acerbically tweeted:

High Court finds jury guilty.

Then there was this hit-piece by Kathleen Ferguson — another ABC stalwart— which came close to portraying Pell as some sort of old-lag hero and concluded as though Pell’s acquittal had never even occurred with:

Cardinal Pell was the highest-ranking Catholic official to be convicted of child sex abuse.

But to cap it all off was this op-ed by Malcolm Knox, a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, who inexplicably argued that, “There are 12 unmentioned victims in the Pell verdict: the jurors”. The result is of the recent High Court decision is that Knox believes: 

Appeal courts are going to be crammed. If higher courts can effectively retry cases and second-guess juries, if a legitimate ground for appeal is simply that the jury was “not rational” –- not that a jury has made a catastrophic error, but simply that it was wrong – the system can get set for an avalanche of appeals.

But as Greg Barns, barrister, columnist, prominent civil libertarian and lecturer in RMIT’s Graduate School of Business and Law correctly pointed out:

This column is plain wrong. There will not be a flood of appeals. The @HCA [High Court of Australia] did no more than restate the law which is that if there is a reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence you must acquit. Knox forgets that the evidence of defence witnesses was unchallenged.

It’s significant, and more than a little ironic, that over the Easter long weekend we stop to remember the wrongful conviction of someone who was, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest religious figure in history.

But it was more than just a wrongful conviction, it was the greatest crime ever. For it was against some who claimed—and proved to be—the Son of God. A man who also had twelve people fail to uphold his innocence at his trial. And yet, was in the end, gloriously acquitted.

It’s a timely reminder that as human beings we all make mistakes. Even juries. That’s why we have a series of courts to ensure that decisions are reviewed so that justice can be done.

Don’t get me wrong. Cardinal Pell is not Christ. And as such he is not perfect as either a man or an archbishop. But Australia’s media elites need to stop acting like Pharisees. And in their zeal to see George Pell condemned they should stop and consider those famous words which Jesus said to the woman guilty of adultery recorded at John 8:7:

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.

Even more, the message of Easter is that there is forgiveness for all. Those who are innocent as well as those who are guilty. Adultery might not be as socially unacceptable as it was just a few short years ago. But it is significant that Jesus refused to condemn someone who was actually guilty of it. Cardinal Pell, though, has been ruled to be innocent. But will the media, and especially those of the #love-is-love campaign, extend to him any mercy or grace?

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

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