Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

George Pell guilty
Cardinal to appeal verdict on child sexual abuse charges ... the fallout begins

Catholic Cardinal George Pell outside the County Court in Melbourne, Tuesday, February 26, 2019. AAP Image / Daniel Pockett

Whether his appeal succeeds or not, news of the guilty verdict against Cardinal George Pell on five counts of child sexual abuse will fall heavily not just on the Catholic Church but on those in politics and the media who were prepared to defend the institution – and the man – on faith alone. The former Vatican treasurer and Australia’s most senior Catholic, Pell left the Melbourne County Court this morning to abuse and jeers. This is an extraordinary moment for the church and for Australia. Pell is the most senior clergyman to be convicted of sex crimes against children.

In some ways, the trial can trace back to Julia Gillard’s establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – her final act as prime minister and perhaps her greatest legacy. Social media now is awash with the names of those who described allegations against Pell as a “witch-hunt”, like Andrew Bolt, or who attacked the royal commission itself, like Paul Kelly [$].

A Four Corners episode is coming from ABC journalist Louise Milligan, author of Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell. Today, she tweeted “Truth is the child of time.” Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that prosecutors have written to up to 50 journalists, publishers and editors at News Corp, the ABC and other outlets, who stand accused of breaking the suppression order over Pell’s case and now face possible jail terms.

Pell’s living victim, who was 13 at the time of Pell’s offences in 1996 and cannot be identified, released a statement through his lawyer: “Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life.”

Pell’s allies went right to the top. When separate allegations were raised against Pell in 2002, the then prime minister, John Howard, held a standalone press conference to declare: “I believe completely George Pell’s denial.” Most closely linked with Pell, of course, is former prime minister Tony Abbott, who, in this 2004 interview with the ABC’s Tony Jones, for example, gave a stirring defence of his meetings with Pell, whom he described as “a fine man”. Asked what he had discussed with Pell, Abbott got on the front foot: “I may well have been going to confession to Cardinal Pell … I may well have been seeking pastoral counselling from Cardinal Pell … What’s so sinister about that? … Cardinal Pell is one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen. I am a very imperfect Catholic. Why shouldn’t I seek counsel, why shouldn’t I trespass on the time occasionally of someone like Cardinal Pell?”

Pell was a merciless culture warrior. He was a skilled political operator. His biographer, David Marr, writes that he waged a war on sex and was particularly “brutal to homosexuals”. In 2000, in his book Who is Worthy?, the late Redfern priest Father Ted Kennedy called on Pell to offer a public apology to gay people and the Aboriginal community he had offended and oppressed. The then Melbourne archbishop, Kennedy wrote, had “on a number of occasions refused Communion to several people wearing rainbow sashes who approached the altar in his cathedral.” Pell’s position, Kennedy wrote, was based on a stated belief that the doctrine of the “primacy of conscience should be quietly ditched”. For Kennedy, this was fundamentally un-Christian, and a rewriting of Church history: “Behind Archbishop Pell’s actions and comments lies an understanding of sin, of conscience and the sacrament of penance in Catholic theology which … at best can be said not to reflect the primary insights of the Catholic faith.”

Those words, today, seem especially pertinent.


“We’ve allowed something that should really be a conventional policy challenge to become a kind of culture and values issue. It shouldn’t be the third rail of Australian politics.” THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Liberal candidate for Wentworth Dave Sharma in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age about a speech today at a Coalition for Conservation event in Sydney, where he is expected to say that Australia “should be doing more to address climate change”.


“His three main ideas are that we should have a universal basic income, that there should be a 15-hour limit on the working week and that borders should be completely open. It’s an appalling book. He provides no convincing evidence whatsoever for any of his ideas.”THE AUSTRALIAN [$]

Economist Judith Sloan reviews Utopia for Realists by Dutch author Rutger Bregman.

The Number

The amount of money Tony Abbott has raised to defend the seat of Warringah. This is more than double the amount raised by any of the other 46 Federal Electoral Conferences in New South Wales, according to the AFR’s Rear Window column yesterday. READ ON [$]

The Policy

“The independence and integrity of the AAT depends on an apolitical, open and merit-based appointment system … The appearance of a conflict of interest can be just as damaging to the AAT’s integrity as an actual conflict. Appointments should be made transparently and in consultation with the community, including the legal profession, to safeguard their quality and improve their diversity.” LAW COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA

The list

“One of the most frequent comments I heard during the dozens of public speeches and presentations that I gave on the NBN was ‘Why are you building this? No commercial company would undertake this project. The returns are too low and the risks are too high.’ That was precisely the reason the government was doing it, I would reply – because no purely commercial entity would undertake a project like the NBN.” the monthly


“Last week, an article in the scientific journal Biological Conservation made waves around the world. Its authors, who reviewed 73 studies of insect populations, claimed they found ‘dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 per cent of the world’s insect species over the next few decades’, triggering ‘wide-ranging cascading effects within several of the world’s ecosystems’. Headlines warned of an oncoming ‘insect Armageddon’. Google searches for the phrase ‘insects dying’ jumped tenfold in a week.” the SATURDAY PAPER


“Ally reclines on the crowded bar mid-song and sees Jackson properly for the first time. The instant their eyes lock is captured in an extreme close-up of her face lain horizontal, gazing directly into the camera. We know then that Gaga isn’t just a pop star moonlighting as an actress. She can seduce us with a look.” The MONTHLY

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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