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Australian justice in the dock

As this chronology indicates, there is no reason to respect a process that reeks of system-failure at every point.

Australian Cardinal George Pell attends Pope Francis' general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Nov. 5, 2014. An Australian appeals court Aug. 21, 2019, upheld the conviction of Cardinal Pell on five counts of sexually assaulting two choirboys more than two decades ago. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Consider this sequence of events, familiar to some but evidently not to others:

March 2013: Prior to any credible reports of misbehavior being made against Cardinal George Pell, police in Australia’s state of Victoria launch “Operation Tethering,” a sting aimed at the former archbishop of Melbourne (who by this time is prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the economy). “Tethering” includes newspaper ads seeking information on previously unreported, untoward goings-on at the Melbourne cathedral in the past.

Early 2017: The office of Public Prosecutions in Melbourne twice returns a brief to those who mounted “Operation Tethering,” criticizing the Victoria Police brief as inadequate for a prosecution.

June 2017: Charges of “historic sexual abuse” from 20 years prior are announced by the Director of Public Prosecutions and Pell is ordered home. The cardinal vehemently denies any misconduct and, despite his Vatican diplomatic immunity, immediately returns to Australia to defend his honor and that of the Church.

May 2018:  At the “committal hearing,” a magistrate dismisses several charges against Pell but sends others to trial, saying that, whatever their arguable plausibility, they should be aired publicly in a criminal court. Meanwhile, a vicious, lynch-mob atmosphere continues to surround Cardinal Pell, in public and in much of the Australian media.

September 2018: At the trial, the prosecution presents no corroborating evidence that the alleged crimes ever took place; the prosecution’s case is the tale told by the complainant, who only appears on videotape. Numerous witnesses for the defense testify that the alleged acts of abuse could not have happened in a secured area of a busy cathedral immediately after Sunday Mass, with then-Archbishop Pell fully vested and surrounded by liturgical ministers, in the time-frame alleged.  After several days of deliberation, the trial judge tells the jury that he will accept an 11-1 verdict, if one juror is blocking unanimity. The jury then returns a hung verdict — 10-2 for acquittal — the jury foreman weeping when announcing the jury’s inability to reach a legal conclusion; other jurors are also reported in tears.

December 2018: At Cardinal Pell’s retrial, his defense team further demolishes the prosecution case, for which, again, no corroborating evidence is presented. The jury then returns a 12-0 verdict of guilty, shocking virtually everyone in attendance at the trial (and, according to some present, the trial judge).

March 2019:  While sentencing the cardinal to six years in prison, the trial judge never indicates that he agrees with the second jury’s verdict, stating only that he is doing what the law requires under the circumstances.

June 2019: At an appeal hearing before a three-member panel of the Victoria Supreme Court, the judges sharply criticize the flimsiness of the prosecution’s case.

August 21, 2019: The appellate panel rejects Cardinal Pell’s appeal by a 2-1 vote. The dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is Australia’s most prominent criminal-law jurist; the two judges rejecting the appeal have little or no criminal-law experience. Judge Weinberg’s 202-page dissent eviscerates his colleagues’ position, which raises the gravest questions as to whether “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” remains the standard necessary for conviction in Victoria — not least on a completely uncorroborated charge.

In the wake of last month’s incomprehensible and (as measured by Judge Weinberg’s dissent) dangerous rejection of Cardinal Pell’s appeal, Catholic voices were heard expressing (or demanding) respect for the justice system in Australia. Perhaps the Vatican press spokesman must say such things for diplomatic purposes, although the reason why diplomatic concerns trump truth and justice in the Holy See Press Office is unclear. But as this chronology indicates, there is no reason to respect a process that reeks of system-failure at every point, from the dubious and perhaps corrupt police investigation through the committal hearing, the two trials, and the appeal. There are guilty parties here. But Cardinal George Pell is not one of them.

As this scandalous process approaches the High Court of Australia, friends of Australia, both Down Under and throughout the world, must send a simple message, repeatedly: George Pell is an innocent man who was falsely accused and has been unjustly convicted of crimes he did not commit. It is not George Pell who is in the dock, now, but the administration of justice in Australia. And the only way to restore justice is for Cardinal Pell to be vindicated by the highest court in the land.

Those who cannot bring themselves to say that, in Australia or elsewhere, necessarily share in the ignominy that Australian criminal justice has, thus far, brought upon itself.

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About George Weigel 429 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Journalist and others in the media do not just use words to convey information, especially that which is covertly directed towards the powers of darkness.

    Shortly prior to the conviction Cardinal George Pell in Melbourne, Australia. I was watching a news report on the television, which contained an image of him leaving a chauffeured car to enter the law courts, momentarily while leaving his car and attempting to stand, in the running image of him, he gave/showed a hand gesture (Pointed downwards) which is known as The ILY sign, (“I Love You”) As it combines the letters ‘I’, ‘L’, and ‘Y’ from American Sign Language “by extending the thumb, index finger, and little finger while the middle and ring finger touch the palm. It is an informal expression of love”… Been an isolated instance I did not commented on it, or have I on any other matter relating to his innocence or guilt in relation to his trial.

    The sign/gesture given by Cardinal George Pell in the news clip, was facing downwards similar to the one shown/given in his right hand in the image/photograph situated above the article, seen via this link
    but the gesture was much more distinct. Seeing this image has prompted me to make this comment as I have occasionally seen this gesture used covertly over many years during Mass by ‘privileged’ laity.

    These ‘privileged’ laity colluded with the elite, in in what could be described as a Church within a Church which appears to be held together by a ..V.. which I believe signifies ‘one’ of the five points of the of the Pentagram. This given ..V.. transforms itself into a Circle of Worldly Power. All circles of worldly power rely on secrecy, this gives an advantage based on deception, and serves the Evil One. He cannot be beaten at his own game, the early Christians used signs and gesture, but these can be duplicated, then we have duplicity and confusion at play; for those on the outside, like myself, friend or foe you no longer know.

    It was put to me many years ago, “it’s a bit like the game of tag, you pass the lurgy (British slang) to someone else” Conclusion you then become part of Group think (The herd). While also been told jovially “the new holder of the lurgy always has the option to get rid of his load (Worldly troubles) by passing it on”

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

      • Thank you Leslie for your comment
        Our life experiences tend to influence our opinions, for over thirty five years as a sinner and outsider I have observed the on-going demise of the church by manifestations of evil. Not all priests are Christian as I can testify, as I have witnessed many times, over the last thirty-five years, actions that incorporate intimidation, duplicity, gesture, implied talk, murmurings and symbolism.

        Those who practice evil, the dark arts, are proficient in creating a situation where others do their dirty work, in encouraging, gesture, implied talk (To use words of power/association) in conversation with others, while been totally unaware, that are been used. This has happened to me, while other many years I have also witnessing others who been unaware, have intimidated others , which leads to division, as the recipient of this action friend or foe you no longer know. Our emptying Church’s bear witness to this as no (Worldly) lawyer or civil agency can expose what these evil men use, while smiling, as they are the tools of the Evil One.

        Perhaps you may consider continuing, via the link, the theme of this post.

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  2. An uncivilized and archly unjust legal system and community in Victoria, Australia.

    The prosecutors waited for the accusers friend, the 2nd altar boy, who denied the story to his mother, to die, before they brought the case, and then they arranged that the remaining contradicted snd uncorroborated accuser to merely testify by video!

    What a barbaric group of law enforcement and lawyers in Victoria, Australia.

    • Further to the testimony by video, the evidence was not subject to public scrutiny by reason of a suppression order (on application of the prosecution but represented by the media to have been sought by the defence). Even when the guilty verdict was made public, the evidence remained unknown. In this climate, the trial judge, in his sentencing, made inflammatory comments about Pell’ s character, in the knowledge that those hearing his comments had no grasp of the weakness of the complainant’s case (or victim/ or ‘survivor’ as they are described). If it hadn’t been for the Weinberg judgment, none of us would be aware of the implausibility of the claims. And, naturally, the complainant is represented by those who seek desperately to uphold Pell’s guilt as ‘believable/credible’, as though that is all that is needed to send a person to gaol.

  3. God bless you , for bringing this to the focus of multitudes again , in the midst of other such unfathomable evils , such as the lighting of the world trade center , for passing the satanic law of sacrificing children, thus themselves , to the very agents that brought in the attacks against the center .
    May those prayers for the victims of the 9/11 incident be there to bring
    deliverance , protection and healing for all these victims too, from hatred towards The Father , from an enemy that cannot stand the truth that our Lord is in the work of making us all , the gifts for The Father that we are , in Him .
    Soon we would honor Our Lady of Sorrows , who takes unto herself too , all these wounds and offering her comfort , along with the prayers of our powerful saints such St.John Paul 11 , who too dealt with enough sorrows of his times .
    May all such blessings bring healing and the speedy light of truth at all levels and into many hearts , that The Cross and its light far outshine the false lights of hell, from places such as the WTC .
    Immaculate Heart of Mary , pray for us all .

  4. I have read in detail the appellate court decision. In some places it is at variance with what some have said. For example, Cardinal Pell wasn’t fully vested in the sense of the celebrant of a Mass. He was presiding and was vested in soutane and cassock.

    All I’m saying is that his innocence is obvious for other reasons such as the complete lack of grooming.

    • The report says, “In cross-examination, Mr Richter put to Portelli a detailed list of Masses that had been said by the applicant in November and December 1996, and through to February 1997. Portelli agreed that the applicant had indeed attended, and celebrated, each of the listed Masses. These included the applicant having presided over a Mass at Maidstone at 3.00 pm on 23 February 1997.

      “Portelli said that he particularly recalled a Sunday solemn Mass at the Cathedral on 23 February 1997. On that occasion, the applicant had, for the first time, presided over, rather than celebrated, Mass.”

      So, at the Mass in December at which the accuser said he and the other boy were assaulted, Cardinal Pell was fully vested.

  5. Much has been said about Cardinal Pell’s vestments in the first incident after Mass in the sacristy but everyone seems to overlook the fact that the choirboys were robed as well. From my reading of the trial the choirboys were both wearing a soutane and cassock over pants. A cassock is a full length garment and must have added another layer of difficulty for the offending to have taken place. This was not mentioned at all by the complainant in his testimony.
    See line 443 of the trial transcript and no mention of robes!! “According to the complainant, after this, the applicant instructed him to ‘… undo my pants, and take off my pants …’ At this point, the applicant ‘started touching my genitalia … masturbating … or trying to do something with my genitalia.’ While this was occurring, the applicant was ‘touching himself … on the penis … with his other hand.’ This particular offending took place over the course of a ‘minute or two.’ Then it stopped, and the complainant put his clothes back on. He said ‘… we got up and we left the room’, and that he and the other boy returned to the ‘choral change area.’ “

  6. Same scenario as the conviction and crucifixtion of Jesus Christ. Regardless of any facts or plausibility, they would not take no for an answer. Cardinal Pell is in good company and his reward in Heaven will be great.

  7. The same thing is being played out in other countries where, innocent until proven guilty is not being upheld and the mob mentality seems to rule.

    It should be a wake up call to all Christian’s to storm heaven with our prayers and look at the signs of the time.

  8. This is an outrage that Cardinal Pell can get off scot free because he has “Pull” I saw the article on The Vortex with such disbelief that a person would do such an evil and disgusting thing to a child. The Pope is complicit in my opinion because he seems to not be doing anything about this. Why is he so quiet about these terrible things happening to the children? I will always go to mass but for a while I almost left the church. But , I go to mass because Jesus is there and no matter what evil is in the church, He will always be there and nothing can change that. So,I believe these priests and Bishops and Cardinals that have done such evil will get their just desserts, but they cannot remove the most important thing that our Church, The Holy Catholic Church, stands for no matter what evil comes along. They will have to face the final judgement and stand before the True Judge and Jury. Then they will have to say why they hurt these children and youth and others. Bea

  9. Why does no one ask whether this timeline really begins, not with the launching of Operation Tethering in March 2013, but with the regime change that occurred in Rome that same month?

  10. The Cardinal Pell ordeal and the legal conundrum is perplexing and troubling (at best). The Mother Church needs to HEAR today’s Gospel and act accordingly. What is happening throughout the Church is disgraceful: Not only about the guilty clergy, or wrongly convicted clerics, BUT by the Church throwing away these men, guilty or not… The devil is at work here, and the Church in its confusion is being deceived and NOT giving witness to The One who is the Good Shepherd… to the image of the Father in today’s Gospel, who embraces the son-sinner and welcomes him back. The Pope and Bishops should be ashamed for the way they are acting. True victims of sexual assault are due our support and prayer accompaniment in life; but so are those who have assaulted – cleric or not. Cardinal Pell is suffering tremendously right now in so many ways as is the entire Church. Australian Justice needs to get their act together and get it right. Mother Church needs to do the same. Read todays Goepel -9/15/19.
    P.S. Interesting no clergy left a somment…

  11. As a devout Catholic in Australia, the pedophile crisis has caused me and many people like me,great distress. That George Pell has been implicated brings great shame upon all Aussie Catholics. Pell’s integrity and reputation have long been questioned by people across the broad community over a long period of time. He is far from the saint he is painted as. Pell is not well respected and for good reason – he can be devious, manipulative and arrogant, just ask colleagues who know him well. I don’t trust him and nor do many faithful Catholics of this Nation.

    Pell’s elevated position does not protect him from scrutiny, thank God!

    Clearly, he is a convicted offender and attempts to minimize or deny his conviction says more about the bias of poorly informed international media commentators, rather than the prudence, impartiality and justice within the Australian judicial system.

    Even if Pell chooses to appeal to the High Court of Australia within the next few days, I suspect that it will be in vain – i.e. his conviction will stand.

    Surely Pell needs our prayers; but more importantly, so do the victims who have suffered grievously at the hands of Pell, both directly, and also by the decisions he made as the senior church elder within Australia.

    • “Pell is not well respected and for good reason – he can be devious, manipulative and arrogant, just ask colleagues who know him well. ”

      We’ve heard from a friend who knows him well, George Weigel. The “colleagues” you mention are not posting here; you are, so if you have any specifics with evidence, provide them instead of telling us to go to some nonspecific “colleagues.” Suppoe I were to say that “‘John Carter’ can be lying, spiteful, and unjust – just ask colleagues who know him well.” Would you consider that proof that what I say is true?

      Even if I were to accept your word (and I don’t) that he is “devious, manipulative, and arrogant” – he was not tried for that, he was tried for specific crimes for which there is no evidence and no corroboration and which the testimony of a number of people at the trial shows quite clearly that it would be nearly if not actually impossible for him to have committed.

      “Clearly, he is a convicted offender and attempts to minimize or deny his conviction says more about the bias of poorly informed international media commentators, rather than the prudence, impartiality and justice within the Australian judicial system. ”

      You mean like the bias of poorly informed Judge Mark Weinberg, who eviscerated the conviction in his dissent from the sloppy, illogical, and unjust decision of his two colleagues on the appeals court?

      “Even if Pell chooses to appeal to the High Court of Australia within the next few days, I suspect that it will be in vain – i.e. his conviction will stand.”

      And if it does, the High Court of Australia will show itself to be as contemptible as the justice system in the state of Victoria (with honorable exceptions like Judge Weinberg).

      “Surely Pell needs our prayers; but more importantly, so do the victims who have suffered grievously at the hands of Pell, both directly, and also by the decisions he made as the senior church elder within Australia.”

      What “victims?” There was only one accuser, and the other boy who was allegedly assaulted denied, before his death, that he had been abused.

      And to what “decisions he made as the senior church elder within Australia” do you refer? Lemme guess, you’re one of the people who, like the author of that scurrilous hatchet job of a book, are all indignant and outraged that he was just sooooo mean to that actress who’s involved in an adulterous relationship because he didn’t ooze sympathy for her on a tv show. Or is it that you don’t like that he refused Communion to homosexual activists, and rebuked them? Or are you just one of the Modernists who are in a snit because Cardinal Pell upholds traditional teachings and discipline?

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