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A last chance for Australian justice

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of Cardinal Pell’s case.

Australian Cardinal George Pell leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court Oct. 6, 2018. (CNS photo/Mark Dadswell, Reuters)

My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on November 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.

Thus in 2020 the highest judicial authority in Australia will review the Pell case, which gives the High Court the opportunity to reverse a gross injustice and acquit the cardinal of a hideous crime: a “crime” that Pell insists never happened; a “crime” for which not a shred of corroborating evidence has yet been produced; a “crime” that simply could not have happened in the circumstances and under the conditions it was alleged to have been committed.

Since Cardinal Pell’s original appeal was denied in August by two of three judges on an appellate panel in the State of Victoria, the majority decision to uphold Pell’s conviction has come under withering criticism for relying primarily on the credibility of the alleged victim. As the judge who voted to sustain the cardinal’s appeal pointed out (in a dissent that one distinguished Australian attorney described as the most important legal document in that country’s history), witness credibility – a thoroughly subjective judgment-call – is a very shaky standard by which to find someone guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It has also been noted by fair-minded people that the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is the most respected criminal jurist in Australia, while his two colleagues on the appellate panel had little or no criminal law experience. Weinberg’s lengthy and devastating critique of his two colleagues’ shallow arguments seemed intended to signal the High Court that something was seriously awry here and that the reputation of Australian justice – as well as the fate of an innocent man – was at stake.

Other recent straws in the wind Down Under have given hope to the cardinal’s supporters that justice may yet be done in his case.

Andrew Bolt, a television journalist with a nationwide audience, walked himself through the alleged series of events at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, within the timeframe in which they were supposed to have occurred, and concluded that the prosecution’s case, and the decisions by both the convicting jury and the majority of the appeal panel, simply made no sense. What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.

Australians willing to ignore the vicious anti-Pell polemics that have fouled their country’s public life for years also heard from two former workers at the cathedral, who stated categorically that what was alleged to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did, because they were a few yards away from Cardinal Pell at the precise time he was alleged to have abused two choirboys.

Then there was Anthony Charles Smith, a veteran criminal attorney (and not a Catholic), who wrote in Annals Australasia that the Pell verdict and the denial of his appeal “curdles my stomach.” How, he asked, could a guilty verdict be rendered on “evidence….so weak and bordering on the preposterous?” The only plausible answer, he suggested, was that Pell’s “guilt” was assumed by many, thanks to “an avalanche of adverse publicity” ginned up by “a mob baying for Pell’s blood” and influencing “a media [that] should always be skeptical.”

Even more strikingly, the left-leaning Saturday Paper, no friend of Cardinal Pell or the Catholic Church, published an article in which Russell Marks – a one-time research assistant on an anti-Pell book – argued that the two judges on the appellate panel who voted to uphold the cardinal’s conviction “effectively allowed no possible defense for Pell: there was nothing his lawyers could have said or done, because the judges appeared to argue it was enough to simply believe the complainant on the basis of his performance under cross examination.”

The Australian criminal justice system has stumbled or failed at every stage of this case. The High Court of Australia can break that losing streak, free an innocent man, and restore the reputation of Australian justice in the world. Whatever the subsequent fallout from the rabid Pell-haters, friends of justice must hope that that is what happens when the High Court hears the cardinal’s case – Australia’s Dreyfus Case – next year.

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About George Weigel 428 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. This disturbing case will remain an indictment of the Australian system of justice even if the nation’s highest court reverses the decision. That someone could be convicted on such meager “evidence” with the conviction upheld on appeal, and then be imprisoned without so much as an opportunity to offer mass; all that alone condemns the nation of Australia and its legal system. May our good and gracious God bring a measure of justice for Cardinal Pell, and do so quickly.

  2. My hope and prayer is that Cardinal Pell is found not guilty. BTW what happened to last week’s important article about the possible return of the LTM in Catholic churches?

  3. “What was supposed to have happened could not have happened how it did and when it did.”

    Surely that should be “could not have happened how and when the accuser claimed it did.”

    I pray that Cardinal Pell will be vindicated.

  4. Cardinal Pell is not only totally innocent of the despicable, false charges against him, but he is one of the very greatest prelates in the Church today, up there with Cardinal Sarah, Cardinal Burke, etc. That fact is a direct challenge and embarrassment to all the other compromising, unfaithful prelates and the Pope himself, the Great Compromise Accommodator. Little has the Vatican done to stand for Cardinal Pell, while someone like John Paul II would have been in support of him. He has been totally abandoned to the rabid Anti-Catholic attack dogs, which in Australia, for whatever reasons, are even more constantly and strongly vicious than the already vicious ones here in the old USA.

    Abandoning Cardinal Pell is a political warning to Faithful Prelates that are totally consecrated to Jesus and Catholic Truth but not to That-Pope-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Cardinal Pell was in the crosshairs of these Anti-Catholic-Anti-Truth enemies long before this whole fabricated case came against him. We must pray hard and strongly support our holy Clergy against their corrupt counterparts.

    Like Pontius Pilate, who thought he was washing his guilt in water but was really washing them in blood, the current Modus Operandi is for Satan’s guilty children to wash their guilt by throwing it maniacally at those who are innocent, faithful and truthful to destroy them. This is true in our Church, in politics, in social media, culture, science, the arts, etc. We must stand strong against this False Guilt Vicious War by living and standing in the cleansing of sin and holiness that Jesus bought for us through His Most Precious Most Pure Blood on the Holy Cross. We are washed in it and not in the latrine of false accusations with its core of despicable self-righteousness.

  5. On this Feast day of St.John Damascene , related to the heresy of iconoclasm ( thus indirectly to Islam as well ) these events of ‘down under ‘ may be significant to draw our attention to the persons ‘down under ‘ as well – those holy souls in purgatory , thus to counter the tendency in many to forget them after November .

    Christmas Day , said to be when the greatest # of souls are released from purgatory – that is about 9 weeks from Nov 1st on .
    Reading about the lives of the saints help us to see how badly many of them were treated and we do not know if any of them , may be even our our ancestors are now spending time in the cleansing fires of purification , esp . if their choices have ongoing effects in the lives of their living descendants , manifesting as evil inclinations , such as of making false accusations , greeds , hatred towards The Church etc : as well .
    Moving the hearts to ask for mercy for these souls , when faced with any hurtful occasions and weaknesses in the living ,seeing in compassion that , there may be ancestors of these troubled persons needling help in their sufferings in purgatory may be one way how God brings much good out of the trials in many lives .
    Asking the saints themselves for prayers too possibly helping in same as well .
    That loss of connection to the holy souls may be too what our Holy Father wants to remedy as well , in a very gentle manner , in the symbolic actions of desire to connect with the primitive faiths that honor the departed and in reverence for the earth itself that holds the remains of the departed .
    That loss that came from the hatred towards The Church – let us hope that many many lives are moved to pray for the departed and in turn , to help all the living as well , before many are sent to such fires as well .
    May the Holy Spirit appease the hearts that are against us , enlighten the hearts that can favor us and hep us – may The Father command it and may The Son arrange it –

  6. The trial was completely secret – there was no public scrutiny because the trial judge had agreed to the application on behalf of the ‘victim ‘ that all evidence be held in camera. The ‘victim’ by the way, was an adult in his 30’s, not a susceptible child (which is the normal reason for allowing a divergence from the myriad of safeguards that are in place for trials, including public hearings). The result was, surprise, the weak evidence was withheld from scrutiny by the public (not that there would have been proper scrutiny because the mainstream media had engaged in character assassination for twenty years prior to the charges and would hardly have turned around and given honest reporting). In fact, when the news came out, the media allowed the implication to persist that the suppression order was on the part of Pell’s lawyers (because, after all, the evil Catholic church would do that, wouldn’t they). The trial judge, knowing that the evidence was unknown to the public, at Pell’s sentencing, allowed his sentence to be televised and proceeded to do a character assassination of Pell in the sentence, calling him ‘arrogant ‘ and a whole arsenal of adjectives that had been constantly used by the media who conducted the anti-Pell campaign, (the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC), for twenty years. As observed by George Weigall, the evidence was ludicrous- it was beyond bad, yet the trial judge, knowing that no-one listening had heard the evidence, acted as though it was serious and compelling (ie., normal) evidence, and the other ‘victim’s’ father (the choir boy who was dead but had denied ever being assaulted, but, of course, you can’t believe that because assault victims can deny that they have been assaulted -hmm), well, his father said just a few days ago (printed in the Australian newspaper) that, if the public had ‘heard the evidence’ they would have [been convinced] of Pell’s guilt. So the article in the Australian acted as an affirmation of Pell’s guilt in the eyes of the public (who still haven’t any idea of the evidence unless they have read Weinberg J’s judgment or read Quadrant magazine). Well, I have read the evidence closely and my view is that the best thing the prosecution had going for it was the suppression order. There is a deep issue going on here and I would ask that anybody with forensic skills look into it. It is more than just imprisoning an innocent man. I don’t know if it is a failure of the Victorian police and judiciary with paedophilia, and the existence of paedophilia networks using Pell as deflection (possible), or the mafia because of the Vatican Bank scandals (maybe). It is also a very good deep pocket for the absolutely disgusting ‘victims’ compensation lawyers, who manipulate the media with their use of fake empathy to evade rational scrutiny- descriptions of ‘the courage’ of the ‘survivors ‘ to tell their story and to have us hear ‘their truth’. The irony is, as you are aware, that it was Pell who initiated the redress scheme and cleaned up the abuse (not given credit by the Royal Commission of course). And Pell is detested in the media because he is portrayed as ‘anti- gay’ when the main stream media, who paint the ‘victims’ in mawkish nouns never seem to allow the patently obvious connection between the fact that over 80% of the abuse was male on male and their stance on hating Pell because he refused communion to some gay activists in the 1990’s wearing rainbow sashes.

  7. THank you for your empassioned, articulate advocacy to date, Mr Weigel. I am a Victorian lawyer and student of historical scapegoating phenomena, so I am most disconsolate, not by the insipid judiciary in Victoria that has been systematically undermined by an effective left-activism over 20 years of Labour power, but by the neutrality or credulity of my peers in the supposedly independent legal profession and academia, who seem perfectly content to find themselves on the “right side of history”, at the cost of truth, justice and human dignity. This is not a crisis of reasoning, but of spirit.

  8. This might be the other half of the ‘abomination of desolation ‘ that is in our midst – ..
    and the Holy Father , who has chosen the ( prophetic ) name after St.Francis , who tamed the raging wolf , has been often enough running to the hills of Mt.Zion, to The Mother , to bring the children , again and again , to help them to be free from the holds of the idolatry of fear and hatred against life itself , it roles as parents and spouses , also directed against The Father figures in The Church as
    well . – on the ‘noon hour of grace ‘ , on Dec 8th , that celebrates the graces of the Immaculate Conception ,
    to free us too , including those holy souls in purgatory , many of whom may be in our family lines as well, who too had fallen for the carnality , its glorification of the animal passions , including through influences of cultures that do same through animal worship .
    The Father had destined that One Man was to be The Word Incarnate and One Woman , to be the Queen of Heaven ; the enemy tried all through the centuries , to come forth with cheap imitations that The Father had to curtail again and again , amidst the chosen people , who were destined to bring forth The Woman conceived without sin and through her The Son , to free all from the holds of the slavery of the falsehoods of carnal passions that masquerade as cheap love but are deeply hatreds and lusts and envies .
    The Church well equipped to deal with these abominations and let us hope that we would follow the path of peace of St.Francis and help the hungry raging wolves , to find food and warmth , in the healing relationships of deeper prayer and love , for the suffering departed souls of own family lines as well .

    O Mary conceived without sin , pray for us all and deliver us all from all evil .

  9. Prediction: The high court on appeal will find some obscure reason for legal insufficiency and send the case back to the lower court. The authorities will then decide to not proceed with the case until they obtain further evidence (which will be never) and thus no one will be satisfied but all, except the Cardinal, will have their backsides covered.

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