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Cardinal Pell Sentenced

On March 13th, Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years jail on charges of child sexual abuse. He will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months.

Some people have pounced on comments at sentencing made by Pell’s defence team, suggesting that these were admission of guilt. This is not the case.

In both Australian and UK courts, once a jury delivers a verdict of guilty, the defence may not dispute that finding (until any appeal is lodged) but has to address the court as if the fact of guilt were now established.

The presiding judge is under a similar obligation, so Justice Peter Kidd’s remark prior to sentencing that his comments and sentencing were made on the assumption that the offences took place as alleged is striking and unusual. I have been present during a number of criminal trials, and I have never heard any judge say anything similar, almost as if he were distancing himself from the verdict, and making it clear he was going through the motions as required.

Why would he do this? Perhaps because the evidence falls far short even on a balance of probabilities basis, let alone where guilt is required to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. There is a principle in English and Australian jurisprudence that if there is a reasonable explanation of the evidence that is consistent with the defendant’s being innocent of the charges, a verdict of not guilty must be returned.

Not only were there reasonable alternative explanations of the evidence, but on the evidence given in court by multiple witnesses, it was simply impossible for Cardinal Pell to have committed the offences as alleged.

Some people have suggested that since the court was closed, no one can know what the evidence was, and therefore no one apart from the jury knows the full story. But this is not the case. The court was not closed. Several journalists and members of the public attended throughout. Media suppression is not the same thing as a closed court. That simply meant that details of the case could not be published in Australia until the suppression or der was lifted.

The prosecution’s case was that following Mass at the Cathedral, Archbishop Pell had found two boys in the sacristy drinking altar wine, and had forced them to give him oral sex. The “second victim,” who died before the case came to trial, had said specifically that nothing of the sort ever took place. The entire case against Cardinal Pell was the testimony, more than twenty years after the alleged events, of a single person whose credibility was not permitted to be challenged in court.

The prosecution did not dispute that after Mass Archbishop Pell had been at the door of the Cathedral greeting parishioners as they left, or that after this, he had been in the company of several other people until he left for another function.

The only time in which the alleged offences could have occurred were in the period after the final blessing, until the exit procession arrived at the main doors.

In summary, this is what the prosecution claimed on the basis of the word of a single, uncorroborated witness:

As the procession was forming to leave, two choir boys absconded, unnoticed by anyone at the time or later. At about the same time, the Archbishop, celebrating in his Cathedral for one of the first times, also absconded, also unnoticed by anyone else in the procession, or the hundreds of other people in the Cathedral. The boys returned to the busiest room in the Cathedral at that time, the sacristy, where they found some altar wine which they began to drink, even though altar wine is never left there unattended.

According to the alleged victim, neither the sacristan nor any of the other altar servers or helpers, who would normally be constantly in and out of that room at the time, were anywhere to be seen. Archbishop Pell entered the room, unseen by anyone, and demanded the boys give him oral sex.

It was not disputed that he was wearing his eucharistic vestments. These consist of a close fitting cassock with thirty-nine buttons from top to bottom, a cincture – a wide band around the waist of the cassock, an alb, a long white robe tied with a rope or cord (both cassock and alb are full-length garments, reaching from neck to floor), and over these a dalmatic and a chasuble, both heavy brocade garments reaching to the knees.

Evidence given by the prosecution’s single witness was that these garments were pushed aside. They cannot be pushed aside. It is just possible that they could be lifted enough to give access to everyday clothes underneath, and that these could then be opened, but the cassock, alb, dalmatic and chasuble would need to be held with one hand the entire time. It would tight and uncomfortable, and movement would be almost impossible. This would still be the case even if Pell were wearing only an alb, stole and chasuble over his street clothes, as some parish clergy do.

The prosecutions’ case is that having taken a few minutes to lift these tight, heavy garments and open his normal clothes underneath, the Archbishop, with very limited movement and one free hand, chased the two boys around the sacristy, unnoticed by the large number of people moving between that room and the sanctuary, forcing each of the boys to give him oral sex.

He then masturbated to completion, rearranged his garments, walked back through the Cathedral and re-joined the procession before it arrived at the Cathedral door, again without anyone noticing, while the two boys re-joined the choir, also without anyone noticing either that they were back or that they had been gone.

All of this, according to the prosecution, from the time the procession left the sanctuary to the time it arrived at the door, about one hundred metres distance, took place in about five minutes. In reality (I have been to mass at that Cathedral) about three minutes. Three minutes!

The story is manifestly ludicrous. It is impossible, simply silly.

Juries get things wrong. Facts can be complex, laws confusing, and trials long. But the finding of the jury in this case is unaccountable. The verdict is not an indictment of Cardinal Pell, far less the Catholic Church as a whole, but of Australia’s mainstream media, and Victorian Police.

Operation Tethering, the Victorian police investigation into Cardinal Pell, started in 2013. It was not set up to consider complaints of criminal behaviour; there hadn’t been any. It was set up to generate them. This campaign included the placing of advertisements in Victorian newspapers inviting people to make complaints. If you invite complaints, you will get them. The police had their man. They just needed a suitable victim.

Comparisons have been made between the calumnies heaped on Pell by the media, and the feeding frenzy of hate and condemnation directed at Lindy Chamberlain between 1980 and 1988. The media have been evil angels in both cases, and in the case of Henry Keogh, and of Archbishop Wilson, and others. A rush to gleeful condemnation has become an ugly, but presumably profitable, feature of some parts of Australia’s mainstream media. But at least in the Chamberlain and Keogh cases, something had happened which required investigation. Juries in both cases were misled by mind-bogglingly incompetent forensic experts. For Cardinal George Pell, there were no incidents or complaints to investigate. Police had to go hunting for offences with which to charge a man they had already decided was guilty.

The verdict will be overturned on appeal. But massive harm has been done, to Cardinal Pell himself, of course, to the credibility of Australia’s media and judicial system, and not least to genuine victims.


  1. Joseph S. O'Leary

    The impossibilities multiply. But where do you get your account of the complainant’s career? Louise Milligan says of him: “The Kid has not led a chequered life. He’s university-educated, he hasn’t had trouble with the law. He has a lovely young girlfriend, lots of friends, he’s a pillar of his community in a sort of understated, slightly ironic way and, in that part of his life, he is, he told me, very happy. He’s managed, just, to keep it together. He’s been able to compartmentalise. He’s the sort of complainant you’d want as a Victoria police detective alleging historic crime.”

  2. Peter Wales

    Thank you Joseph. A fair question! All I can say in response, I think, is that I have far more confidence in the credibility of the people I have spoken to, including some who were present at the trial, and others who knew the complainant during his time as a choirboy, than I do in Louise Milligan.

  3. Chris Lobb

    The prosecution’s case is entirely possible had there been a tear (deliberately made, or otherwise) in Pell’s alb. This would have enabled him, easily enough, to expose his gorged member.

  4. Joseph S. O'Leary

    Chris Lobb, is it not true that the actual alb was shown at the trial?

    A new item in the congeries of implausibilities and impossibities is the claim that the Cardinal wore a cassock between the alb and his trousers. Is this mentioned in reports of the trial?

    Will the appeal argue that the jury simply ignored the evidence, and is this the kind of argument that appeal proceedings consider?

  5. Chris Lobb

    Joseph S. O’Leary

    To my knowledge, the alb was not presented in evidence, nor was it even forensically examined. Remember these crimes by Pell were committed some 22 years ago, so the alb is unlikely still to be around.

    According to the victim on whose testimony Pell was convicted, Pell ‘parted’ his alb and exposed his gorged member. As an alb cannot naturally be parted, the victim’s testimony would be consistent with there having been a tear in the alb.

    Roman Catholic priests do not wear cassocks (soutanes) underneath albs to celebrate/offer Mass. The suggestion is a desperate one, and is utterly absurd. For one thing, the cassock is not a required vestment for Mass; for another, the bulk, and the heat generated by it in Australia at that time of year, would be uncomfortable and unbearable respectively.

    Australian law allows a jury to convict a defendant even on uncorroborated testimony, however unfair this may seem. If Pell’s barrister attempts to appeal the conviction on the ground of unreasonableness, he will be going against Australian law.

  6. M. O.

    Thank you for this. I agree.

    Cardinal Pell has been stitched up because of his endeavouring to clean up the filthy institution of the Vatican bank. Speak with any Italian citizen regarding the elimination of Pope John Paul I – he who “died” after 33 days… (Pope John Paul I had stated that he intended to clean up the finances of the Vatican bank) He was eliminated, immediately.
    Italians recognise the Vatican as a political institution – they have lived with the history and politics of the Vatican States for centuries. Non-Italians seem to naively assume that the Vatican is only a religious institution. The history of the Vatican States is a history of conquests and wars. Popes were warlords and two members of the corrupt Medici family of Florence were Popes in the XVI century. The selling of “indulgences” for procurement of monies to finance the rebuilding of St Peter’s in Rome at the beginning of the XVI century was the brainchild of a Medici Pope, which led, ultimately, to Martin Luther’s criticism of the corruption of the Vatican – Luther, a Catholic, called out the corruption of the Church, and his criticisms led to, in due course, the beginnings of the movement of reform – later known as The Reformation.

    Pell’s verdict is a very grave miscarriage of justice. I found the sentence “speech” to be wholly abusive and shocking – I was left feeling nauseated by the condescending attitude of the judge. A question: what qualification has any of these jury members to make judgment?
    Pell has been scapegoated and there is a very nasty vigilante mentality at work in Australia.

    I am not a Church adherent, I am extremely critical of Church policies on abortion, homosexuality and cover-ups of abuse.

    However, I believe that in the case of Cardinal Pell, there is gross miscarriage of justice and this man is being scapegoated by both the Vatican AND the Australian judiciary and public witch hunters who are out for blood, at any cost.

    An appalled European.

  7. Alex

    Wearing a cassock under the alb to celebrate Mass may not be required, but I know priests who do. What seems desperate to me is the claim, years later, and on the basis of no evidence whatever, that there must have been a hole in the alb ..

    The complainant’s story makes no sense. Events simply could not have happened as he described. If a jury can convict on the basis of uncorroborated evidence years after the events, with no forensic evidence, and when the facts of events alleged are contradicted by every other witness, then none of us is safe.

  8. Joseph S. O'Leary

    I thought that an alb (yes, it’s unlikely to have been the actual alb of 22 years previously) had been shown in court to illustrate the impossibility of parting it or of manipulating it as alleged. (If not, would that not be gross negligence on the part of the defense team?))

    Slits in the side of the alb for reaching one’s pocket could be moved to the center only with the effect of impeding movement, and the same is true of any attempt to roll up the alf from the feet..

    If the archbishop was wearing a normal alb that had to be put on over the head the alleged abuse would be physically impossible — the hypothesis that he made a tear in it is absurd — where was the knife? would he not be providing a clue to possible investigators? and the tear would have to reach down to his feet.

    The archbishop is supposed to have rejoined the procession immediately after the alleged high-speed abuse, as the choristers rejoined their choir — with no sign of disarray in his dress.

    The best description of this is “deranged nonsense.”

  9. Chris Lobb

    Joseph S. O’Leary

    ‘Deranged nonsense’? Really? Pell’s own words, and an abysmal attempt by him at gaslighting (which you have done poorly to repeat).

    Pell is a convicted paedophile. And I sincerely hope that both the conviction and sentence are upheld (preferably with the sentence increased) by the appeal-court judges.

    Pell is where he ought to be. This, and the fact that little boys are now safe from the predatory attention of this lumbering coward.

  10. Chris Lobb


    The complainant’s/victim’s story is completely credible, and the jury that convicted Pell, unanimously, agrees.

    You need to open your mind beyond your obvious prejudice against the victim. Have you, and others here, given him even a moment’s consideration? Can you imagine how your incredulity, and scorn (‘deranged nonsense’), might affect him if he chances to read this blog?

    How does it feel, really feel, to be defending a convicted paedophile? One who stands at 6ft 3ins and who forced himself on two terrified 13-year-old boys for two minutes of perverted, cowardly self-gratification?

    Yes, I should be immensely proud of myself, if I were such a man.

  11. Alex

    Chris’s repeated assertions, in defiance of all the evidence and common sense, provide an alarming insight into how it was possible for a jury to return a verdict of guilty, despite its being abundantly clear the offences could not have taken place as alleged.

  12. Richard Mullins

    It is imposible for me to know at the present moment why Pell was convicted. John Rayner seems to suggests, in a catholic web site I read today, that the first trial was aborted by the judge when it was obvious that it was not going to lead to a conviction of Pell. This may be all above board. However the judge would have had the discretion to ask them to continue deliberating for much longer. Google says 4 and a half months is the longest time known of a jury deliberation.

    I don’t whether Chris Lobb is a troll for litigation lawyers. He certainly makes vile comments about Pell. Perhaps a percentage of the population are wired to ‘get off” on making vile comments about people they do not know.

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