I have so far refrained from any comment on the outcome of Cardinal Pell’s appeal. To say I was disappointed with the outcome would be an understatement.
I have written extensively about this case here:
The prosecution case was based entirely on the evidence of a single person, some twenty years after the events.
The fact that it was a single person, and the delay, do not in themselves mean the complaint has no foundation. But those factors make both prosecution and defense more difficult. That is part of the reason the Victorian DPP decided not to proceed with prosecution, leaving (highly usually) the Victorian Police to prosecute the matter.
It has been suggested that the existence of a single witness/complainant should not be a barrier to a finding of guilty, and that in some instances, murder and sexual assault, for example, there may be only one witness, or none.
That is correct. But in the case of murder, there is no doubt that a crime has occurred. There is a body, blood, at least a missing person with additional evidence of criminal activity.
In the case of allegations of rape or sexual abuse, the prosecution normally requires some additional evidence besides the word of a single complainant; bruising, semen, witnesses who can corroborate at least part of the complainant’s story.
It was unremarkable, though sad and disappointing for her, that Victorian Police did not prosecute Kathy Sherif’s long-standing allegation of rape against Bill Shorten, an assault she alleges occurred at a Labor Party function in 1986 when she was sixteen. Kathy was able to produce witnesses who corroborated many aspects of her story.
The case against Cardinal Pell was far weaker: A single complainant who came forward only in response to public requests for complaints, who offered changing and inconsistent evidence, no corroborating witnesses, no forensic evidence of any sort, and multiple witnesses who gave evidence that they were with the then Archbishop throughout Mass and while he greeted parishioners immediately after, when the offences were alleged to have occurred. For details and more information about the background of the case, read my two articles linked above.
The first trial ended in a mistrial, with jurors reportedly voting ten to two in favour of a not guilty finding. The second trial took place after months of inflammatory reporting, especially in the Guardian, on the ABC, and in Louise Milligan’s scurrilous book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell.
There was a carnival atmosphere in the press, a feeding frenzy of malice and bigotry, the like of which we have not seen since the Chamberlain case. John Bryson’s book on that case was titled “Evil Angels” the evil angels being the Australian media.
Some of the comment on social media has likewise been almost demonic in its hatred and disregard for truth. If people have not carefully examined the evidence and the background, then their comments say nothing about Cardinal Pell and his guilt or otherwise, but say a great deal about themselves.
Like the media-driven guilty findings in the Chamberlain case, the guilty finding in the Pell case is an indictment, not of Cardinal Pell, but of the Australian media, and to some extent, the Australian judiciary.
The dissenting judge in the Appeal, Justice Weinberg, was the only judge of the three with any history and significant experience of criminal cases. Part of his opinion can be found here:
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