Australia, Law, Religion, Top Stories

Convictions and Doubts: The Case of Cardinal Pell

On 9 January 2020, officials at the Melbourne Assessment Prison intercepted a drone flying over the prison grounds. Remotely piloted aircraft are banned within 120 metres of a correctional facility in the Australian state of Victoria to avoid the smuggling of contraband and other security breaches. This drone was not fitted with drugs or weapons or mobile phones but a camera its operator hoped would capture the prison’s highest profile inmate. That inmate was Cardinal George Pell, the most senior member of the Catholic Church ever convicted of child sex offences.

Pell was moved to Barwon prison after the drone incident. Barwon houses Victoria’s most dangerous offenders, including serial killers Gregory Brazel and Paul (now Paula) Denyer, terrorist Abdul Nacer Benbrika and Barbaro ‘Ndrangheta crime clan leader Pasquale Barbaro. It was Barwon where the leader of a prison gang beat well-known Melbourne crime figure Carl Williams to death with a metal rod extracted from an exercise bike in 2011.

From Ballarat to Barwon via Oxford and Rome

Barwon is a mere one hour drive from Ballarat, the regional Victorian city where George Pell was born in 1941. A natural athlete and a towering figure at six foot four, Pell played competitive Australian rules football throughout his youth, rising to the reserve grade of the country’s peak league. Pell’s football career abruptly ended when he entered the Corpus Christi College seminary in Ballarat. This was an unhappy turn of events for the young Pell’s father, a non-practising Anglican and former heavyweight boxing champion.

After finishing at Corpus Christi, Pell moved to Rome where he undertook postgraduate studies, and was ordained a priest at St Peter’s Basilica in 1966. He was then accepted to study at the University of Oxford where he was conferred a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1971 for a thesis on authority in early Christianity. From there, Pell returned to regional Victoria where he worked as a parish priest and church administrator, rising through the ranks over the next decade and a half. In 1987, he was appointed Bishop for the Southern Region of Melbourne, a post in which he served until becoming Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. Pell was head of the Melbourne archdiocese until 2001 when he took up the equivalent post in Sydney where he remained until 2014.

In 2003, Pope John Paul II announced Pell’s elevation to the Sacred College of Cardinals, the formal body responsible for advising incumbent popes and selecting new ones by convocation in the Sistine Chapel upon the see becoming vacant. In 2014, Pope Francis appointed Pell to become Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, the head of the Vatican’s finances.

The Scandals

Cardinal Pell’s ascension within the Catholic Church coincided with the decline of its own standing across the Western world. And Pell was not immune from the scandals that continue to plague the Church. During his first clerical assignment in Australia in the early 1970s, Pell’s housemate was Gerald Ridsdale, the man now recognised as Australia’s worst paedophile priest. Notoriously, Pell accompanied Ridsdale to his hearing regarding sexual assaults on young boys in 1993, even though Ridsdale had already pleaded guilty.

No complaints were made against Pell for the first 35 years of his career, however, even though he was surrounded by children throughout this period. While at Oxford, Pell served as a chaplain for Eton College. Prior to becoming a bishop he worked consistently in the education sector. Before an inquiry in 2013, Pell remarked that “in the archdiocese of Melbourne when I was here there were
 140,000 students.”

But in 2002 Pell was accused of sexually assaulting a boy at a summer camp 41 years earlier. An inquiry overseen by former Victorian Supreme Court judge AJ Southwell QC (an Anglican) was set up to investigate the claims. Because this was not a prosecution where a prison sentence was possible, Southwell stressed that the standard of proof was lower than the “beyond reasonable doubt” test used in criminal cases. Nevertheless, in summing up Southwell said:

[B]earing in mind the forensic difficulties of the defence occasioned by the very long delay, some valid criticism of the complainant’s credibility, the lack of corroborative evidence and the sworn denial of the respondent, I find I am not “satisfied that the complaint has been established.”

The next time serious charges were levelled against Pell was in June 2015. As with the 2002 allegations, the relevant actions in this case occurred many years previously (in 1996), and the sole supporting evidence was the complainant’s own assertions. The complaint was made three years after the SANO Taskforce was set up to solicit information and investigate claims of abuse in the Catholic Church in Victoria following the release of a damning report in 2013. Around the same time, allegations were made that Pell had fondled young boys in a swimming pool in the late 1970s, claims later thrown out for lack of evidence.

In February 2016, Police flew to Rome to interview the former Archbishop regarding the 1996 allegations. Pell’s denials were emphatic. “The most rudimentary interview of staff and choir boys at the Cathedral,” he said, “would confirm that the allegations are fundamentally improbable and most certainly false.” Nevertheless, in June 2017, Pell was formally charged with multiple offences. The trial commenced in August 2018 and ended in a hung jury. A retrial was ordered and another jury empanelled. This time, on 11 December 2018, the jury unanimously found the 78-year-old Pell guilty on all charges. He was given a six-year prison sentence. 

The Claims

The events the complainant alleged and which the jury ultimately accepted were as follows.

The First Incident

The complainant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and another boy referred to in court documents as “B” or “the other boy,” were members of the choir at St Patrick’s, an imposing gothic cathedral adjacent to the Victoria Parliament and the seat of the Archbishop of Melbourne. On a Sunday in December 1996, the two boys, then aged 13, broke away from the procession as it exited the Cathedral after Sunday Solemn Mass. They re-entered the church via a side entrance and walked into the priest’s sacristy. Inside they poked around, found sacramental wine in an unlocked cupboard, and began drinking it.

A short time later Archbishop Pell entered the room. Pell told the boys they were “in trouble” and without closing the door advanced towards them. Pell manoeuvred his penis out of his robes and, one after the other, forced the boys to fellate him. This lasted for a few minutes. Pell then told the complainant to take down his pants, at which point Pell masturbated the complainant and himself.

The Second Incident

Two months later, in February 1997, Pell allegedly pinned the complainant against a wall in the middle of a procession at St Patrick’s. Approximately 50 people, including several adult choristers and clergymen, were present for the procession. While pinned against the wall, Pell violently grabbed the complainant’s testicles before walking away and never interacting with the complainant again.

The Doubts

Several factors cast doubt on the accuracy and/or veracity of the complainant’s account. These include inconsistencies in the complainant’s timeline, the manner in which the events allegedly unfolded, and the fact that no one witnessed any aspect of the complainant’s version of events, while several credible witnesses gave evidence in support of the defendant’s.

The Timeline

The complainant initially asserted that the two incidents occurred within a few months of each other in 1996. It transpired that the first time Pell said mass at St Patrick’s was 15 December, rendering this timeline impossible. The prosecution then changed its story, stating that the first incident occurred in 1996 and the second in February 1997.

The prosecution’s timeline also relied on the fact that Pell rushed from the procession to the sacristy where the first incident occurred. But by convention the Archbishop would greet parishioners at the front steps after Sunday Solemn Mass, and three witnesses gave evidence they saw Pell doing so on the relevant dates. It is not hard to believe they would remember this. These were the first occasions Pell said Mass in front of his new parish, members of which would have been eager to greet the new Archbishop.

It is also a rule of the Catholic Church that bishops are not left alone while robed. The Master of Ceremonies, Portelli, was responsible for accompanying Pell, and gave evidence that he was never separated from the Archbishop while robed on the relevant occasions and would have remembered if he was.

Finally, the prosecution eventually conceded that special rehearsals involving the entire choir occurred after mass on both of the only dates in December on which the offending could have occurred. The complainant’s evidence was that after he was assaulted he went back to the choir room, got changed and was picked up ten minutes later than usual and never accounted for why.

The Sacristy and the Robes

The sacristy was, according to several witnesses, a “hive of activity” after Sunday Solemn Mass. It was the room where the Archbishop and concelebrant priests vested and de-vested, and where the Dean brought collection monies after Mass to be stored in the vault (where several witnesses said the wine was also stored and was therefore inaccessible). The complainant asserted Pell left the door wide open while he committed the crimes, and that no one arrived in the five to six minutes during which the assaults occurred.

When questioned about how Pell revealed himself while robed, the complainant said Pell manoeuvred his robes to one side. Several clergymen gave evidence that the arrangement of the Archbishop’s vestments would have made this impossible. These consisted of an alb which is an ankle length tunic with no opening at the front, and a chasuble which is a knee-length overthrow. Both are fixed by a rope called a cincture which acts as a belt and which Portelli assisted the Archbishop to affix and undo. It would have been possible for the Archbishop to reveal himself to the boys in the sacristy. But it would not have been possible for him to do so in the manner the complainant alleged.

The Lack of Witnesses

The other boy died of a heroin overdose in 2014 at the age of 31. He was asked during his life whether he had ever been “interfered with” at St Patrick’s Cathedral and responded he had not. It was not until soon after the other boy died that the complainant went to police, leaving no possibility of the first (and more serious) crimes being corroborated.

There could have been corroboration of other aspects of the complainant’s version of events, however. Indeed several witnesses said they would have noticed a chorister leaving the procession as it traversed the nave and that they did not. The complainant provided no explanation for this or for how he and the other boy made it back into the choir room unnoticed. There were no witnesses to the second event either. 

The Abolition of Legal Safeguards

Three legislative changes had a significant effect on the trial.

First, as little as twenty years ago, prosecutions based on historical facts, if brought at all, would have been stayed as an abuse of process. This was because memory is prone to corruption over time, and because it becomes more difficult to obtain objective evidence to either substantiate or refute facts the longer in the past they are alleged to have occurred. Further, since 2014, judges in Victoria have been required to inform juries in cases like Pell’s that “people may react differently to sexual offences and there is no typical, proper or normal response to a sexual offence”; and that “delay in making a complaint in respect of a sexual offence is a common occurrence.”

Second, until 1980, cases in which a prosecution relied solely on uncorroborated testimony, the presiding judge would warn the jury about the unreliability of such evidence. The reason for this was that an honest complainant may have imperfect memories, some complainants are dishonest, and others may be delusional. The case of Carl Beech is instructive in this regard. In 2014, British police set up “Operation Midland” in response to Beech’s claims. Reputations were destroyed. Innocent men were arrested. Doors were knocked down in midnight raids. All based on the claims of a mentally ill fantasist.

Third, until 2006, both witnesses and the accused had to be physically present at trials so that juries could assess their demeanour. In Pell’s first trial which resulted in a hung jury, the complainant’s examination-in-chief was recorded before the trial, while the cross-examination was filmed outside court and streamed live to the jury. In the second trial these recordings were simply replayed. Neither the complainant’s examination by the prosecution nor his cross-examination by the defence has been made available to the public.

Reasonable minds can disagree about the merits of these reforms. What cannot be disputed is that they require appeal courts to review cases like Pell’s with greater care and vigilance than before. 

The Appeal

Pell’s appeal was heard in the Victorian Court of Criminal Appeal on 5 June 2019. The question before the court was whether or not the jury’s verdict was reasonable based on the evidence available to them. By a majority of two to one, the judges ruled that it was.

A Credible Witness

The judges were especially impressed that the complainant was able to describe specific features of the priests’ sacristy, and that he was aware the Archbishop’s sacristy was undergoing renovations at the time of the first alleged incident. Of course, the complainant might have remembered these facts because he was assaulted by George Pell in the relevant place at the relevant time. But it is also possible that the complainant entered the sacristy on the relevant day and no assault occurred, or that the complainant accessed information about the sacristies, the church’s history and the renovations it has undergone, all of which is freely available online.

More curiously, the majority considered the improbable nature of much of the complainant’s account increased the likelihood that it was true. The judges said it was unlikely the complainant would have invented the second incident because of it “markedly increasing the likelihood that the whole story would unravel.” They added that Pell not threatening the boys about repercussions should they report the first incident “tended against the contention he had made it up.”

Finally, the dissenting judge said of the complainant’s account: “There were inconsistencies, and discrepancies, and a number of his answers simply made no sense.” The majority judges’ answer to this was that “the changes seemed to us to be typical of what occurs when a person is questioned on successive occasions, by different people, about events from the distant past.” The majority judges were less sympathetic, however, about memory lapses on the part of all of the other witnesses who gave evidence and understandably could not recall certain events which occurred over 20 years previously.

Portelli’s Evidence

The majority said the jury was entitled to have “reservations” about Portelli’s evidence because he was unable to recall certain facts about services held at St Patrick’s in 1996. They also commented on “the improbability—given the lapse of time—of Portelli’s having a specific recollection of particular Masses, in the absence of some significant and unusual event having occurred at one or other of them.” But the first incident was alleged to have occurred on the first occasion George Pell said Sunday Solemn Mass at St Patrick’s, and several other witnesses corroborated Portelli’s account about the new Archbishop greeting parishioners on the relevant dates.

The Vestments

In his first police statement, the complainant said Pell “was wearing robes and he moved them to the side and exposed his penis.” During cross-examination, he repeated the claim that Pell “pulled aside his robe … and he pulled out his penis.” At this point the complainant was shown the ankle-length alb Pell would have been wearing at the time, and asked how his account could be squared with the fact that it extended to the ground and could not be parted. The complainant’s response was that Pell pulled it “however way that was: up, cross, down, right, left. He pulled it aside to reveal his penis.”

One wonders how lifting an item from the ground up above one’s waist could be consistent with pulling it aside. Nevertheless, the majority concluded: “To our observation, [the alb] was well capable of being manoeuvred … in a way that might be described as being moved or pulled to one side or pulled apart.”


The majority asserted that dishonest complainants usually have a motive for bringing false claims, and that in this case there was none. The judges gave the example that “where the alleged perpetrator was at the relevant time in a relationship with the complainant’s mother, it may be suggested by the defence that the complainant fabricated the allegations in order to break up the relationship.”

There are many reasons why the complainant may have made up his story. It is also possible he convinced himself it was true despite the events never occurring. It would have assisted the defence if they could have proved one of these things were true of this case. But penalising the defendant for failing to do so was a tacit reversal of the burden of proof.

Indeed, reading the judgment, one could be forgiven for thinking the burden was on the defendant to prove his innocence rather than on the prosecution to prove his guilt. The majority repeatedly referred to the claims “not being impossible” and that the defence’s “fabrication hypothesis” had not been proved.

An Unsafe Conviction

No one can say with certainty that the complainant’s claims are false. Nor should anyone question the integrity of the jurors who heard the case or that of the judicial officers who supervised them at first instance and on appeal. But we are entitled to assert that an allegation is not a sufficient basis for a conviction in a civilised society.

The criminal law’s function is to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. But it is also, as the eighteenth century English jurist William Blackstone said, “better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” That is why the prosecution must eliminate doubt if a defendant is to be convicted. In this case the doubts are, especially when considered cumulatively, not just appreciable but overwhelming.

If a prosecution’s case does not meet the standard of proof the criminal law demands it does not follow the complainant cannot obtain justice. He or she may make a claim in the civil courts where the bar to proving a case is significantly lower. But a criminal conviction is a society’s ultimate expression of moral disapproval, and presages the deprivation of an individual’s most fundamental rights. Only certainty, not suspicion, can justify the state taking so grave a step.

If a complainant reports historic crimes and the state chooses to press charges, the burden is on the prosecution to prove the claims are true. That could be done by way of physical evidence, witnesses to verify at least some aspect of the facts, or evidence from a person told about the events soon after they occurred. As the dissenting judge in the Court of Appeal said:

[Pell’s case] depended entirely upon the complainant being accepted, beyond reasonable doubt, as a credible and reliable witness. Yet the jury were invited to accept his evidence without there being any independent support for it … Indeed, there was no evidence from the complainant of his having ever told anyone about what the applicant had allegedly done, until at least 2014. There was no forensic, or other objective evidence, to support his account. There were no admissions, express or implied, upon which the prosecution could rely. The case was built around the complainant alone.

The law should pursue sex offenders decisively and punish them harshly. But we should keep sight of the fact that a claim, no matter how vigorously and persuasively made, does not prove it is true.

Pell’s case is not over. In March, Australia’s best legal minds will advocate on his behalf in the country’s highest court. Cardinal Pell does not need a miracle. He merely needs the High Court to reassert the basic tenets of the common law that have been jettisoned amid the understandable fervour to punish those who for many years committed unspeakable crimes against the vulnerable with impunity.


RJ Smith is an Australian writer and academic living in Paris. You can follow him on Twitter @always_polite

Feature image: June 28th 2017, Cardinal George Pell leaves his house next to the Vatican, the day he was charged with sexual assault. Photo Samantha Zucchi/Alamy Live News


  1. I don’t think he’s guilty of what he was accused of in court, and I believe the jury knew it, but said to themselves, “Yes but he covered up and enabled other abuse, which he’ll never be charged for, so fuck him, let’s get him on this.”

    I find it hard to shed a tear for him, honestly.

  2. Admittedly, it is unwise to consider a verdict fair or unfair, on the basis of a single article, even if the above article seems written with a desire for precision. That said, there are at least two things that struck me.

    1. Australia’s legal system seems wholly uninterested in a statute of limitations. Now, of course, a child can’t be expected to automatically report a rape for a great many reasons, but surely the clock should start ticking once the child reaches adulthood. A statute of limitations exists for good reason. One, it is very hard to gather evidence in cold cases, tying up resources and time that could clear more present cases with greater success. Two, if someone is a rapist, one would have they be apprehended with haste rather than be given a long tether in which to do more damage.
    2. It would appear that Pell was convicted on allegation alone. Worse, the accuser was given a wide berth for inconsistency. If he remembered exact details about the sacristy that was proof he was telling the truth but if he misremembered other details that too was proof of his veracity. It was a no lose situation. This is a little like the Harvey Weinstein case. The prosecution has asked one of his accusers why she sent him flirtatious messages after he supposedly had his evil way with her, and she responded it made her feel “safe”. The prosecution claims this is an entirely normal response. One of Weinstein’s chief accusors, Asia Argento, freely admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with him after he orally raped her and “ruined” oral sex for her. So… she wanted vaginal sex ruined too? She also met his mom. Is it normal for rapists to introduce their victims to their mom? Or for victims to dress up for the occasion? Yep, we should just “believe”. and while mass psychosis doesn’t surprise me, it will worry me greatly if judges adopt the same morals as the Twitterati.
  3. It’s very clear that clergy sex abuse is at the moral panic phase. I do not condone, support, or agree with clergy sex abuse. I was at a church where a similar issue arose (minister had affair with parishioner), and this caused huge problems. Clergy sex abuse causes terrible problems.

    That being said, the false accusation is always possible, and we must ensure that no person is falsely convicted. The case here is troubling. The “Kafka-trapping” aspect (in which defense against a charge is considered proof of the truth of the charge) is particularly troubling.

  4. Living in Australia and following the details of this case slowly I don’t think the authour has been biased at all and there are many experienced legal minds who can not believe he was found guilty or that it should even gotten to trial stage. According to rumour the first jury was 11 to 1 in favour but as one held their ground there was a retrial.
    This was a perfect storm of Catholic Church on the nose, metoo, people believing that all victims should be believed and Pell being a distant and unlikable character on TV. This always smelled of an injustice and we had huge social, political and media pressure to convict.
    I have even read commentators suggesting he should be convicted on behalf of the Catholic Church.

  5. Kiashu, if the jury did what you suggest, then they failed to discharge their duty in what for most of us is the greatest civic responsibility we are likely to be asked to undertake - the judgement of a fellow citizen on specific charges brought against him by the Crown, on the basis of the evidence presented in court.

    Neither you nor I nor the jury know whether Cardinal Pell "covered up and enabled other abuse’. Other senior clerics in Australia have been proven to have done so, but not Cardinal Pell, despite repeated gossip to that effect in sections of the Australian media. It is, however, on the public record that Cardinal Pell took a leading role in establishing a proper process for discovery and redress, in recognition that members of the worldwide Church had indeed engaged in just such improper behaviour.

    But even if the gossip be true, perhaps even especially if the gossip be true, it’s incumbent on the courts to judge the matter at hand on the basis of the evidence. Given the many years of vilification directed at Cardinal Pell in the media (Australia, for all its manifold civic virtues, has long nurtured a vigorous stream of sectarianism), in other State jurisdictions the defence might have sought a trial by judge alone - not available in Victoria. Which hopefully would have avoided the possibility of the scenario you portray.

    The issue, in the end, is not whether you feel sympathy for Cardinal Pell, but whether justice has been done.

  6. I have been reading about the cardinal Pell case for a while and it seems to me to fit into a pattern of cases against prominent public figures accused of sexual assaults which have a numbe rof things in common.

    1. The accused are men
    2. The evidence for conviction is purely historic testimony and often in itself deeply implausible.
      The article makes a case for this in the case of Cardinal Pell but what about Rolf Harris supposedly abusing girls during public book signings in the full view of everyone waiting for his autograph?
    3. The evidence for innocence is substantially stronger and more consistent than the evidence of guilt. In the case of Ched Evans, there were two witnesses with the same story, plus a video against literally no testimony at all just an absence of memory. He was till convicted.

    That prominent people with expert legal representation are convicted makes it clear that in tehse cases at least the burden of proof is for teh defence to proof beyond doubt the accuseds innocence. The defence needs to do so in an environment in which all men are portrayed as dangerous sexual monsters and there is a ubiquitous message to believe the vicitm and that false accusations are vanishingly rare.

    What is very sobering is that men with the very best legal representation are frequently convicetd under these circumstances and whenever they are found innocent there is a campaign to close whatever ‘loophole’ allowed them to show their innocence.

    In the case of Ched Evans it was only when legal restrictions against naming the alleged victim were broken that a new witness came forward who said that he had experienced the ‘victim’ behaving in exactly the manner described by Ched and the other defendant. This evidence about her pattern of sexual behaviour was critical in establishing innicence, yet afterwards there was not a campaign to name the accuser so that such evidence may be found and to remove the restrictions placed on the ability to use this crucial evidence but to prevent it being used in the future.

    What chance do we ordinary men stand if we happen to be the target of such false accusatiosn without the very best legal representation and with laws to prevent us presenting the most relevant evidence in defence against a background of villification and demonisation of all men and a campaign against due processs in such cases.

  7. The question is: would you care if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot?..As someone once said: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…

  8. Who apparently was such an epitome of innocence that she got a 17 year old costar drunk and had sex with him… Statutory rape is fine if a lady does it?

  9. I hope for two things in that case:
    (1) for the community’s sake, that you are never on a jury and
    (2) for your sake, that you are never a defendant.
    There’d be a lot to care about in both instances.

  10. Doubling down on the logical fallacy, eh?

    One of the cornerstones of our sytem of justice is that an accused can only be tried and convicted of the charge he is faced with. Once we allow anyhting else to happen, the communist death squads will not be far behind.

    If Pell was guilty of the things you say he was, then prove it. The idea that, he can just expect to be put in gaol over any old crime as a punishment for suspected cover ups of other priest’s crime is barbaric.

  11. Long time reader, brand new commenter. My personal experience with a brother who is mentally ill and has accused a family member of long ago sexual assault makes me very wary of this accuser. In our family case, my brother’s accusations came after many years of alcohol abuse and failing life and were the result of ‘recovered memories therapy’. THIS was the reason for his many problems in life, according
    to him.

    My mother researched his claims thoroughly, and found that the accused aunt had never been in our home during the time in question. Then my brother accused myself and my mother of actually seeing the abuse and refusing to report it, which is completely false. He became abusive toward all the family and has been diagnosed with Delusional disorder paranoid type among other things. He always has further explanations and sounds rational, but is completely not. Each one of his accusations has been shown to be completely false (indeed impossible) but he persists. This experience makes me unwilling to believe accusers who have no proof and continue to invent ever more details. Abuse of children by clergy is a terrible crime and when proven should be punished severely, but let’s make sure it is proven!

  12. @wildoh - you might not have followed this case but others certainly have and consequently have strong opinions. You can read the appeal documents, which covers the evidence:

    My family believes Pell should be in jail. Not because he is guilty, but for crimes of the Catholic church he represents and the people he associated with. That’s a common opinion in Australia and is a dangerous way to run a legal system.

  13. This is the main reason why the verdict is unsafe. Justice must be seen to be done. In this case it is not being seen, as the evidence is not in the public domain. But more importantly, I understand that that jury did not see the evidence either. They saw a prerecorded examniation in chief and cross examination of the complainant. That to me means that the jury were not really in a position to judge the credibility of the witness.

    It is interesting that the first jury, which did see the complainant give his evidence, could not agree to convict Pell.

  14. What sort of freak is capable of:

    1. Being at two ends of his cathedral at the same time, greeting parishioners at the Western transept while chasing two 13 year old boy-sopranos through the sacristy 200 meters away across a packed cathedral

    2. Holding two boys down with both his hands while using his third hand to insert his erect penis into the open mouth of a chorister, then simultaneously committing the crime of onanism on himself while groping the other lad, all at a virile 55 years of age

    3. Was capable of doing all this while dressed in a cassock, covered with a seamless alb, which itself was covered with his heavy priestly chasuble and tied down with a cincture with five knots, while holding his episcopal crook and balancing his ornate mitre on his head

    4. That Pell did all this within minutes of concluding his first Solemn High Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral so soon after being appointed Archbishop, mobbed by hordes of conservative Catholics who finally saw in him a bishop who seemed to believe in God

    5. That this supposedly happened on ‘any’ Sunday between July and December, despite the cathedral being closed for restoration for the first 23 weeks of this speculative window which arches from the depths of winter to the heat of summer

    6. Despite 20 police witnesses admitting the implausibility of the accusation and Pell not calling a single witness so confident was he that this spurious case would collapse under the weight of its own implausibility

    7. Despite there being no evidence nor a single witnesses to corroborate the sole complainants fantastical claims

    8. Claims that even went so far as to paint a deceased man into such a pornographic picture, despite “M.R.” saying he was never abused, even when such an assertion would have reduced his own sentence on an unrelated drugs charge a few years earlier

    9. All the while ignoring the successive changes to critical details in the sole accuser’s testimony, including insistence that he was caught swigging sweet red altar wine, despite the cathedral only using dry white wine and despite the cathedral sacristy being a hive of activity with very clear lines of sight

    10. Despite the immemorial custom, indeed necessity, of a metropolitan archbishop in full regalia always being flanked by his master of ceremonies, his deacon, his assisting priest, and two altar servers, one to hold his crozier and another for his mitre before they are ceremonially handed to the sacristan and assistant sacristan

    11. Despite Pell having instigated an independent commission into the dispicable crimes of a number of Melbourne clergy, including a request for the Victorian Police to assist it in developing the commission’s protocols. A request subsequently refused

    12. Despite Pell belonging to a religion whose founder declaimed “If anyone causes scandal to one of these little ones, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea”

    When first presented with this sordid picture, while serving as Rome’s third highest ranking official, Pell responded with characteristic candour “what a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish, completely false, madness” and voluntarily returned home to defend his good name & reputation deciding not to use his diplomatic immunity

    I attended Pell’s trial, retrial and appeal and I was his altar server in that same cathedral in the late nineties, I too can emphatically respond ‘what a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish, completely false, madness’

    As a kid I came across creepy blokes that my gut instinct said to steer clear of. As my local bishop, Pell was nothing of the sort. He was mostly affable, sometimes aloof and occassionally grumpy, given how many people & priorities were constantly vying for his attention

    After 20 years of incitement from a mendacious media, a corrupt police force and grandstanding public prosecutors, may God help any cleric, Catholic or conservative who is hauled before a jury in Melbourne in the years ahead

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