PETER DAY. “Hands-up if you think George is guilty!”

The Australian judicial system will have its work cut-out ensuring the case against Cardinal Pell does not descend into a show trial cum media circus – some feel the horse has already bolted.

I remember watching an interview on the ABC a few years back in which an American professor of journalism spoke about, among other things, the controversy surrounding President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Conscious of the trial by media and soap opera prurience that abounded, he decided to put a test to one of his journalism classes. He asked his students how many thought the President was guilty of sexual impropriety – about half the class raised their hands. He then asked how many thought him innocent – again, about half raised their hands. Finally, he asked, “How many of you actually know?” No hands.

Similarly, it seems just about everyone has an opinion on Cardinal George Pell. There are millions of hands being raised around the nation, mostly hands of condemnation manouevered by a relentless and, often times, brutal media puppeteer that thrives on gossip and speculation. No wonder we have twenty million ‘jurors’ champing at the bit to pass judgment on a man they’ve never met – and on evidence they’ve never seen, or heard, or tested.

“And why do you think this man is guilty, then?”

“Simple; don’t like him!”

The conservative, God-fearing patriarch is, indeed, a much maligned figure in his increasingly progressive, secular, and gender sensitive homeland; a homeland where the seeds of atheism are taking root in accommodating soil, while Christianity – and belief in general -– is being treated like a noxious weed thanks, in no small way, to the terror of sexual abuse.  We’ve entered The Age of Enlightenment mark II with reason and science once again looking to squeeze theology and church out of the marketplace. This cultural shift is reflected in the recent Census which shows a manifold increase in people choosing not to identify with any religion (from barely one percent in1966 to 33% in 2016), while in the same period those identifying as “Christians” has fallen from 88% to 52% -– not a particularly user friendly backdrop for a priest, especially a Catholic one at that. But the pervasive sense of ill will surrounding the Cardinal is certainly not restricted to those outside the church. Indeed, the enmity within is even more acute as Catholics, like politicians, too easily gravitate towards so-called factional corners where their respective Confirmation Biases are nurtured and affirmed: those on the progressive left can’t stand him ‘cause he’s not one of us, while the conservative right love him ‘cause he is one of us.

I am neither an ally, nor an enemy of the Cardinal. Like most of the nation, I have never met him. Nor am I seeking to prosecute or defend him; that’s for those who are privy to the evidence. But does it not behove us all to defend the rule of law and judicial fairness? More than ever the genius of the Westminster system that holds a man to be innocent until proven guilty needs to be heralded from the rooftops, lest the mob takeover the courts. After all, it is utterly irrelevant as to whether one likes or loathes the man in the dock -– his demeanor and personality are not on trial. Further, it is intellectually and morally corrupt to blindly condemn or support someone based on factional loyalties, or personal tastes and biases: facts, please; due process, please; rule of law, please. Once these have tested the evidence, then, and only then, might we raise our hands with any confidence, with any sense of fairness and justice?

Whatever the outcome, there will be no winners. Everyone pays a heavy price: the victims because they are forced to live with the shame of a brutal breach of trust; the innocent because they are forced to live with the shame of being tarred with the same brush; and the guilty because they are forced to live with shame of the damn, unholy mess they created; not to mention society’s enduring hatred of them.

Amidst this winter of discontent, it is vital that intellectual honesty and moral courage are set free to usher in the light of truth.

Peter Day is a Catholic priest from the archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn

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17 Responses to PETER DAY. “Hands-up if you think George is guilty!”

  1. Julian says:

    Thank you Peter for your reply [7 July 2017 at 11:06 PM]. I have been absent.

    Your concluding sentence I think sums up the matter well: …” it will be a challenge to find Jurors who are impervious to the publicity surrounding Australia’s’ Most Wanted Cleric.”

    However upon this very subject I note Stephen de Wenger’s most recent comment (in part) that: …” it must not be the man’s personality or beliefs that are on trial…”.

    That’s a fair comment and ought perhaps always to be the case, but juries get to see the defendant’s face; to hear his voice; to study his manner and deportment and so on and that being so, any (strict) caution from a Judge for the jury to examine only the evidence produced in Court is likely to be honoured in the breach rather than in the observance thereof.

  2. To rumtytum…and then there are the accounts of how the Fosters were treated by him and the now notorious Ellis case, and lots of other cases few know about such as the Anthony Jones case. This is not a man to easily like. And yet, I was told by a good Sister from Towards Healing that he really is a good man and he has been much misinterpreted only due to his gruff personality. In the end, as many have said, it must not be the man’s personality or beliefs that are on trial, but what he did ‘unto others’ … or didn’t do but should have.

  3. rumtytum says:

    Loyal catholics seem to not understand that the thing that bothers people about Cardinal Pell, and has bothered them from the very beginning of this business, is that he spent so many years in the midst of paedophile priests, living with them, hearing their behaviour described, but never seeing or hearing anything, always kept in the dark. Would that explanation feel convincing to a reasonable person? It worries me.

  4. Peter Day says:

    Further to your question, Julian:

    I have a deal of faith in our judicial system and in the men and women who carry out its solemn duties.

    My concern in this instance is the extraordinary public scrutiny and opinion that abounds. Perhaps not since Lindy Chamberlain has there been such a pervasive sense of ill will directed at an individual.

    Interestingly, I understand there is provision within the NSW judicial system to exempt Juries from trials where public attention may have the potential to inhibit natural justice – I stand to be corrected here.

    And while it is certainly not “impossible” for the Cardinal to receive a fair trial in his home state; if the case ends up in Court, it will be a challenge to find Jurors who are impervious to the publicity surrounding Australia’s’ Most Wanted Cleric.

  5. Michael, thank you for the intelligent reply. You have clarified things a great deal. I did know of ‘mental reservation’ being used especially in the case of the seal of confession. However, as often occurs, many a law or rule or tradition can and does become abused or more loosely applied or interpreted (mental reservation itself has two forms, I believe – broad and strict). This is what concerns me and that concern stems from the issue of mental reservation arising in the Murphy Report and in our Royal Commission as well as in the experiences of both Richard Sipe and Tom Doyle when dealing with the Church’s responses to cases of abuse. Ideals are not always followed up with reality. In the case of the Murphy Report, Cardinal Desmond Connell explained the concept to the commission as follows (from here ):
    “Well, the general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be – permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying . . . So mental reservation is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.”

    The report cited use of “mental reservation” by church authorities in the cases of Marie Collins and fellow abuse victim Andrew Madden.

    In the latter case, Cardinal Connell said he did not lie to the media about whether diocesan funds had been used to compensate abuse victims. He explained to Andrew Madden he had told journalists “that diocesan funds ARE [ report’s emphasis] not used for such a purpose; that he had not said that diocesan funds WERE not used for such a purpose. By using the present tense he had not excluded the possibility that diocesan funds had been used for such purpose in the past.”
    So, the concept that the ‘truth’ need only be given to those who have the right to know, can and probably has been used very flexibly – not hard to understand when great reputations are in the dock. I wouldn’t say it’s a major issue here but it could be an aspect. One hopes that when the ‘whole truth’ is promised, that that will be the case.

  6. Julian says:

    Thank you Peter for your thoughts on this vexed matter: I note your conclusion that room be allowed for due process and the rule of law to be followed in this case.

    I note also that in coming to your conclusion you appeared to find it necessary to refer to and protest against a number of things, most notably: “..a…brutal media puppeteer that thrives on gossip and speculation.”; a largely anti-Christian environment, and factionalism within Catholic Church.

    Please forgive my ignorance here Peter, but are you saying that against this background it may well be impossible for Cardinal Pell to receive a fair trial ?

  7. Stephen de Wenger says, “This rationalization is often justified by the traditional moral doctrine of Mental Reservation. Literally this means that one does not have responsibility to tell the truth to one who does not have a right to it”.
    Not really. As I understand it the concept of Mental Reservation or Mental Restriction is for the protection of a penitent in confession. Or more exactly after confession. Since the seal of confession binds the confessor not to reveal directly or indirectly what is told to him in confession. So what should he do if asked if a penitent confessed a particular matter in confession? If he says No. He may have already breached the seal indirectly. The case is sited thus: over dinner a priest said that the first confession he heard was a matter of adultery. The wife went outside and shot herself. Before dinner she had told her husband that she was the first penitent to go to this priest. An illustrative case but it describes an indirect breach of the seal of confession. So what does the priest say to protect the person? The theory of the Mental Restriction is that anyone asking ought know that the priest cannot reveal confessional matter. So they can say virtually what they like as it is code for, “You ought as an intelligent person know I cannot reveal confessional matter”.
    But this applies only to matter told by a penitent in confession, not the parlour, the pub or as advice. It is an honourable form of professional secrecy. But it is often misquoted to suggest that clerics are not obliged to tell the truth when it does not suit them. Mostl misquotes are by people who do not know the moral facts.
    So if a person confessed to murder or child abuse the priest would probably refuse to give absolution and could try to get the person to reveal the matter to the civil authorities. What else can he do?
    As to the Pell case nothing I have read or heard suggests that he can claim a Mental Restriction kind of defense. However I think that he is a splendid target for what psychologists call transference. He is ambitious, alexythemic, cold etc etc. So many of the feelings and rage towards priests, the hierarchy or religion itself are transferred on to this aunt sally target. And scolding Pell is a great defense and distraction for the many lay and clerical culpable folk:teachers, cops, parents, peers, lawyers who knew all kinds of stuff and did nothing or delayed doing anything to the point of denial of justice.

  8. “It is intellectually and morally corrupt to blindly condemn or support someone based on factional loyalties, or personal tastes and biases: facts, please; due process, please; rule of law, please”.
    Spot on, Peter.

  9. Bill Burke says:

    Fr Day’s worries may be misplaced. The Australian judicial system has more than two decades of experience in dealing with Catholic Clergy charged with the sexual abuse of minors. Guilty and not guilty verdicts have been achieved. So, there is every reason to believe, when the headlines of” the world’s most senior cleric charged” lose their steam, the man, George Pell, will have his days in court.
    But Fr Day is wrong about there being no winners. As the year closes the Child Abuse Royal Commission will release its final report. This Commission in the form of individual Commissioners has given life to the Gospel’s Good Samaritan as they listened with healing respect to the stories of victim/survivors. Like the Good Samaritan they have been attentive to the ongoing needs of these survivors. And with the heart of decent adult citizen they will offer recommendations of keeping future generations free from harm. An achievement sourced in raw human suffering, but nurtured by patience, respect intelligence and integrity. Not a bad day in the life of a sub group of the Australian judicial system.

    • “in dealing with Catholic Clergy”. Yes, Bill, you are correct but only as long as those clergy are lower in status than ‘bishop’, and that is pretty much world-wide. Why is this the case? Is it that less bishops are ‘guilty’ of either abuse or cover up, or simply that there are less bishops, or, that bishops are getting away with more for one or another reason? They are certainly a more protected lot than the lower clergy.

      Meanwhile, the Good Samaritan story arises again, and well presented, too, Bill. However, what a lot of Catholics, let alone non-religious people do not realise (and a scripture scholar can correct me here if I am wrong), is that one of the main points of the parable is more than just that the priest and Levite were just heartless bastards because they just walked by, it is that they had the law on their side – they were forbidden to touch this man and his blood as it would make them unclean on their way to their , and as such, were able to justify passing by, and using the law to do so. Remember, Jesus was responding to a lawyer’s question. Jesus’ point, therefore, goes way beyond saying how good the good Samaritan was – he was also saying that priests and ‘Levites’ needed to stuff the Law and help the injured man, not to mention help pay for their recovery. But they didn’t.
      Now there is another Church ‘law/doctrine’, that of mental reservation: According to Richard Sipe, “A bishop responded, ‘I only lie when I have to’ when chided by a priest for denying abuse that the bishop knew about. That modus operendi and justification for deception is common. This rationalization is often justified by the traditional moral doctrine of Mental Reservation. Literally this means that one does not have responsibility to tell the truth to one who does not have a right to it”. Now there’s an interesting parallel for the Good Samaritan story and the issue of child AND adult sexual abuse by clergy and its covering up or secreting away behind closed or ‘mentally reserved’ doors. I would just love to know how much mental reservation has been, is being, and will be used in the case of Pell. Such a doctrine throws a whole new light on whether there will be a fair trial.

      • Forgot to add…The right to the ‘truth’ is dependent on how much scandal an event will cause the church, or, holding back some that truth from the general population was moral if it served a greater good. I may have misinterpreted this so am open to being corrected.

  10. Jaquix says:

    Pell’s no-show at the Royal Commission did him no favours. There are so many victims at last getting their say, and we are hearing their horror stories. It’s no wonder people got angry with Pell. They’re also angry that the Institute of Public Affairs, a tax exempt “charity” with a very clear agenda to abolish the ABC, privatise Medicare, and 100 other items not in the interests of the majority of Australians, is going to fund Pell’s legal defence with a top legal team. Why? They are not interested in funding the victims’ case, of course. Keith Murdoch started the IPA, Rupert an enthusiastic member. Pell still has time to get medical advice against travel, though I understand he recently visited to London.

  11. Don Sheahan says:

    It doesn’t matter whether or not Pell is found guilty. His reputation is trashed already. This applies to anyone who is charged with a sexual offence.

  12. lest the mob takeover the courts

    They already have with the likes of Bolt, Devine, Paul Kelly and the rest of the RWNJ’s.

    • Surely, Robert, you don’t believe that ‘they’ are only ‘right wing’? The SJW’s are also there, loud and strong. Beware of extremism from both wings.

  13. Margaret Hickson says:

    I’m in total agreement with Peter Day. It is to be hoped Cardinal Pell receives a fair trial. If found guilty, then he will receive his just deserts, however if proved innocent, I doubt he will ever receive due apologies. It is so easy to throw tar and nigh on impossible to wash it off. I neither know, have met or care for the Cardinal, but I stand by the fundamental right of everyone to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the Law. Truth, proven facts and normal, acceptable standards of behaviour have been almost totally by disregarded by the Media.

  14. Chris Welch says:

    Well said Peter. Thanks. Absolutely no winners. Begone the mob.

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