ROSEMARY O’GRADY. For the Record

On the evening of Monday 16 September 2019 at a Melbourne bookshop, Allen & Unwin launched Fallen: The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell by Lucie Morris-Marr.

Next day, Pell’s legal team lodged at the High Court Melbourne Registry the long-anticipated Application for Special Leave to Appeal which constitutes George Pell’s last arena of argument against his 2018 conviction on 5 counts of ‘historical’ crimes against minors.

This is not to suggest that, because the release of the book occurred before the lodgement of the Appeal documents, a causative connection exists. Post hoc ergo propter hoc – a fallacious form of reasoning: before therefore because… merely to say that limitations apply in the conduct of judicial affairs and, for Pell, now resident in care of Corrections Victoria, aka prison, time is running-out. It has been long-since signalled that Pell, maintaining his ‘innocence’, will exhaust every available remedy, and this is his last resort.

Observers, like this writer, who calculate that the next appeal has ‘a snowflake’s chance in Hell’ of being heard let alone of success, might have to reconsider if the Appeal books, due within two months, develop lines of argument drawn from the extensive dissenting judgement in the Court of Appeal (Victoria) of Mark Weinberg JA.

It is thought to be just possible there could be a result in the matter before Christmas. Failing that, the schedule extends into 2020 and, by March, the Applicant shall have served 12 months, or more than a third of his ameliorated, nearly 4-year sentence. The man who emerges from that experience, whether upon release after Appeal or on parole, is, already, not the man who submitted to due process in 2017.

Lucie Morris-Marr’s book is an exciting, sometimes breathtaking account of the way Pell’s convictions were, eventually, obtained, and of how much of that determined commitment to the rule of law and to a fair trial meant detailed, extensive control exercised over ‘media organizations’ during the process.

The experiences of an ethical-minded, Quaker-educated journalist contending within and beyond those ‘media organizations’ (the term derives from The Open Courts Act (Vic) – whether domestic or international, and of ensuring compliance both at home and abroad with judicial management of those same media aka control of ‘non-publication’ – makes for unique insights into the Pell trials. Lucie Morris-Marr’s prose is a pleasure to read. Fast-paced it is also comprehensive narrative and thoughtful insight. She conveys well the interesting ‘Pell-pack’ mentality which emerged as reporters shared the experience of writing and filing for ‘non-publication’ – generating a hybrid media culture of mixed competitiveness and co-operation evolved out of mutually-felt necessity and difficulty.

Lucie Morris-Marr is a senior writer with broad, quality media experience. By scrupulous professional attention to sources, and follow-up fact-checking, she became, a few years ago, ‘the first journalist in the world to find out that Victoria Police/Task Force Sano were investigating Cardinal Pell. ‘And nobody knew’ she writes. ‘It hadn’t leaked.’ Fallen … is the result of the turbulence which followed this ‘scoop’ – and is, as Chrissie Foster AM has written : ‘a globally important book.’ Much of its allure is that it is not the last word on this controversial topic, but it is the first serious account of it to emerge since the 2018 verdict.

Rosemary O’Grady is a lawyer and writer

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3 Responses to ROSEMARY O’GRADY. For the Record

  1. Peter Donnan says:

    To write about Cardinal Pell is some danger because he is a polarising figure, with powerful allies such as Archbishop Comensoli, ‘The Catholic Weekly’ and Andrew Bolt, as well as strident critics, especially amongst sexual abuse victims.

    Rosemary’s article [24Sep] in ‘Pearls and Irritations’ was published before Amanda Meade wrote in ‘The Guardian’ [27Sep]: “A complaint to News Corp HR that Bolt had breached the News Corp editorial code of conduct was not upheld. Morris-Marr alleges that News Corp deliberately chose not to renew her contract after the dispute between her and Bolt: ‘I was out and Bolt was in.’ Bolt has always denied he had anything to do with her departure from the paper.”

    Like many issues in contemporary politics today – whether it be Cardinal Pell’s appeal to the High Court, the impeachment of President Trump, youth action on climate change – strong polemics are engendered in the public space by supporters and opponents of particular issues. Charles Lamb states that Pope Francis is not even spared from fierce criticism because of “his critique of unregulated, exclusionary capitalism and by his demand for radical government action to address the crisis of climate change, which hurts the poorest most; criticism of his support for migrants and his reaching out to the Islamic world reaches even wider.”[The Tablet]. This is interesting on Social Justice Sunday where the focus is on the internet, its opportunity and pitfalls, as well as the need for respect and courtesy in discussion forums.

    The perspicacity of Rosemary’s personal view that the “next appeal has ‘a snowflake’s chance in Hell’ of being heard let alone of success” will be revealed in the following months. In the meantime balanced and informed discussion is hard to come by so thanks to Pearls and Irritations for going where many fear to tread.

    • Peter Donnan says:

      I made the posting above, then returned to it once it had been published, and discovered an unintended meaning. The first sentence of my last paragraph – beginning “The perspicacity….” – implies that Cardinal Pell’ s appeal to the High Court will almost certainly be dismissed. I have no experience of the law, nor could I venture comments about Cardinal Pell’s innocence of guilt. While it may be improbable, one can’t deny there is a logical possibility of his appeal being upheld and that it then proceeds to the High Court for a full hearing. As a writer and lawyer, Rosemary’s opinion has considerable merit but she, too, concedes the possibility of ‘reconsideration’ if sufficient weight is given to the dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg.

      The most positive response, from the Church’s point of view, is to conduct a Plenary Council that has positive outcomes in terms of reform and renewal. Michael’s comment below also raises the question: why do some dioceses not have well established pastoral councils? Listening and discerning are being promoted as Plenary Council virtues and this implies processes and forums for parishioner inputs.

  2. Michael Flynn says:

    If the appeal fails the Holy See may strip Cardinal Pell of his position and could appoint another Cardinal. The ACBC could show some leadership and resolve its internal views to make a single nomination for consideration by the Holy Father in Rome. If Bishops asked their pastoral councils for a view they could be better informed of laity opinion. It is sad that the major archdioceses have failed to appoint pastoral councils.

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