Pell abuse saga reeks of incompetent policing



Wednesday night's ABC 7.30 program carried allegations against Cardinal George Pell which, if true, are devastating: life ruining for victims like Damian Dignan and Lyndon Monument; confronting for all citizens committed to the wellbeing of children; and earth shattering for Catholics who still have faith in their church.

George Pell - Still from ABC reportThe ABC report is also troubling for those of us concerned about due process and the rule of law — not as academic notions for lawyers but as the secure bulwarks of a society in which everyone's rights and interests are protected.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can all say it would have been better if onlookers like Les Tyak in the Torquay Surf Club claiming to have credible evidence of unseemly behaviour by an adult like George Pell towards children went to the police promptly, rather than waiting 30 years. As it was put on 7.30, 'One summer day, [Mr Tyak] says he witnessed a strange incident, so strange it later compelled him to go to police.' The incident is alleged to have occurred in the mid-1980s. Mr Tyak went to the police in 2015.

George Pell has been the focus of attention, like no other, during the long running Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He has been grilled publicly for days on end about what he knew and did not know about abuse committed by others when he was a priest in Ballarat and when auxiliary bishop in Melbourne.

The Commission has been so focused on Pell that they decided to make the abuse of the late Fr Peter Searson their primary focus when investigating the abuse by Melbourne priests. This was not because Searson was the worst abuser, but because he worked in the region of the Archdiocese where Pell had supervision as auxiliary bishop.

The commission went to great lengths to reconvene and to call witnesses from the Catholic Education Office to highlight that there was no deliberate attempt to keep information from Pell. In the course of the inquiry, it became clear that the officers from the Catholic Education Office did not provide Pell with detailed information about Searson's wrongdoings. They saw no point.

So then the focus moved to Pell's rationalisation as to why he was not given relevant information. Whether or not that rationalisation was correct was a matter of intense media interest, though a matter of minimal forensic importance.

So now before the royal commission reports on what Pell knew or did not know about the abuse by others and what he did or did not do in response to that abuse, we have this television report of allegations of abuse by Pell himself.


"The Commission has been so focused on Pell that they decided to make the abuse of the late Fr Peter Searson their primary focus ... because he worked in the region of the Archdiocese where Pell had supervision."


There are three ways in which such allegations of abuse by a Catholic official can be treated. The first way is the path of criminal investigation and prosecution. The allegations can be reported to police; police can investigate; police can then refer the matter to the Office of Public Prosecutions. Until charges are laid, it is customary not to publicise allegations, particularly when the allegations relate to child sexual abuse.

The second way is for the victim to make a complaint under the Church's Towards Healing process. If a credible complaint is received and if it involves criminal behaviour, it will normally be referred to the police, and the church official will be stood down while inquiries are concluded. Neither of these ways has been pursued in the instance of these allegations of abuse by George Pell.

The second path was followed in 2002 when an unnamed man came forward to allege that Pell had fondled him inappropriately in much the same way as alleged last night by Damian Dignan and Lyndon Monument. Pell was stood aside until a retired judge who conducted the inquiry concluded:


I accept ... that the complainant, when giving evidence of molesting, gave the impression that he was speaking honestly from an actual recollection. However, the respondent, also, gave me the impression that he was speaking the truth. In the end, and notwithstanding that impression of the complainant, bearing 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'.


Pell then returned to office. Being cleared, he was further promoted in the Church and he is presently a cardinal and the Secretary of the Economy in the Vatican and one of Pope Francis's trusted inner cabinet of nine cardinals who provide regular papal advice.

The third path is a mixture of regular policing, police leaks, and media speculation pursued by police and others who are not convinced that the two regular paths will produce an appropriate outcome. This path is particularly problematic when it involves the Victoria Police under the leadership of its commissioner Graham Ashton and the Catholic Church under the leadership of Cardinal George Pell. The history is poisonous. The well of good relations has been poisoned at three stages.

When Pell became archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 he moved promptly to set up the Melbourne Response. This Response was drawn up in close consultation with the Victorian government and the Victoria Police. The close working relationship between the church and the police fell apart at the Victorian Parliament's Inquiry into The Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations. A key witness was Graham Ashton who was later to promoted to police commissioner. Ashton complained about the Church protocol and tried to distance the Victoria Police from it. It's sufficient to quote the parliamentary committee's final report:


As far as the Committee is aware, Victoria Police made no complaint about the absence of reports and made no request for a review of the protocol for at least 12 years. It is clear that Victoria Police paid inadequate attention to the fundamental problems of the Melbourne Response arrangements until relatively recently in April 2012 and that, when they did become the subject of public attention, Victoria Police representatives endeavoured quite unfairly to distance the organisation from them.


The second poisoning of the well occurred in February 2016 when Pell was due to give evidence from Rome to the royal commission. There was a timely string of leaks of information adverse to Pell. The information could only have originated from the Victoria Police. The information related to allegations of sexual abuse by Pell, and not just to allegations of cover up by Pell of the abuse committed by others. If true, the allegations were fatal to Pell's public standing and position in the Church hierarchy. The media spoke of 'calls by detectives to be given the green light "as soon as possible" to fly to Rome to interview Cardinal George Pell'. We were told, 'The Sunday Herald Sun understands senior Victoria Police are assessing the dossier of evidence collected by the Sano team in the past year, including witness statements from alleged victims.' That newspaper claimed that 'legal sources (plural) revealed Sano Taskforce members were "highly motivated but frustrated"'. The source (now singular) was reported as saying that the Sano investigators wanted to go to Rome to interview Pell 'but that the ultimate decision isn't down to them. It is with senior figures who will have to give them the go-ahead.'


"Make no mistake, if Pell is a child abuser, I want him out of the Vatican and out of the way of children. But if he's not, I want the Victoria Police to come clean and get back to routine policing, rather than media titillation."


Pell denied the allegations, said they were scurrilous and that they emanated from the Victoria Police. Pell issued a statement saying that 'the Victorian Police have never sought to interview him in relation to any allegations of child sexual abuse', and he 'called for a public inquiry into the leaking of these spurious claims by elements in the Victorian Police'. In February, Pell then wrote to acting Police Minister Robin Scott requesting an investigation into how the details became public. Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton referred the matter to Victoria's Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC). The Attorney General said, 'Under the act that's the appropriate place for that matter to be dealt with.'

IBAC claims that it informs all complainants of the outcome of their complaint within two months. Here we are five months later and there has still been no word from the Victoria government, the Victoria police or any other government agency about the leaks. Pell's original complaint remains unaddressed. IBAC says that if a complaint is outside its jurisdiction, the matter can be considered by the Victoria Police's Professional Standards Command. The police investigating themselves.

So now we come to the third dose of poison added to the well, on last night's ABC 7.30. Mr Ashton has still not told us where the leaks came from. He has still not allowed the Sano Taskforce to travel to Rome to interview Pell despite Pell indicating his availability. A week before the 7.30 program went to air, Pell issued a statement which remains uncontested:


No request has been made to interview Cardinal Pell nor has he received any details of these claims from the police or anyone. In late May the Cardinal was advised by the SANO Taskforce that there had been no change in the status of the investigation since the leaks were first reported.


Today Pell has issued a further statement:


Nearly six months ago media outlets carried leaked stories of allegations against the Cardinal which were said to have been under investigation by the Victorian SANO Taskforce for over 12 months. Despite this there has been no requests made by the Taskforce to interview the Cardinal and the Victorian Police Commissioner confirmed last month that no request to interview the Cardinal had been proposed to him as necessary.


If Damian Dignan, Lyndon Monument and George Pell are to receive justice, Graham Ashton should commission his SANO Taskforce to travel to Rome immediately to interview Pell and the Victorian Government should take resolute action to demand that Ashton get to the bottom of the leaks and explain what involvement there has been by Victoria police officers, including disaffected members of the SANO Taskforce. More police obfuscation and media titillation merely risks undermining the standing and outcomes of the present royal commission and further unnecessary suffering for victims seeking justice and closure — to say nothing of the reputation of citizens like Pell, though I do think that remains a relevant consideration in a country under the rule of law. Make no mistake, if Pell is a child abuser, I want him out of the Vatican and out of the way of children. But if he's not, I want the Victoria Police to come clean and get back to routine policing, rather than media titillation, for the wellbeing of all of us, especially Damian Dignan and Lyndon Monument. If I were to meet Damian or Lyndon, I would offer the gratuitous advice: your complaints need to be investigated competently and prosecuted appropriately; I'm sorry if police leaks and media publicity have caused you added pain and despair. This whole saga wreaks of injustice and incompetent policing. And we all pay the cost of that.


Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, George Pell, police, clergy sexual abuse



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Existing comments

I am definitely no Pell-lover…..but he is being viciously hounded by an agenda driven police-force and failed malcontents. Your appraisal is good, clear thinking and in a word - EXCELLENT.

Tony McNally | 28 July 2016  

Hold on Frank, if you assume that protagonists in this saga are (rightfully) entitled to the presumption of innocence, what court has tested the evidence that the Police leaked or the ABC used Police leaks? Secondly, it should be no surprise that and RC into 'institutional responses' should spend some time talking to the man who has been at the epicentre of the institution for decades in times and places where this issue played out so intensely. Again, it seems like you're not giving the RC the presumption of innocence.

Faz | 28 July 2016  

The ABC has now issued a statement claiming that the Victoria Police were not the source of their story on Cardinal Pell last night. So we have reached the stage that we have a $400 million royal commission whose chief witness is Cardinal Pell and we have a special task force of the Victorian Police which has been working for over a year with 'specialist sexual assault detectives who utilise modern methods to identify links between offenders and offences'. None of this is deemed to be enough. Neither the royal commission nor the Sano Taskforce will deliver the desired result. So the national broadcaster at taxpayer expense has come to the rescue with its 'own on-the-ground journalism over the course of months which included finding people who would be willing to talk to us on camera'. I suppose those of us who still pine for the rule of law, rather than rule by the media, should be grateful that the ABC board is chaired by a retired judge. But somehow I don't think that's good enough - though admittedly it avoids the need for those quaint old notions of prosecutors sifting and assessing the evidence, laying charges and holding trials. Judgment can be delivered on the spot in the court of public opinion, especially when it comes to an old fogey like Pell. I suggest we get back to the old fashioned idea of the police doing policing and the media doing reporting.

Frank Brennan SJ | 28 July 2016  

I, too, am no Card. Pell fan, but on this latest matter I agree totally with Fr. Brennan. The rule of law and its processes and procedures must be followed for the sake of victims, accused and social cohesion. Media and other leaks just don't serve us well or cut the mustard.

Mark | 28 July 2016  

These investigations will not find any fault with Archbp George Pell because he did no wrong. I believe in him. He is more of a saint putting up with all this,

Laurie Bissett | 28 July 2016  

An excellent summary. It is quite obvious that due process is a word not known by some organisations.

Gary Stokes | 28 July 2016  

I have been ordained 41 years, and in that time had an extensive and wide ministry around Australia and beyond; ever aware of human frailty in numerous confessions here and O/S[Even obtaining death bed reconciliation with Church, of a most feared Australian gangster murderer of the last century Chow Hayes[ironically Chow got life for shooting my grandmother's cousin eleven times]. My ministry of course involved all sections of society.[teaching kindergarten to visiting Uni lecturing[and boarding house master. In short, I am absolutely convinced that my charitable former Archbishop[and friend] is totally innocent and a man of consummate integrity. And his heroic unperturbed manly coping with unremitting crises will stand him in good stead as next Pope-his only obstacle to canonisation is that he is alive.

Father John George | 28 July 2016  

Either Pell is a an evil Paedophile or Damian and Lyndon are evil liars. If justice is to be done we need to know which situation is true

Bernie Powers | 28 July 2016  

Frank As one of the greatest defenders of Survivors and supporter of Truth and Reconcilliation I would like to thank you for your masterful leadership throughout this crisis. You have responded a number of times to my reactions to your articles with grace and compassion. That you can be a voice of reason amongst the storm of public opinion in regard to the Child sexual abuse scandals across all institutions makes your voice one that should be respected and heard across Australia. Keep advocating for Survivors and keep the rule of law and the presumption of innocence no matter who is being charged central. I hope you write a book about your leadership with Francis Sullivan in regards to the Catholic Churches responses. You truly are one our greatest living treasures . Thank you again

Richie | 29 July 2016  

Q: Why would the police have it in for Pell? What motive do the polive have for impugning him, if that is what is happening?

Brian Doyle | 29 July 2016  

Very well presented. Something is not right in Victoria police.

David O'Halloran | 29 July 2016  

Frank Brennan's outstanding analysis deserves to be carried in the mainstream media. I will be surprised if it is. In the meantime the ABC perpetuates the witchunt

James Grover | 29 July 2016  

Like Tony McNally, I am not an advocate for George Pell. I am, however, an advocate for due process. As Frank Brennan has ably demonstrated, due process has been aborted in thus case by the actions of our "public broadcaster" not in the public interest, but in the publisher's interest alone.

Noel Kapernick | 29 July 2016  

Here's the irony. Police, media and lawyers were involved in the "cover ups". Now we have excessive "uncovering", It should have been expected.

David Foster | 29 July 2016  

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 Monica Lewinski. Conscious of the trial by media and court of public opinion that abounded, he decided to put a test to one of his journalism classes. He asked his students how many thought Clinton 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 raised. The problem with Cardinal Pell is that so many want to believe bad things about him, which is quite unjust. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone wants to raise their hands based largely on media speculation and titillation - 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.

Peter Day | 29 July 2016  

"But if he's not, I want the Victoria Police to come clean and get back to routine policing, rather than media titillation." Isn't it even more serious than that? Shouldn't heads have to roll at Victoria Police?

Scribe | 29 July 2016  

Trial by media is never just. Police procedures are questionable in this case.

Cate | 29 July 2016  

We have all had moments when we reflect ‘I wonder why I did that’. Or thought that. Or remembered, or misremembered some other event. Only sometimes can we identify the unconscious influences that determine some of our actions. But it seems clear that George Pell’s (and others), reluctance to accept stories of child abuse by clergy was influenced by his conviction that the Church was the ‘Mystical Body’ of Christ, and that its ministers were devoted only to goodness and truth. In this he (and others), misjudged. Similarly, men who ‘remember’ events from long ago, however sincere they are, can be mixing up elements of their memories, particular if they have other unconscious influences motivating them to form or misinform such memories. It seems irresponsible to publicly present such ‘memories’ without first investigating the likelihood of such influences being at work

Robert Liddy | 29 July 2016  

The secret to successful leaking of confidential information in the bureaucracy is to distribute the information as widely as possible within the originating department and to as many as possible other 'interested' departments. This ensures that the head of the initiating department and its senior management can deny that they or their department leaked the information. I can imagine some officers in Vic Police realising they have a weak case against Cardinal Pell based on allegations without corroborative evidence - as happened in the 2002 complaint referred to by Fr Brennan. So they flick pass their information to the Office ofr Public Prosecutions. Already the security of the information has been weakened. In the end someone (a police officer, a lawyer, a counsellor, a mental health professional, a complainant) goes to the media. Anything to get this mess of their desk - and forget about the consequences.

Uncle Pat | 29 July 2016  

Thank you Frank for your précis of the situation regarding the renewed publicity of allegations directed specifically at George Pell and sexual abuse of children. Now that the 7.30 Report has gone to air, it is hoped that the ABC investigative team “keeps it finger on the pulse” and continues to inform the public of ALL subsequent developments – these are still allegations only and, should proper and appropriate policing warrant it, more intensive and specialist investigations should be demanded of the appropriate authority. Please, let us not have trial by media.

Jim Boland | 29 July 2016  

The ABC's introduction to the program said words to the effect "the ABC has conducted its own investigation and the ABC has decided to run this story as the full story may never otherwise come to light". The reporter's content and tone then continued in the same vein. That framework presented the allegations as truth, rather than mere allegations. This was truly the ABC acting as judge and jury. Ugly and unfair and a breach of its code.

Georgie | 29 July 2016  

Pertinent article... where is justice here and who will provide leadership/service to all? This story highlights why victims don't come forward and why abuse continues to grow.

brian | 29 July 2016  

After reading the comments accompanying this article, I am struck by the absence of consideration for the victims involved. One even conjectures that they are simply "misremembering". It is this kind of resistance to their account that compounds their suffering and makes them despair of ever being validated--a legacy lasting since their early childhood violation.

Rose Marie Crowe | 29 July 2016  

Frank, I'm not aware of the simple dichotomy you refer to in your subsequent posting on the ABC response, namely "the old fashioned idea of the police doing policing and the media doing reporting." Personally, I like to see social checks and balances exercised responsibly and I'm grateful to a media that exposes injustices in society, e.g. our government's treatment of asylum seekers, and indeed corruption in the police force. The Royal Commission is of course about a lot more than Cardinal Pell and is not about individuals but rather the responses of institutions, including the Catholic Church, to child sexual abuse, and has already forced some reform of the Church's governance, with a lot further to go; the Church's canon law still applies 'pontifical secrecy' to bishops with knowledge of paedophile priests except where civil law mandates reporting. Our institutional Church remains unaccountable, lacks transparency, and is autocratic, with no gender balance in its top decision making - a recipe for failure. I agree the rule of law must prevail and Cardinal Pell is entitled to due process, but that does not mean that the media should not report, with appropriate care, disturbing evidence about powerful people.

Peter Johnstone | 29 July 2016  

The only way that claims of having suffered childhood sexual abuse can be reliably confirmed or refuted is through the established processes of police investigation, formal prosecution and hearing in court. Media speculation, whether based on claims by alleged victims or leaks from police or any other source, reduce the likelihood of due process. Whether one chooses to belief Pell is guilty or innocent, the alleged victims, Pell himself, and we Victorian citizens, need due process to proceed, without which we have no reliable indication of truth or falsity.

Ian Fraser | 29 July 2016  

Excellent analysis, Father Brennan. One part of the 7.30 Report that should be focused on is the contemporaneous evidence contained in the comments from the wife of the pool manager at the relevant time; from the transcript from Wednesday's program: (quote) When contacted by police, the pool manager's wife says she never saw any behaviour by George Pell that concerned her. He was very popular with the children. Her statement is one of many made to Victoria Police's Taskforce Sano. (unquote)

John Previte | 29 July 2016  

Frank, I and maybe others would like to read an article by you where you articulate legal argument in support of victims receiving due legal process. “Going to the police” is easier said than done and you know that, in the past, many police ignored and/or rejected those who dared make complaints. Quite frankly, articles offering sage and compassionate advice assisting victims and their families navigate both the legal system and the formidable Catholic Church would be a welcome change.

Kerry Bergin | 29 July 2016  

A valuable analysis of the issues relating to the current media coverage and of the latest ABC response. The anecdote reported by Peter Day is one which we would all do well to remember. It is surprising that Peter Johnson does not see the difference between the function of police investigation and media reporting, the latter including his commendable reference to exposes of hidden wrongdoing.

John Hassett | 29 July 2016  

As a non-Catholic objective bystander who has been horrified by the saga of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church (and others), I can't help wondering why there is a different procedure for different people. When a well-known politician was accused of historical rape some years ago everyone - media and politicians - kept very quiet until the police investigation was completed and the OPP had made the decision not to charge the politician (lack of evidence). There was no publicity to speak of, certainly no 7:30 report for a second let alone thirty minutes. Both sides of parliament treated the politician with respect over the matter even though they all knew who the accused was. The pursuance of George Pell certainly has aspects of a witch-hunt and amid all the noise Frank Brennan's clear and balanced article is most welcome.

Robin Barker | 29 July 2016  

Hooray for the ABC!! The Catholic Church has hidden behind the law for decades. You have no idea of the effect of the systematic abuse of young boys by Catholic priests and brothers. We are lucky that Messrs Tyak, Dignan and Monument are still alive to tell us. I am a lawyer and a Catholic (not an abuse survivor) and you do not present a cogent argument. But all I see in your part is actual bias.

Elizabeth O'Connor | 29 July 2016  

Father Frank, Thank you for yet another brilliant and inciteful article on something that is of great interest to many of us. Cardinal Pell is not receiving natural justice and, whether you are a fan of his or not, you cannot deny that he is entitled to natural justice just as we all are. It is interesting to me that the Cardinal's alleged victims have had ample media space in which to accuse the Cardinal but he has not received the same media space to defend himself. If only we had more very competent writers like yourself in the public sphere to highlight the anomalies in this mess. Thank you again. LM Oliver

Louise M Oliver | 29 July 2016  

No -one seems to recall the media leaks to discredit a previous victim who had the audacity stand before him as archbishop. He even engaged a QC who had appeared for the complainant decades earlier only to be saved by his peers.

Lynne Newington | 29 July 2016  

The Media Shop. A meditation on the baptismal call to become a royal priest & prophet, at times merging into a drama. By Wotylja's choice of man for bishop, George Cardinal Pell. (Cue parallel title scripted by Bishop Karol Wotylja, The Jeweller's Shop...on the sacrament of matrimony) This Friday afternoon keenly I heard Radio National debate the injustice faced by grey-haired women. It was a rather polemical point, identifying the apparently undisputed fact that the ABC shows more respect for greying men than women. So then is the 'news' on accusations against Pell are an unacknowledged exception. Ad hominum I say.

Louise Renee | 29 July 2016  

If Cardinal Pell has no case to answer perhaps he should get a ship back and assist the Police sort it all out

Jeff Gray | 29 July 2016  

A well researched article that concentrates on the facts not the innuendo. Well done Fr. Frank

sue martin | 29 July 2016  

You missed the great weakness of Ashton's evidence he was way off the mark re numbers of referrals, so much so that investigations as to perjury should be happening. Really the police have been complicit in cover ups for years, now they are running defence

Jack | 29 July 2016  

"From bias free from every kind/This trial must be tried."

John | 30 July 2016  

Rose Marie Crowe: "absence of consideration for the victims". There should be an investigation into any alleged perpetrator of an offence, and not automatically assume guilt. But there should also be an investigation into anyone claiming abuse, not an automatic assumption of the accuracy of their claim, especially when the claim is made so many years later, without any corroboration.

Robert Liddy | 30 July 2016  

I am worried that today's world of pedaphiles will be accepted by anyone that will listen to them, Without questioning the behaviour of the accused. Do seminarians dry themselves after a shower by hiding behind walls. Did Fr Pell only dry his shoulders with towel after showering? what happened to between his toes? Also to lift a 12? yr old out of water and into air would require handling of bottom part of torso outside (as stated) of shorts. I am sickened by what pedaphiles have been doing since the world began but it seems Cardinal Pell has become the object of certain people who love to see themselves on TV,. Fr Brennan, you are such an intelligent man, woe betide the critisers who would dare to criticise you for their financial benefit!. Your statement on this matter is correct. Let the accusing crowd come out and be made aware of what they are really doing, even if only subconsciosly.

maria fatarella | 30 July 2016  

"Until charges are laid, it is customary not to publicise allegations, particularly when the allegations relate to child sexual abuse." Frank Brennan rightly alludes to proper process in the way media representatives should behave. And there are good reasons why that is so. However, when over many decades the hierarchies in the church, the police and the media have been complicit in cover ups to the continuing detriment of children, it often falls to the media to break the circuit of prolonged silence. The journalists at the 'Boston Globe', as seen in the film 'Spotlight', revealed the reality of what was being hidden in the Boston diocese by challenging people whose defence was "I am just doing my job". That defence was used by the lawyer defending multiple child-abusers who also actively worked to ensure that the code of silence in the Boston village prevailed. Sometimes everyone just doing his or her job is not enough.

Paul Begley | 30 July 2016  

Thankyou for the clarity you bring to the issue that elements in the ABC refuse to do, While not an admirer of George's , I feel he has become a Dreyfus form media. His image has been used so often that victims could substitute him for someone else. Agreed with you on Tyack commnent

Wayne McGough | 30 July 2016  

John Hassett expresses surprise that "Peter Johnson (sic) does not see the difference between the function of police investigation and media reporting." That difference is of course clear, but I suggested that the difference is not, as implied by Frank, a "simple dichotomy". There is a role for the media in these matters that can and should be exercised with care to respect due process. The history of child sexual abuse prosecutions shows how difficult it is to resolve these issues where evidence is often aged and judgement between conflicting evidence of a child accuser and an adult defender can be difficult. In the 2002 Pell case, the judge was very careful in his summary of conflicting evidence and in the expression of his conclusion: "I find I am not 'satisfied that the complaint has been established'." That type of conclusion is sometimes unavoidable in these cases and unsatisfactory to both the parties, but serves to demonstrate why many genuine cases of child sexual abuse are dropped without prosecution. It has often been media exposure in these cases of disempowered accusers that has ensured full investigation.

Peter Johnstone | 30 July 2016  

In the extraordinary rush to join the tidal wave of condemnation of Cardinal Pell, finally a voice of fact and insightful reasoning, has squarely appropriated the lack of charges, (sic any charge), being laid against the Cardinal at the feet of Victoria Police and the Victorian Government. For all of Pell's awkward and at times seemingly evasive disposition during the Royal Commission and the Australian media's relentless pursuit of his downfall over the past year, his resolute denial of any wrongdoing has stood in stark contrast to the increasingly obvious collusion of Vic Police, Vic Government, and the ABC. For the sake of truth and all protagonists (especially the alleged victims) in this unnecessarily drawn out affair, will the SANO taskforce now finally get on a flight to Rome, sit down with Cardinal Pell and decide if he is to be charged. Australia's media have hung drawn and quartered Cardinal Pell and yet he remains a man still standing, just, and still denied due process. Frank Brennan SJ may have just turned the tables on an astonishingly narrow minded Police commissioner, a woeful task force, and a Vic state government delirious in its own collusion. Truly a man for others.

Tony Moore | 30 July 2016  

No Frank, not another impassioned defence of the Cardinal please. George Pell is well capable of defending himself. He seems to have access to unlimited legal and PR resources In any case there is no chance that he is ever going to front, let alone be convicted, in an Australian court. If Victoria Police are guilty of any incompetence, then it was in getting into bed with the Church's hierarchy to keep the covers on abuse. Please direct you considerable talent and abilities toward more deserving cases.

Ginger Meggs | 30 July 2016  

Thank you

Ann Laidlaw | 31 July 2016  

When the Channel 9 reporters became involved in their own kidnap case I thought we had finally reached the nadir of investigative reporting. Sadly I was wrong.

Lewis PBuckingham | 31 July 2016  

I am a George Pell fan. He is the gutsiest bloke in the Catholic church and he is a true conservative. The latter is the reason he is being persecuted. if he were a man of the left they would make him Australian of the year.

Lawrence Ayres | 31 July 2016  

Vincent Zankin (Letters, The Australian, 1/8) claims that my argument over ‘concern about due process and the rule of law in relation to the allegations made against Cardinal George Pell, rests on these words: “The information could only have originated from the Victoria Police”.’ He then asserts that my suspicions ‘are based on not one shred of solid evidence’. My argument is that in February, on the eve of Pell’s appearance before the royal commission, someone or someones leaked to the media details of police investigations into allegations against Cardinal Pell, as well as suggestions of divisions within the Victoria Police as to how to deal with those allegations and how to further the investigation. The media claimed that the source of the leak was a ‘legal source’ or ‘legal sources’. Pell claimed that the leak was made by the Victoria Police. He asked that that claim be investigated. In my article “Leaks add a bitter flavour to allegations against Pell” (Inquirer, 30/7), I did not make that claim. I stand by my claim that “The information could only have originated from the Victoria Police”. That does not necessarily mean that it was the Victoria Police which leaked the material which originated from them. That’s why it is important five months on for someone in the Victoria government to tell us who leaked the material which ‘could only have originated from the Victoria Police’. It was either someone in the Victoria Police or someone who received information directly or indirectly from the Victoria Police. If the media are correct in asserting it was ‘a legal source’ or ‘legal sources’ at a time when there is a royal commission running in part sponsored by the Victoria Government and with lots of ‘legal sources’ involved in the commission, it is essential for the standing of the royal commission and the Victoria Police that we know who leaked this information at such a strategic time given that the information could only have originated from the Victoria Police . If it was the Victoria Police, certain consequences follow. If it was legal sources in some way related to the royal commission or in some way related to parties appearing before the royal commission, then other consequences follow. If it was neither, then the consequences might not be so grave. Five months on, I think all of us concerned about due process and the rule of law, including Mr Zankin, are entitled to know.

Frank Brennan SJ | 01 August 2016  

With the benefit of hindsight, if onlookers like Les Tyak in the Torquay Surf Club went to the police more than 20 years ago, the Police probably would have dismissed his report. When the word go out, Les Tyak would have been isolated by his community, his employment may have been jeopardised and his family ostracised. The question you must ask is, 'Why were Catholic families silenced on sexual abuse matters?' The answer is in the power of the church to threaten and use its muscle to keep the lid on abuse. I comment Les Tyak for coming forward in 2015. I would assume Mr Tyak would be provided with NO legal or financial support, unlike Cardinal Pell. Mr Tyak can now speak openly because he is probably in a stronger position as a mature adult, rather than a young man. There are lots of Mr Tyak's who knew and will never speak, even after 30 years. I commend Mr Tyak for freely providing evidence as it was put on 7.30, 'One summer day, [Mr Tyak] says he witnessed a strange incident, so strange it later compelled him to go to police.' The incident is alleged to have occurred in the mid-1980s. Mr Tyak went to the police in 2015. Witnesses need support not condemnation by Church leaders..

Patricia Boylan | 01 August 2016  

Spot on, Frank.

john frawley | 01 August 2016  

I'm pleased that some of the responses to your article, like Peter Johnstone, David Foster and Kerry Bergin, understand the delicate issues around this topic. I am one of the case studies in the Interim Report issued by the Royal Commission. It was only when I saw others speaking on the ABC that I had the courage to come forward. Its not been easy, its a lonely journey for victims as we always wonder why we were so weak to allow the abuse to happen . Sadly noone in the Catholic Church encouraged me to come forward nor did any court case. I understand your judicial outlook Frank but the Church response has been too little too late. I wonder whether stories recently aired encouraged others to come forward. Victoria Police requires sufficient evidence from many victims. Some of us aren't credible witnesses. The abuse, when we were so young and sexually naive, has taken its toll. So the more victims the better before interviews of possible abuser occurs. For the record, I will leave it to the court to determine innocence or guilt. I applaud Royal Commission and media for allowing us to talk about nightmare that never ends.

Carol | 01 August 2016  

Double standards in the media were demonstrated in Adelaide just recently. An aged care worker was subjected to the media spotlight only after he had been convicted. Moreover the police only charged him with assault because they were provided with video evidence by victim's daughter. Contrast that with ABC's treatment of Cardinal Pell. He has not been convicted, nor charges laid, and no police interview of the accused Cardinal.

Malcolm Harris | 01 August 2016  

The 'elephant in the room', not addressed in your article is the the urgent need for change in the management of the Catholic Church and the appointment of Bishops in Australia. The episcopal appointments urgently need to be discussed with local Australian communities, not be authorised from Rome with little or no discussion with the local parish or diocese. English Archbishop Paul Gallagher was papal nuncio here from 2012-2015 and now we have Archbishop Yllana in 2016. Australian Catholics should be requesting meetings with Yllana to make it abundantly clear that we demand a say in the appointment of Bishops in our dioceses. We need to inform Yllana about the goings-on in our local church - good and bad. Australian Catholics need to be proactive and request the appointment of clergy that are respected, responsible and engaged in pastoral care and their community. In the future, parishes will close because Catholics are no longer attending, have lost respect for the church and are no longer willing to be engaged in a church that does not listen or appreciate their contribution. Bishops urgently need to restructure their diocese so that boards and parish council positions are properly elected (not selected) and that people have power to engage and contribute, not just in an advisory capacity.

Patricia Boylan | 01 August 2016  

Thank you Carol, and I wish you and others in your situation every prospect of healing, truth telling, and justice. That's why we need church, police, court and royal commission processes to be first rate. Let's hope the royal commission can provide the practical help the church needs with its protocols, procedures, and pastoral activities so that the risk of child sexual abuse can be reduced as far as is humanly possible and so that victims might find prompt, sensitive and just recourse.

Frank Brennan SJ | 01 August 2016  

'[I]t is essential for the standing of the royal commission and the Victoria Police that we know who leaked this information...' Pull the other one, please Frank. The standing of neither the Commission nor the Police is at risk in this matter. Be assured that both will pursue due process in their deliberations. There are sufficient checks and balances in their organisations to ensure that. That is more than one can say for the Church and its hierarchy. There is plenty of evidence - admissions even - that the hierarchy has covered up crimes and intimidated victims. Despite what Francis may have said here is little evidence that anything has changed on the ground. Why do you expend so many column centimetres on defending the Cardinal and attacking the institutions of the state when there have been no charges laid, let alone any convictions, and all we have is a lot of media hype about someone who has always shown himself quite able and willing to mix it with the best of them. There are surely more important issues to which you could address your considerable talents and abilities.

Ginger Meggs | 01 August 2016  

Well blow me down, the ABC just recycled the allegations again.

Lewis PBuckingham | 01 August 2016  

"Memory does not work like a videotape recorder. There just is no button to push or pill to take that can guarantee historically accurate memories. Memory is constructive: that is, people take bits and fragments of recollections from the past and use them to reconstruct a narrative that makes sense to them in the here and now. Memory gaps get filled in with new information mixed with old, and it becomes impossible to separate the two. Again, the truth or falsity of a memory cannot be discerned in the absence of external corroboration".[FMSF]

Father John George | 01 August 2016  

We are just ordinary Catholics and of course we would like the church to shake off such pernicious reumours and innuendo. But given that so much has allready been proven true in many other cases that we feel that it's not inconceivable that there may be some truth when more then one victim speak out. One would assume these witnesses will be willing to state their case infront of commission or a court of law and give their evidence to the police. The fact that due process is so long drawn becomes a case justice delayed justice denied and you can imagine that victims become frustrated and seek closure any which way. The argybargy between the church, the police and the royal commission and now the kangaroo court conducted by the media only displays how difficult it is to really get to the bottom of such cases; it basically ends up as "my word against yours". The church is already tarnished not only according to public opinion but also in the eyes of a significant portion of the faithful and the only way for the church to regain credibility is to show that she is instituting genuine and radicall reform for the future church she needs to become. When any legalism get to be too much legalism it becomes a ploy to stall justice and a tool of manipulation of the poor and the defenceless. The less said and the more done expediently the more justice will be done. We all easily throw up our hands and call for justice where the Lord calls for mercy it has been said. Mercy is not interested in law or justice in the end!!!! So where does this leave due process??????

Alfred Arena | 01 August 2016  

Patricia Boylan, all of the "changes" you demand have already been a reality in the Catholic Church throughout Australia for at least the past 40 years. Parish councils are democratically elected; the only reason that councillors are usually "appointed" is that the number of candidates who nominate is fewer than the number of positions. Any and all Catholic laymen (or any group thereof) have always been able to advise the Nuncio or the Pope himself of their suggestions as to who would be a suitable or unsuitable candidate for the episcopacy.

Peter Kennedy | 02 August 2016  

Alfred Arena reminds us that the Lord calls for mercy, and that mercy is not interested in the strict application of the rules of law, such as due process. Well I think the Lord's mercy would extend to all, even somebody falsely accused. So we should not blind ourselves to a bedrock principle of western justice, namely 'there is no crime unless there is compelling evidence of a crime'. The unsubstantiated words of an accuser can never, by themselves, be compelling evidence. That's why due process is a basic right, and should never be taken away.

malcolm harris | 02 August 2016  

Peter Kennedy in the Cairns Diocese this is not the case in 2016. The Chair of the Advisory Board of Governance - Education is the retained Catholic Church lawyer. Board members are 'select' not 'elected' in the Cairns Diocese.

Patricia Boylan | 02 August 2016  

'Let's hope the royal commission can provide the practical help the church needs with its protocols, procedures, and pastoral activities'. Huh? The Commission was appointed, by the state, to investigate and report. It was funded by the state. It was not commissioned (or funded) by the Church nor is its role to provide the Church with free advice or help with 'protocols, procedures, or pastoral activities'. Fixing those, and keeping them fixed, is the responsibility of the Church, and it remains the responsibility of the Church whether or not the Commission's report contains anything that might be perceived as help. By suggesting that the Church is waiting for or will rely upon the commission's report in order to sort out the mess that it has created, you are setting up an excuse for the Church not doing the job properly. 'It wasn't our fault' I can hear it saying, 'the Commission didn't give us any/sufficient/good advice'. Canon Law, as it stands today, still does not require the reporting of abuse unless state law requires it. Is the Church waiting for 'advice' from the Commission before it makes reporting mandatory everywhere? And would Rome take any notice of such 'advice' anyway?

Ginger Meggs | 02 August 2016  

Patricia, I agree the "Catholic" education system in Australia needs a severe shakeup, but your original post was about the appointment of bishops and parish councils, both of which are doing just fine. I can't think of any Australian bishop consecrated in the last 20 years who was not eminently suitable.

Peter Kennedy | 02 August 2016  

Ginger Meggs, you seem desperate to "find" something, anything, to criticise about the Church's laws and protocols - can you name any organisation which has better ones than the Catholic Church in this area? Failing to report a crime is an offence in every State and Territory and as far as I'm aware, in every other country. You're suggesting that Church law should say that Church members must report to the police, things which are NOT crimes? Only to have the police tell them to go away, or file the "report" in the wastepaper basket? I can't think of anything further the Church could possibly do which she isn't doing already to combat, prevent, detect and report sexual abuse and care for its victims. Which is why I too, like no doubt the bishops, await the findings of the Royal Commission to see if it recommends anything else the Church could do to make her anti-abuse systems even more effective.

Peter Kennedy | 02 August 2016  

"I suggest we get back to the old fashioned idea of the police doing policing and the media doing reporting". Yes. Just imagine. Nobody would have known about the extent of abuse in places like Boston or Ireland or, most recently (and not involving a church), Don Dale. The 'old fashioned' way of doing things? No thanks!

Faz | 02 August 2016  

Dear Malcolm Harris, how long does it take to obtain polygraph tests and statements from all involved in order to get some indication of who is telling the truth?? and in the case in question there are at least three accusers against one accused; its not simply one accuser. I will not for one moment suggest that due process be taken away. However, due process can often become a smoke screen when it is obfuscated by the legal system itself - by the ones acting on behalf of the accused. And this is not a limited perception its a known fact that due process can often drag so long that it virtually denies justice to the victims who may have already suffered for years before they had the opportunity to present their cases. If the accused is as innocent as he claims to be he should tarry to clear his name instead of simply standing behind the premise that one is innocent until proven guilty and let the due process of the law drag on ad infinitum. This is where Mercy comes in - when the one accused will expedite the process instead of letting it drag on un resolved for too long - especially if he is innocent; as Jeff Grey has suggested here already. Those clergy in a position of trust who face such accusations have more then a legal duty but a Christian duty also to resolve these matters without stalling. its not only a huge personal burden but a painful one for us all - The Church.

Alfred Arena | 02 August 2016  

Alfred Arena, you imply Cd Pell is "stalling" over the allegations. The police have stated they are not seeking to charge him or even question him. You want him to go to the police and demand that they charge and prosecute him? This is plainly NOT a case of an accused man dragging out a legal process in order to delay his punishment. Cd Pell has never been formally accused of anything. It's also notable that all of the allegations concern actions supposedly committed in a public place in full view of many others. A stark contrast to the well known modus operandi of child abusers who act when they have cornered the child one-on-one in private rooms.

Peter Kennedy | 03 August 2016  

Why is the focus still on Card. Pell rather than the victims? Card Pell is innocent until proven guilty and the evidence brought forward so far seems to highlight nothing that is actionable. What is not highlighted is how the response of the Church to the plight and needs of the victims has improved? My impression is that the Church remains as hard and uncharitable as ever. Only Fr Dillon's Lifeboat program, of which I am a supporter, is reaching out to victims. Why is the Church not stepping up to support Lifeboat??

joe remenyi | 03 August 2016  

No Peter, but in this matter if he is being defamed by the media and his accusers he should be proactively seeking satisfaction in court to end all the speculation. As far as implying that the said accused is stalling I only suggested what can happen and how justice can be delayed. Well it's a question of 'if the hats fit wear it'.

Alfred Arena | 03 August 2016  

Alfred Arena points out that in the matter in question there are at least three accusers, against the one accused, Cardinal Pell. Well, with the greatest respect, that alone does not incline me towards a guilty verdict. Why?. Because individuals have been known to join forces to achieve a common goal. Most would be aware of what the Americans call a "pile-on". The first accuser being joined by several others. The strategy being that the court of public opinion might doubt one person's allegation, but not a combined chorus of several... singing in harmony.

malcolm harris | 03 August 2016  

Alfred, you know as well as I do that if Cd Pell sued his accusers for defamation there would be a deafening chorus of faux-horrified cries that he is "trying to bully the victims into silence, showing total lack of concern for victims' feelings, the Catholic Church only cares about money" etc. etc. No, better that he should do what he's doing, like his Lord did, simply speaking the plain and simple truth in response to false accusations and not retaliating or seeking recompense in any way.

Peter Kennedy | 04 August 2016  

Frank, leaving asides the supposes victims for a moment, I find it disturbing that the ABC, can conduct a trial by media without impunity. I also understand how messy these things can get especially when it comes to those who are in public trust to defend their good name. But when things hit the public arena the only law that becomes most prevalent is Murphy's law; and only the ones at the centre of the storm can decide which way they can handle their predicament. My gut instinct tells me that despite due process a Christian has to abide by the rule of mercy, in the sense, that an option should be made to bring about justice to the poor and those who haven't got the means nor the intellect to defend themselves, by making sure that the way for due process is clear and un encumbered as much as possible. The bottom line is that if there are any victims they find closure and healing without delay.

Alfred Arena | 04 August 2016  

I support the the comments by several contributors to this discussion that" Cardinal Pell is innocent until proven guilty." BUT let's also accept that the various accusers are TRUTHFUL until proven to be LIARS.

John Casey | 05 August 2016  

John Casey's words on the 5th sounded fair, saying.. "But let us also accept that various accusers are TRUTHFUL until they are proven to be LIARS." Problem I have with that is I know how the court of public opinion operates. Not so long ago a certain Senator accused, under parliamentary privilege, a cleric in Adelaide. Despite an investigation by a legal silk, followed by another long enquiry by police, that Senator did not apologize for being wrong. He seemed to be implying that every accusation against a cleric is always true, perhaps expecting that many in the gallery would agree with him. So if you throw enough mud................?

malcolm harris | 06 August 2016  

Having followed the comments section carefully, I would like to reframe the discussion. I have followed Fr Brennan over many years in his articles and media appearances regarding the Royal Commission and CSA within institutions. I have made comments on some which have often drawn a compassionate and caring response. We need legal scholars like Fr Frank to untangle often difficult ethical issues surrounding the Royal Commission. Although I do not always agree with Fr Franks analysis, I remain firmly convinced that his defence of the "rule of law" and those accused like George Pell who are under both external investigation by the State and the unfortunate Court of Public Opinion. But within all of this Fr Frank remains compassionate and caring to survivors point of view which like a real Jesuit remains central in upholding the dignity of those "speaking truth to power".The devastation that CSA has on victims and families should be our primary cause and concern, where compassion and care need to be our foremost priority.

richie | 13 August 2016  

Thank you Richie. Compassion for victims and due process for anyone accused are essential. A denial of due process for anyone accused risks a longer term denial of justice and compassion for victims.

Frank Brennan SJ | 15 August 2016  

An interesting letter to the editor in The Australian (24/5/17): No fair trial for Pell: I write of concerns expressed by organisations and individuals as to whether Cardinal Pell, should he be charged, could receive a fair trial in Victoria (“Pell publicity an abuse of process, warns Pearson”, 20/5). I was a crown prosecutor in Victoria for nearly 20 years until my retirement a few years ago. I prosecuted many high profile cases. Never have I seen such vituperation and opprobrium directed against anyone as I have seen in the press directed against Cardinal Pell over many months, if not years. While criminal lawyers would always say that no person can be untrialable, it seems to me that there is no chance Cardinal Pell could ever receive a fair trial, so poisoned has the public’s mind been. That result is tragic both for the Cardinal and his accusers. Geoffrey Horgan, Kew East, Vic

Frank Brennan SJ | 24 May 2017  

Today Victoria Police have charged Cardinal Pell on summons with serious criminal offences. I will offer no further comment while court proceedings are in train.

Frank Brennan SJ | 29 June 2017  

Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National asked me about Cardinal Pell’s court appearance when interviewing me on refugee matters on the morning before the Cardinal was to make his first appearance. At the end of the interview she referred to Cardinal Pell’s pending appearance in the Melbourne Magistrates Court and asked, ‘Do you have concerns about this case, regardless of the outcome, and how it’s going to affect the Church?’ I answered: ‘Fran, I think this case will be a test of all individuals and all institutions involved. And all we can do is hope that the outcome will be marked by truth, justice, healing, reconciliation and transparency. A huge challenge for my church, and yes a lot will ride on this case. But what is absolutely essential is that the law be allowed to do its work. And let’s wait and see the evidence, and let’s wait and see how it plays out. And let’s hope there can be truth and justice for all individuals involved in these proceedings.’ Listen at the end of the interview (at 9:07) at

Frank Brennan SJ | 27 July 2017  

What is happening to our country? This is a witch-hunt similar to the Azaria Chamberlain. Most telling are Pell’s instant ridicule of the allegations when he first heard them: "Once Pell had read his statement, prepared with the assistance of his solicitors, Det Chris Reed attempted to begin his questioning. Reed told Pell a former choirboy had alleged that Pell had exposed his penis to him after mass. “Oh, stop it,” Pell interjected. “What a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish. Completely false. Madness.” He then invited Reed to “go on … what happened after the mass?” Only an innocent person would react like that. He clearly could not believe that anyone would honestly believe that he would be stupid enough to behave in the way he was being accused of. I thought Australian courts were just. But it seems not to males or catholics.

Linbee | 26 February 2019  

Frank Brennan, your thinking is blinded by your faith in God. The facts tell everyone that the Catholic church has a lot of filthy evil paedophiles in its priesthood. This would have been going on since the year dot. George Pell is just one of many. I hope I live to see the day when a world wide class action is launched against the Vatican to compensate every victim ,living or deceased, who have been abused by the vile breasts that the church has protected over the years. I hope its sends the catholic church to lie buried with the dinosaurs!

Leon Wieckowski | 03 April 2020  


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