Truth and justice after the Pell verdict



Trigger warning: sexual abuse, sexual assault, child abuse.

The suppression order in relation to Cardinal George Pell has been lifted. In December, a jury of 12 of his fellow citizens found him guilty of five offences of child sexual abuse. No other charges are to proceed. Cardinal Pell has appealed the convictions. The verdict was unanimous. The jury took three days to deliberate after a four-week trial. The trial was in fact a re-run. At the first trial, the jury could not agree. The trial related to two alleged victims, one of whom had died.

Cardinal George Pell attends court in May 2018 (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)Members of the public could attend those proceedings if they knew where to go in the Melbourne County Court. Members of the public could hear all the evidence except a recording of the complainant's evidence from the first trial. The complainant, who cannot be identified, did not give evidence at the retrial; the recording from the first trial was admitted as the complainant's evidence. The recording was available to the public only insofar as it was quoted by the barristers in their examination of other witnesses or in their final addresses to the jury, and by the judge in his charge to the jury. So, no member of the public has a complete picture of the evidence and no member of the public is able to make an assessment of the complainant's demeanour.

The complainant's evidence at the first trial lasted two and a half days. He had been cross-examined for more than a day by Pell's defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, who has a reputation for being one of the best and one of the toughest cross-examiners in the legal profession. Pell did not give evidence, but a record of his police interview, denying the allegations, was in evidence.

The complainant's evidence related to events that occurred back in 1996 or 1997 when he was a 13-year-old choir boy at St Patrick's Cathedral Melbourne. Most other witnesses had been choir boys, altar servers or Cathedral officials in 1996 when Pell first became archbishop of Melbourne. The complainant claimed that the first event, involving four charges, occurred after a solemn Sunday Mass celebrated by Pell in the second half of 1996. It was common ground between the prosecution and the defence that the dates to which these four charges must be attributed were 15 December 1996 or 22 December 1996. These were the dates on which the first and second solemn Sunday Masses were celebrated by Pell in the Cathedral after he had become archbishop in August 1996. The Cathedral had been undergoing renovations and thus was not used for Sunday Masses during earlier months of 1996.

The complainant said that he and another choir boy left the liturgical procession at the end of one Sunday Mass and went fossicking in the off-limits sacristy where they started swilling altar wine. The archbishop arrived unaccompanied, castigated them, and then, while fully robed in his copious liturgical vestments, proceeded to commit three vile sexual acts including oral penetration of the complainant. The complainant said that the sacristy door was wide open and altar servers were passing along the corridor. The complainant said that he and the other boy then returned to choir practice. The choir was making a Christmas recording at that time.

These two choir boys stayed in the choir another year but, the complainant said, they never spoke about the matter to each other, even though they sometimes had sleepovers at each other's homes. The second boy was once asked by his mother if he had ever been abused by anybody and he said he had not.

The complainant claimed that a month or so later, after a Sunday Mass when the archbishop was presiding (but not celebrating the Mass), Pell came along the corridor outside the sacristy where many choristers and others were milling about. He claimed that Pell grabbed him briefly, put him against the wall, and firmly grasped his genitalia. This was the subject of the fifth charge. Pell knew neither boy and had no contact with either of them thereafter.


"Anyone familiar with the conduct of a solemn Cathedral Mass with full choir would find it most unlikely that a bishop would, without grave reason, leave a recessional procession and retreat to the sacristy unaccompanied."


The prosecution case was that Pell at his first or second solemn Sunday Mass as archbishop decided for some unknown reason to abandon the procession and his liturgical assistants and hasten from the Cathedral entrance to the sacristy unaccompanied by his Master of Ceremonies Monsignor Charles Portelli while the liturgical procession was still concluding. Portelli and the long time sacristan Max Potter described how the archbishop would be invariably accompanied after a solemn Mass with procession until one of them had assisted the archbishop to divest in the sacristy. There was ample evidence that the Archbishop was a stickler for liturgical form and that he developed strict protocols in his time as archbishop, stopping at the entrance to the Cathedral after Mass to greet parishioners usually for 10 to 20 minutes, before returning to the sacristy to disrobe in company with his Master of Ceremonies. The prosecution suggested that these procedures might not have been in place when Pell first became archbishop. The suggestion was that other liturgical arrangements might have been under consideration.

In his final address, Richter criticised inherent contradictions and improbabilities of many of the details of this narrative. I heard some of the publicly available evidence and have read most of the transcript. I found many of Richter's criticisms of the narrative very compelling. Anyone familiar with the conduct of a solemn Cathedral Mass with full choir would find it most unlikely that a bishop would, without grave reason, leave a recessional procession and retreat to the sacristy unaccompanied.

Witnesses familiar with liturgical vestments had been called who gave compelling evidence that it was impossible to produce an erect penis through a seamless alb. An alb is a long robe, worn under a heavier chasuble. It is secured and set in place by a cincture which is like a tightly drawn belt. An alb cannot be unbuttoned or unzipped, the only openings being small slits on the side to allow access to trouser pockets underneath. The complainant's initial claim to police was that Pell had parted his vestments, but an alb cannot be parted; it is like a seamless dress. Later the complainant said that Pell moved the vestments to the side. An alb secured with a cincture cannot be moved to the side. The police never inspected the vestments during their investigations, nor did the prosecution show that the vestments could be parted or moved to the side as the complainant had alleged. The proposition that the offences charged were committed immediately after Mass by a fully robed archbishop in the sacristy with an open door and in full view from the corridor seemed incredible to my mind.

I was very surprised by the verdict. In fact, I was devastated. My only conclusion is that the jury must have disregarded many of the criticisms so tellingly made by Richter of the complainant's evidence and that, despite the complainant being confused about all manner of things, the jury must nevertheless have thought — as the recent royal commission discussed — that children who are sexually violated do not always remember details of time, place, dress and posture. Although the complainant got all sorts of facts wrong, the jury must have believed that Pell did something dreadful to him. The jurors must have judged the complainant to be honest and reliable even though many of the details he gave were improbable if not impossible.

Pell has been in the public spotlight for a very long time. There are some who would convict him of all manner of things in the court of public opinion no matter what the evidence. There are others who would never convict him of anything, holding him in the highest regard. The criminal justice system is intended to withstand these preconceptions. The system is under serious strain, however, when it comes to Cardinal Pell.

The events of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry, the federal royal commission, the publication of Louise Milligan's book Cardinal and Tim Minchin's song Come Home (Cardinal Pell) were followed, just two weeks before the trial commenced, by the parliamentary apology to the victims of child sexual abuse. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, 'Not just as a father, but as a prime minister, I am angry too at the calculating destruction of lives and the abuse of trust, including those who have abused the shield of faith and religion to hide their crimes, a shield that is supposed to protect the innocent, not the guilty. They stand condemned ... on behalf of the Australian people, this Parliament and our government ... I simply say I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you.' Such things tend to shift not the legal, but the reputational, burden upon an accused person to prove innocence rather than the prosecution to prove guilt.

Would the verdict have been different if Pell had given evidence? Who can tell? All one can say is that, although the defence seemed to be on strong ground in submitting that the circumstances made the narrative advanced by the prosecution manifestly improbable, that failed to secure the acquittal.

Was the verdict unreasonable? Can it be supported having regard to the evidence? Those are questions for the appeal court. I can only hope and pray that the complainant can find some peace, able to get on with his life, whichever way the appeal goes. Should the appeal fail, I hope and pray that Cardinal Pell, heading for prison, is not the unwitting victim of a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat. Should the appeal succeed, the Victoria Police should review the adequacy of the police investigation of these serious criminal charges.

When the committal proceedings against Pell first commenced in July 2017, Fran Kelly asked me on ABC Radio National Breakfast: '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.' And that is still my hope.



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Frank BrennanFrank Brennan is a Jesuit priest who attended some of the Pell proceedings. This article was first published in The Australian.

Main image: Cardinal George Pell attends court in May 2018 (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

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



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Existing comments

I have no time for Pell. But I find the whole story quite improbable. It is a shame that the circumstances were not reenacted. The jury would have seen how improbable it is.
Malcolm McPherson | 26 February 2019

Such a sad story, but thank you for your informative article. I hope the truth comes out, whatever it may be. I hope all involved act honestly and find peace.
Catherine Wallace | 26 February 2019

Cardinal Pell has become the national scapegoat for all who seek to annihilate the Catholic Church. The media has orchestrated this campaign. Why is the complainant not identified. The unequal treatment and baying community have ridden roughshod over natural justice
Rosemary Sheehan | 26 February 2019

Forgive me Frank, but are you trying to cast doubt in everyone's minds about the verdict? You've certainly made me doubt by presenting all the reasons why the accusations may be a hoax - and I have to say, they are convincing. I did not want to believe Pell, as much as I dislike him, would be counted among the abusers. But, you see, I am still haunted by Fr Searson's boast that he did not worry about what the bishops might do to him because of what he knew about the bishops. Could this be exactly what's been happening here. And then, when you connect this to the still much ignored-because-frightening, Sipe's 11-point thesis (see ) well, we have such a serious problem that is still being ignored. The recent summit put fairy lights around that. Which ever way you look at it, this is a disastrous and very sad day for the Church which I want to see cleansed not killed.
Stephen de Weger | 26 February 2019

This being the case. Why didn’t he defence show how a full robed cardinal couldn’t have done it. Dress a jury member in all the robes and try and get them to part them or shift them to the side?
Nigel | 26 February 2019

Even before the trial began - even before formal charges were laid - the media behaved abominably. I watched in horror as popular television personalities made it clear that they knew Pell was guilty, and 'weren't afraid' to challenge the corrupt might of the Church that was defending him. Tim Minchin, indeed, was regarded as a corsage oud hero for his song, which apparently proved his courage in standing alone against ....well, everyone. Except that he was well-supported and indeed feted by 'everyone' in publicly attacking a man who had not yet been formally accused. I believe that Pell received a fair trial insofar as the law could make it so. I believe the verdict was incorrect, due to our willingness to ignore basic principles of justice when we don't like the accused. (I'm sure the jury did their honest best). I still feel some anger about the responses of some of my friends when I made these points last year. 'I'm sorry, but I think child abuse is a terrible crime'. And now I'm full of self-righteousness myself. This whole affair seems to have brought out the worst in so many of us. Thank you, Frank, for your rational and balanced account, especially your final paragraph.
Joan Seymour | 26 February 2019

Mate, this is a very disappointing article. Found guilty in an Australian court of law and you still give him the benefit of the doubt. I feel sorry for you and the religion that you represent. You continue to miss the point. He is guilty and needs to be held accountable for his crimes. Please don’t perpetuate these issues by casting doubt. Call it for what it is and demand more of your religious leaders. Denial diminishes the respect that good people have for you and your religion.
M. | 26 February 2019

When I studied criminal law we were taught that it was a disadvantage to the case for the accused if the accused did not give evidence. The jury always wonders why.
Helen Roberts | 26 February 2019

While sharing your wish that justice be done, Frank, I am not convinced that the complainants' evidence is as improbable as you suggest. As a fully vested priest, I was occasionally subject to a call of nature. I had little difficulty in moving aside my chasuble and raising my alb to enable me to answer such calls. Moreover, if Pell needed a plausible excuse for abruptly departing the procession or abbreviating his greetings of parishioners after Mass, a call of nature would be the obvious one. It is also difficult to understand why complainants would expose themselves to an ordeal similar to, or indeed worse than, Pell's if there was no substance to their complaint. This consideration too must carry due weight in any appeal about the weight of the evidence. It gives me no pleasure to see a former colleague and friend brought so low, but if we are to be a truly just society we can no longer persist in the heartless practice of dismissing the tragic stories of victims on the grounds of legal technicalities. To so persist would give the lie to our avowed commitment to put the victims first.
MICHAEL LEAHY | 26 February 2019

Why didn’t the defence tender the robes worn and demonstrate the improbability or impossibility?
Georgie | 26 February 2019

The case against Cardinal Pell seemed incredibly weak and improbable from the outset but he has been convicted by the jury and I have the greatest respect for juries. I understand the robes were in court so the jury would have been familiar with them. It is interesting that Cardinal Pell exercised his right to silence rather than venturing into the witness box. All in all this is an utter tragedy for all concerned.
Paul | 26 February 2019

Frank, you write: 'So, no member of the public has a complete picture of the evidence and no member of the public is able to make an assessment of the complainant's demeanour.' From the details published in The Australian it seems Pell's abuse was a vicious and predatory attack on two young people. As you say Pell was defended by one of the best defence lawyers in the country. Richter couldn't persuade the jury that it was all fantasy as he alleged. You weren't there to hear this evidence. How can you call it into question.? What about some real sympathy for the victims.
Garry Eastman | 26 February 2019

In effect, Frank, what you are saying is the boys were so calm whilst they were being molested and raped they should have been able to observe calmly and accurately, so they could recollect all minute details twenty plus years later, how Pell managed to manipulate his clothing to gain access to them. Personally, I suspect the shock and horror of what was happening to them probably overrode their observatory powers. If what you say regarding the bishop's vestments is true, and it was impossible for Pell to have removed them or placed them so as to allow him to commit these atrocious acts, why didn't his defence lawyer simply dress a juror in such attire and demonstrate the fact practically in court? Such an emphatic demonstration would surely have led to the charges being dropped? There is obviously more to this evidence than you have chosen to mention above. Quite frankly, all you have done is perpetuate the Catholic's inclination to deny guilt. It is this attitude that led to these abuses globally being swept under the carpet for centuries, and why so many of us have lost faith in the church.
Martin Killips | 26 February 2019

It's difficult to think of a more problematic outcome in this case. The conviction of the Cardinal will be widely welcomed and celebrated as a victory for those (victims, advocates, media) who have long fought to have the sexual abusers in the Church, and their enablers, brought to justice. But the physical improbability of what Pell has been convinced of will leave many in the Catholic community, even those who strongly disagreed with his approach to religious matters, doubting the rightness of his conviction. It is an outcome that will split public opinion, at least within the church. Already there is talk that the Vatican will need to defrock Pell as it did Theodore McCarrick, but, presumably, that would require the Vatican to hold its own trial of the case. If it came to a different conclusion regarding Pell's guilt on this matter, how will that look to the wider world?
Kevin Mark | 26 February 2019

The man has been found guilty by a jury. Unanimously. Whilst I appreciate your concerns about the justice system, I really think this day should be reserved for the victims. Listening to a Catholic Priest comment on this issue is a bit like asking a football coach if he agreed with the referee's decision to penalise his team. Biased. You have given your life to an institution that has proven to be littered with paedophiles. I can't imagine how that must feel for the honest and true Catholic clergy. But the way to heal is by denouncing, apologising and making amends-- not by casting aspersions on the legal system. It just feels like the Catholic Church is still in denial It will perish unless people like you start getting fair dinkum.
Pedroh | 26 February 2019

For years the abused have been told that they got it wrong; now Frank you want to persuade us, With your account of the trial, that the jury also got it wrong? Is there no limit to the fallibility of anyone outside the ordained? This was not the verdict of a single magistrate but the verdict of a jury of twelve persons who actually sat through the trial, heard the raw evidence, deliberated for three days, and came to a unanimous decision. And it’s not as if the accused was denied access to legal representation at the highest level. There will no doubt be an appeal and that’s where the entrails of this case will and should be picked over. In the meantime, why not get behind Mark Coleridge who, having apparently now seen the light, wants to actually do something about it ?
Ginger Meggs | 26 February 2019

In this time of turmoil and distrust, it appeared from a distance that emotion could impair clarity. Why not allow a trial by judge alone? A verdict could include the judge’s summation of evidence and draw conclusions. As it stands, doubts will remain. A most unsatisfactory and unfair outcome.
Peter Matters | 26 February 2019

This is a fair article. Today, former NSW Labor resources minister Ian Macdonald and ex-union boss John Maitland walked out of jail after their convictions were quashed on appeal. Let’s wait for the result of Pell’s appeal before rushing to judgement.
Ross Howard | 26 February 2019

Thank you, Fr. Frank, for your careful, detailed consideration of this matter. One would never read this sort of detail in the mainstream press and it most certainly serves to inform.
BPLF | 26 February 2019

If there is one thing the Royal Commission made clear, it's that perpetrators of these horrendous crimes kept committing them until they were caught. In too many cases after they were caught, they were simply moved on and allowed to molest children elsewhere. I too have little time for Pell, particularly his role in moving on perpetrators under his charge. But I don't believe he's guilty of this crime for the simple reason that we are asked to believe it is an isolated occurrence. This doesn't ring true. Surely somebody who can behave in this way and get away with it would have been a repeat offender who harmed many more poor, unfortunate victims.
Jim | 26 February 2019

On re-reading, I see this article *was* published in the mainstream. The Australian gives us some perspective on issues that we might otherwise not get. The victims of child abuse are often in my prayers. To be wrongly accused would be an unimaginable horror. Therein lies the compassion conundrum with which such situations as this beset all of us who simply weren't there.
BPLF | 26 February 2019

It seems to me that Trial by Jury is on trial here. Jurors are selected because they represent the ordinary person in the street - the sort of person with whom you might discuss the news in the pub or at at a school fete. And that's because in a democracy like ours the verdict is more likely "to pass the pub test" and be acceptable to the general population. Efforts are made to ensure that the jurors are reasonable and free of bias, able to assess evidence on its merits. and without knowledge that might be prejudicial to either the prosecuted or the complainant. In this age of 24/7 news coverage it is is very difficult to find people who are 100% ignorant of the case being disputed and the actors involved. I agree with the decision not to put Cardinal Pell in the witness box. He is the sort of tall poppy Australians, whatever their religion or of no religion like to cut down. He can't help acting like a Prince of the Church - although I am told that he is good company and easy to talk too. But on the rostrum or in the pulpit or on TV a different persona emerges. However, as several commentators have mentioned, I can't understand why the jurors didn't ask to be taken to the scene of the alleged crime. Or why they were not shown the liturgical procession that follows a Solemn High Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral. Or why the police do not appear to have tested the complainant's evidence by a re-enactment in loco. The fact that I and others are asking these questions shows how important the right of appeal is in our legal system.
Uncle Pat | 26 February 2019

A useful corrective to the ABC' s typically biased coverage. What nobody has noticed so far is that the first, discharged jury's deliberations, which all accounts suggest ran 10-2 not guilty, would have sufficed for an acquittal in most other states. Can anyone in Victoria confirm suggestions I have heard that the 11-1 majority rule and the abolition of bench trials in Victoria were introduced to forestall prosecution of certain union or ALP figures? So also, I assume, was the appointment of John Cain III to a crucial role in the OPP.
P | 26 February 2019

So another priest is found guilty of child sexual abuse, and a Catholic leader writes about why the verdict is wrong. Will they never learn?
dave | 26 February 2019

Michael Leahy thank you so much for being human. 'Before I leave' (enough is enough for this elderly convert) a thought for "youse all", even the erudite Fr Brennan. Once, just once in all of this appalling and ongoing tragedy (for all concerned) I should have liked to have seen an accused perpetrator who remembered the crucifix on which they had so often looked and simply... accepted. What's the point of reverencing a scapegoat if we learn nothing from Him?
Margaret | 26 February 2019

Dear editorial team Disappointing this should be your first response to the conviction ... Just as we gave Cardinal Pell the presumption of innocence until proven guilty we should assume he is guilty after being convicted by a jury. Please focus on how the church can give a rigorous response to the child abuse crisis and examining the causes such as clericalism, Irish Catholic Jansenism and a culture of secrecy.
Michael O'Hanlon | 26 February 2019

If I were on a jury I, too, would invariably have an issue with a defendant who refuses to defend themselves in what I would consider the most natural way to do so: by taking the witness stand.
roger | 26 February 2019

Frank, your response epitomises what's wrong with the Church and why it is rapidly diminishing in size and influence. It thinks it is above the law and represents the truth.
Ian Morison | 26 February 2019

I am disappointed that you are perpetuating the Church's denial of child abuse. You say that Pell had one of the best QC's in the country defending him, yet twelve jurors unanimously delivered a guilty verdict. Pell also chose not to give evidence - I wonder if under 2.5 days of cross examination, some of his evidence would have been "improbable or impossible too"
J | 26 February 2019

Thank you Frank for offering - as others have said - a reasoned account that we might be unlikely to read in the mainstream press. I do not read into your commentary any sense of an attempt to undermine our legal system in general or the outcome of this trial in particular; rather, I read it as an assessment of the possible inadequacy of the evidence against which this conviction has been made. It seems to me entirely appropriate that you would bring to our attention now, while the matter is 'live', observations that can only assist our understanding later when the case is brought to appeal (as surely it must).
Richard Jupp | 26 February 2019

Unlike Frank Brennan, I am unqualified to comment on what went down in this trial. Totally like Frank, however, I was not privy to the deliberations of the jury over the three days it took to reach its verdict. I also can’t draw conclusions about what the jury considered were compelling parts of the evidence and what the jury gave lesser weight to. To speculate on the jury is an exercise in ignorance. Frank Brennan questions the evidence and the verdict. Clearly he thinks the jury got it wrong. Fair enough, he can do that, but it is his opinion and he did not have all the evidence available to the jury. I would prefer to respect the jury system we have in Australia. Mr Pell had his trial and will have his appeal. He has resources available for his defence that the average person does not have, for Mr Pell is not the average person. Another correspondent called the verdict “a most unsatisfactory and unfair outcome”. But other people face trial by jury every day and the process works well enough. Justice is not based on whether we like or dislike the accused. The appeal will tell us if the outcome was legally correct. It can’t tell is if it was morally just.
Brett | 26 February 2019

As one of the few survivors who has a formal apology and a court settlement from a Catholic religious order, I find your article shocking. Up to now you have always respected the law process but now you question it. You were one of the good guys, my Church is now a darker place than before and I truly despair when enlightened leaders like yourself write articles like this one. All I can say is that God knows the truth and I pray that the Cardinal might one day speak it too.
Carol | 26 February 2019

MICHAEL LEAHY writes, "As a fully vested priest, I was occasionally subject to a call of nature. I had little difficulty in moving aside my chasuble and raising my alb to enable me to answer such calls." So I think Michael debunks a good part of your argument, Frank! The jury believed the complainant and I'm satisfied with that. I would also be satisfied if George Pell wins his appeal. Let's leave it to the courts and accept their decisions. Looking at the bigger picture, I do wonder how many Catholic bishops are guilty of covering up for paedophile priests. Very few ever seem to be brought to justice, which to my mind doesn't seem to tally with e.g. the numerous allegations of child sexual abuse made at Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The more our clergy close ranks and protect one another's crimes, the more they diminish the credibility of the Catholic Church in the eyes of the public. I may die waiting, but I'm still waiting for the many Catholic clergy guilty of crimes against children to own up, plead guilty and accept their punishment.
Grant Allen | 26 February 2019

Your story is compelling because i too know of these vestments and proceedures. It seems the defence did not argue strongly enough and test the police out. I too am devastated - cannot believe it but have to at this stage. the Catholic Church is failed by this decision and most likely because of its own (non) actions. let us hope that an appeal succeeds while the press has a field day. it is coming up to Lent and the STATIONS OF THE CROSS are now being strung out this time over a longer period. let's hope there is a resurrection for GP. Let's also remember that only two people really know what happened and in the end God will be his judge.
PHILLIP ROWAN | 26 February 2019

"A wounded nation looking for a scapegoat." You hit the nail on the head Frank and thanks for that insightful analysis. Pell as an Australian citizen was entitled to fair and just treatment from the court and God only knows how often innocent people are strung up by a jury baying for blood on behalf of the community. How ironic that on the same day comes news of that other "public enemy no 1" Ian MacDonald walking free from jail. If Pell is eventually found to be a victim of a miscarriage of justice, there is a strong case for members of the jury to be selected according to a defined and codified set of criteria foremost among which should be the ability to analyse complex information and scenarios, an awareness of one's own biases and an ability to act impartially. But turning to Pell as Archbishop, it has to be said that true shepherds and pastoral leaders who care sincerely for their flock don't have these things happen to them. Ask a Bishop what percentage of first names of his flock does he even know and the answer will surprise them and us.
James | 26 February 2019

Eureka Street should never have published this apologism that stands for reflection on 'truth and justice after Pell'. Shameful. I am a long-standing reader of many a social justice writing in this magazine, but I do not think I will see your imprint for a long time to come.
Jasmina Brankovich | 26 February 2019

The accumulation of two jury verdicts: 10 say innocent, 14 say guilty. Hardly a ringing "unanimous" verdict from 24 ordinary citizens. And 12 found guilty in the retrial, when the complainant was not available for cross examination. I also agree with P's observation above - Pell would have been found not guilty on the first verdict in some other Australian jurisdictions. He's guilty in the state of Victoria, but in N.S.W. or Queensland he would have been declared not guilty on the first trial. And few short years back he would have walked free in EVERY Australian and common law jurisdiction! "Ah, but things have changed ... the law evolves, HH!" Sure. In some jurisdictions and not others, at different rates. For better or worse? Are innocent people more likely to be found guilty in majority verdicts rather than unanimous verdicts, all things considered? Of course. So much for evolution. Apparently the finger pointers at the Cardinal on the accidental circumstance that, like St Paul was "born out of time" and allegedly committed the offence in the wrong place. I'll be praying for him and his alleged victim. Thanks, Fr F.
HH | 26 February 2019

Responses like this from the church to victims of pedophilia seeking justice are why there are so empty pews on Sunday.
Double D | 26 February 2019

Whatever the final outcome, there is obviously something horribly wrong with our justice system in this country. With the dumbed-down culture that prevails today, who ever would choose a jury?
Margaret | 26 February 2019

Frank, thank you for your fair, balanced and reasoned article. I too hope the appeal process will deliver justice to all involved. Like you, I attended court on a number of days and I found it difficult to accept the unanimous verdict of the jury that the Cardinal was guilty beyond reasonable doubt . To my mind there was much circumstantial evidence which tended to support a verdict of not guilty. It seems there can be a real danger of a miscarriage of justice if a verdict can be based on the uncorroborated testimony of the victim concerning events which happened 22 years ago. My faith in the jury system to deliver a fair, impartial verdict has been shaken.
Len Tosolini | 26 February 2019

With all respect Fr Leahy, and without going into further graphic detail, taking a whizz and doing what the Cardinal is accused of doing is quite a different thing. To say the least. Not to mention the fact that a half serious bishop, on top of the alb, cincture, stole and chasuble, also has a dalmatic and a pallium to contend with, and a buttoned up cassock. Only then one might get to the fly on the trousers and then the briefs. Most priests can barely manage to get to the switch on their lapel mic. Whole thing is preposterous.
Joel | 26 February 2019

Margaret says it beautifully -“What’s the point in referencing a scapegoat if we learn nothing from him?”. Until the Howard years, government ministers were expected to fall on their sword if their departments failed in their ministry. If the church is incapable of ministerial responsibility, how can we expect it of government? The clergy presume to call themselves “father”. They have no right to this title if they are unprepared to protect their “children”, and take responsibility for their safety. At the very least, George Pell, and all the bishops, failed to do this.
Beth Rees | 26 February 2019

As one who has kept a close eye on his career for many years, I am appalled by Cardinal Pell for countless different reasons. But like you, Frank, I find this verdict extremely troubling. People's desire to see an accused paedophile burned at the stake seems to be trumping their desire to have a functioning justice system. Oh well, enjoy the vengeance-fest while it lasts, people. It will be interesting to see how the appeal turns out.
Sue Melmont | 26 February 2019

Frank, I have admired your contribution to public discourse over many years however on this occasion I am profoundly disappointed by what you have written. You dismiss the victims and support the perpetrator, like George Pell accompanying Gerald Ridsdale to court many years ago.
a person without institutional power | 26 February 2019

Next week heralds the beginning of Lent. A time for Christians to prepare for the suffering of Jesus who died on the Cross in 'reparation' for our sins! Maybe this Lent calls for more than giving up our daily wine for dinner, chocolates and other creature comforts. This news which has broken in the media today calls for a much deeper sacrifice on our part to help us cope with these sexual, and evil atrocities coming to light in our Church. Truly, it seems there is a huge for communities to come together in collective prayer. Maybe 'sackcloth and ashes' may be considered extreme. But surely it is time for all good Catholics/Christians 'to come to the aid of our Church' in united prayer, inspiration, hope and trust that the evil of not only clerical but all sexual abuse will be brought to accountability.. This problem is not going to go away - this is my belief despite the huge response to Frank Brennan's timely article - we are all pretty much still at sea.
Peggy Spencer | 26 February 2019

For a person who promotes the homosexual movement including SSM and defends Pell when a book comes out saying 80% of the Vatican priests are homosexual and two US Cardinals say homosexuality promotes sexual assault of children, surely your credibility is zero
Graham | 26 February 2019

Let’s not forget those who suffered by the actions and inactions of George Pell over many decades. And the jury obviously believed the person who gave evidence that he was abused by Pell. This being said, I am surprised that Pell did not give defence evidence when it was down to his word against the living accuser's (he relied instead on his lawyer damaging the credibility of the prosecution evidence). It can be very difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt that anything happened between two people when it is the word of one against the other, especially (as here) when the alleged events were historical and there were other logistical factors pointing against conviction. This decision not to give evidence may have come across to the jury as arrogance (or guilt), which would not have helped Pell, given his public persona, no matter what the judge said in directions to the jury (cf s41 of the Jury Directions Act 2015 (Vic)). It doesn’t make an appeal against conviction easier either, when defence evidence is not led in the trial. As an aside, Pell probably drew the short straw when he was charged in Victoria (where, unlike in other States, jury trials are mandated and ‘majority verdict’ means 11:1 instead of 10:2). Perhaps it was over confidence or complacency on Pell’s part, but whatever the reasons for his actions and decisions in the trial the outcome must surely send yet another signal to the Australian bishops that there is no place for complacency in the environment into which they are purporting to lead the church. Whether we like it or not, or whether it is right and just or not, when elements of society set themselves up as unaccountable civilly, then sometimes the only way is the 'nuclear way', witness the unprecedented wave of prosecutorial actions against bishops and dioceses underway around the democratic world.
Andrew Phelan | 26 February 2019

The bizarre nature and circumstances of the evidence presented against Cardinal Pell is matched by the lack of rigour in the police effectively discounting the relevance of the defendant's liturgical vestments. I hope that the appeal process will vindicate the claim to innocence the Cardinal has maintained since the charges were first brought against him.
John | 26 February 2019

I have had enough of this culture of denial. These damaged victims have been through hell by the best lawyers in then land. Yet these sexual crimes are only the tip of the iceberg. Children over many decades have been subject to psychological abuse, and physical violence on a daily basis. Their parents have been threatened will Hell if they did not obey their Parish Priests and any non-catholic parent has been excluded from their children education and spiritual upbringing. There has been no public acknowledgement of these evil abuses of power and no apology. Any we are expected to doubt the accusers. One Christian Brother at my school bashed shit out of us for most of a school year before putting the hard word on several of the boys. He disappeared overnight. As for the sanctify of confession, the Parish Priest in my wife's home town used to tell the secrets of the confession to his friends at the local pub, while also keeping a defect wife. In short, the church as an institution has shown itself to be corrupt and should be shut down. Along the way the Vatican should lose its diplomatic status and its treasures handed to the Italian State.
Lee Boldeman | 26 February 2019

I have been to Solemn Masses at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on a Sunday and there was always lots of people milling about the Church long after mass had been celebrated. There was a constant stream of Tourists looking around as well. Cardinal Pell would have spent at least 15 minutes outside the Cathedral meeting and greeting people after mass. I imagine it was the same at St Patrick's Cathedral. I find it hard to believe that anybody would take such a risk in such a busy place on a Sunday, with an open door, to commit these crimes. There is a lot of anti catholic feelings out there but the Church has been through worse times. They tried to wipe it out during the reformation but it survived. It has a antipopes recorded in its history but despite them it survived. It is what it is because it is made up of human beings and human beings do evil. Even Jesus didn't get it right - He picked 12 men and 2 of them turned against him. I won't be giving up my catholic faith because of paedophiles. I draw so much strength and comfort from it.
Jan McTiernan | 26 February 2019

Thank you Frank Brennan for your thoughtful and disquieting article, which raises further issues and questions. Like most Australians, I abhor the epidemic of previously unacknowledged child sexual abuse that ravages our culture, but my questions below address our fallible institutions entrusted with seeking truth and justice. The first jury presumably having been exposed to the same evidence as the second jury, failed to agree on a verdict. What makes the verdict of a second jury more accurate or more just that an equivocal unable to agree outcome of a first jury? Would there be judicial pressure on the second jury to reach a unequivocal verdict ? In the eyes of the mainstream media, Pell was guilty before the trials, and would not some jurors have been influenced by media representation made about Pell, and about the child abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in this country and overseas in recent years ? To what extent might a jury reach an unjustified decision based on the available and contested evidence allowed by the rules of the Court and by the competing lawyer team jostling and competing to demonstrate the ultimate epistemological truth in a case ? To what extent does the possibility exist that George Pell may well become the Lindy Chamberlain of this present epoch ?
Michael Faulkner | 26 February 2019

As a long-term peer supporter and secretary of a Support Group who ran a phone line in my home for 3 yrs in the early 90's, I, can "HONESTLY" say, I heard 1st hand; on a number of occasions, of heinous alleged conduct by priests abusing Alter Boys before and after mass. One priest named for this sacrilegious, notorious behaviour of sexual conduct in the sanctuary of the church was convicted. Knowing about these repeated occurrences from a number of victims across various States, I find it disturbing that victims are still indirectly being disbelieved.
Mary Adams | 26 February 2019

" They tried to wipe it out during the reformation but it survived." Hardly. "They" tried to reform it." "It" as an institution by and large resisted fiercely for around half a century. By the time the message was received it was too late to save the universal Church.What survived was a remnant.Some might even say just one sect among other sects. Sound familiar...??
Margaret | 26 February 2019

it is indeed very sad that such a controversial person such as cardinal George Pell is treated in this way and let us now turn to prayers for the church and those affected by sexual abuse by clergy,
maryellen flynn | 26 February 2019

I too was present at both trials and this is a fair and accurate account of the proceedings. The testimony of 25 witnesses seems to have been ignored by the jury. Not one witness corroborated with the complainant’s testimony. No wonder everyone who had attended the trials and listened to the evidence, was astonished that a jury could come to the conclusion that they did and that they were able to find one man guilty, beyond reasonable doubt, despite all the evidence presented...... Fr Brennan is right to hope and pray that Cardinal Pell is not ‘an unwitting victim of a wounded nation looking for a scapegoat.’ But I think this hope is in vain.
Rosaleen Saroni | 26 February 2019

Thank you Frank. As I read your commentary, I note both your SJ' and legal credentials, as well as your past stances on other issues where your social justice advocacy has been, to me, admirable. In this alleged / now-found child sex abuse tragedy, I have some difficulty with your - "Should the appeal fail, I hope and pray that Cardinal Pell, heading for prison, is not the unwitting victim of a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat." Others' comments here also clutch at that notion of a righteous Pell being scapegoated by a vindictive Media and/or Australians. I shall await the outcome of the Appeal process, but my ill-informed sympathy goes more to the victim; but yet Which ? Both men are undoubtedly victims. And who of us is to say who the more broken, let alone the why ? Should the appeal fail, my mind will tend toward believing that 12 good folk did their best with the curious evidence presented, and then the jurists did not find any technical flaw in their finding. Should the appeal succeed, for my part I shall be reminded that "the law is a ass". The victims will remain utterly wrecked - only God Knows !
John Douglas | 26 February 2019

I admire Frank Brennan and have a lot of time for his comments on Church affairs, but I was profoundly disappointed by this article. Frank admits that he has no direct knowledge of the victim's presentation of his account of the abuse nor of his demeanour in giving it nor of his dealing with the tough and lengthy cross-examination by Richter, yet he basically recycles the defence's arguments with approval and embellishments from his and other insiders' close knowledge of common circumstances around solemn Mass celebrations and the usual structure of vestments etc. Whether the victim was perhaps understandably confused about how many garments Pell wore or didn't wear at the time of the assault, the jury were convinced by his evidence that the circumstantial matters appealed to by Richter and elaborated by Frank were insufficient to create reasonable doubt. Frank admits that they must have been, but, in context, it seems a grudging admission. In Frank's later television appearance on the ABC he was more balanced in allowing credit to the jury's integrity. It is a shame that this balance was not more in evidence in the article.
Tony Coady | 26 February 2019

Only two people on this earth know the truth for sure. The ex choir boy, now an adult and George Pell. I haven't read this piece closely nor many of the comments. But I'm puzzled. I think I heard the reporter on the ABC, say the victim said, ''When he arrived at the door, we 'all' froze". If these were his words. And I didn't hear incorrectly. I wonder why he didn't just say we 'both' froze. Instead.
AO | 26 February 2019

Frank, I am amazed by this apologia of your's. You were wrong about Archbishop Wilson. Has the possibility occurred that you may be wrong about this one too? Your fellow members of the legal profession must be reeling at the attack your article represents on the Australian judicial system. The question is: would another lawyer have rushed into print like this? That in itself raises enough questions about your motivations in regard to the jury system that has seen Pell convicted in a court of law. The fact that we live in a democracy in which everybody is expected to abide by the same rules is also enough to expose the dubious foundation upon which your judgment is based. Had you raised it as a question, as you did Labor's handling of the Medivac legislation in your last article, I doubt if many would have complained, but I fear that this article will have a highly damaging effect on your reputation as one who speaks for Catholics in all manner of social justice issue. Above all else, I fear that you have inflicted lasting damage on a Church struggling to come to terms with a horrendous global record of child-abuse.
Michael Furtado | 26 February 2019

Fr Brennan - my abuser abused me in the same room as my mother when I was 7. Paedophiles are cunning. I could not speak about it until I was 28. I believe the boys would not have discussed it. Shame is all powerful. I am shocked that you don’t believe the victim. Why did Pell not testify not one of his supporters has asked this question. I expect Bolt Henderson Devine and Shelton to respond as they did but not you.
Stellar | 26 February 2019

The actual evidence in this case is very flimsy - one man's uncorroborated and unlikely story. The other boy denied any abuse occurred but the jury obviously believe he lied.
Ben Frank | 26 February 2019

Three-pronged attack - unwitting victim of a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat - set up due to Cardinal Pell's Vatican corruption investigations - chance not to be missed to lambaste the Holy Catholic Church? Political connotations? Fie on you, Australia!
Hermoine Lynn | 26 February 2019

This is a very sad day for many Catholics in Australia and it may be that upon appeal this conviction is overturned; but it may also be upheld. The legal system will follow its own logic but it is worth asking what lessons can be distilled in these darkest hours. *The idea of involving laity on a committee in any allegation of sexual abuse by priests is worth considering. It substitutes in-house, self-regulation for greater transparency. * Despite Pope Francis' rejection of voluntary celibacy, it should be pursued; if it is a gift, then one is free to accept or reject it. *The question of how much one spends on legal fees, paying top QCs etc, could be reviewed. How much does the Church spend on supporting the legal cases of complainants? A parish/dioceses may make voluntary contributions but is there balanced support for perpetrators and complainants? * Suppression orders, pontifical secrets, destruction of records, obfuscation of legitimate inquiries - need to be reviewed *Canon law and episcopal barriers need to be more attuned to supporting detection of abuse: rather naively, I would argue, it is the truth that sets us free * Compensation of victims according to the RC needs to be expedited. How many cases have presently been settled? *We live in a society where litigation flourishes, where lawyers charge huge fees, where suppression orders are common but in Christ's kingdom it is love, holiness, the call of the beatitudes that should reach our hearts. My attitude, if I was accused of such abuse, would be to speak in court honestly and truthfully without such high-cost lawyers, Who pleaded Jesus' case before Herod? It may sound naive today, but we know the answer.
PeterD | 26 February 2019

So many of us are devastated. I find it difficult to express such profound sadness. The details of the accusation are so obviously some pruient fantasies that are improbable in the circumstances. Poor Cardinal Pell is most likely a scapegoat for the daily media indoctrination of anti Catholicism/Christianity which has been going on for decades. Everyone is led to believe 'Catholic priest' is synonymous for 'child molester.' I am reminded of another who was falsely accused and suffered a horrendous execution on a cross. It will be a brave judge who grants the Cardinal an appeal with the crowd baying for blood. Pontius Pilate did not manage it. My thoughts and prayers are for the Cardinal and all those who are grieving over this monstrous injustice.
Cressida de Nova | 26 February 2019

This retrial is a disgrace to justice. The left are trying to stitch up Christianity and destroy it and the family completely. I do not believe Pell abused children at all.
Shirley Hogg | 26 February 2019

As a lawyer and former alter server in St Mary’s catholic cathedral Hobart when Archbishop Guildford Young presided at many masses I concur that it would have been almost impossible for Pell to have been alone after mass in the manner alleged. Unless we can say every jury is infallible and discount entirely the public’s contempt for cover up in the Church of which Pell was symbolic or the head target then we have to accept the chances of Pell getting an unbiased jury was slim in such a public case. The criminal threshold is high - beyond reasonable doubt. FrankBrennan is no close friend of Pells and his concern throughout about the lack of prospects of Pell obtaining a fair trial meant this was always the likely verdict particularly I think after a 10:2 verdict against conviction in the first trial. The first trial was Pells best chance and showed the evidence wasnt that convincing . Certainly grounds for appeal .
Hayden Legro | 26 February 2019

As I've thought about this through the day I've wondered about where the altar servers were while these events were unfolding that pre-Christmas day. Especially during Advent, the Solemn Mass surely would have had many acolytes undertaking their various roles. At our parish church, the children are always milling around right after Mass putting out candles (they seem to like that job) and carrying them out to the sacristy. For someone hell bent of assaulting not one but two children that day, the then archbishop sure chose a hell of a time and place to do so! It's a wonder that being walked in on by an acolyte or an altar child as the priest carried out his horrific attacks was not more of a concern. Like the rest of you, I simply do not know. I hand these things over to the Father and to the grace of the Holy Spirit. I hope and pray that all who have been affected by the atrocity of child sexual abuse, including those who've been wrongfully accused, will be held in the palm of God's hand and that his healing peace and grace will sustain them through their inevitable, resultant hardships. I'm comforted by the Hebrew scripture promise: "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord.” If we get it wrong in the courts of human justice, and we do, God will sort it out at the other end.
BPLF | 26 February 2019

Michael O'Hanlon, who, exactly, gave Cardinal Pell "the presumption of innocence"? I must have missed that bit. During the Comedy Festival last winter, my daughter and I attended a performance of Tom Gleeson's because my daughter is a fan of 'Hard Quiz' and likes Tom. A good portion of Tom's performance was devoted to slating Cardinal Pell as a paedophile. Mark - the Comedy Festival was *last winter*. We were at the Comedy Theatre and it was full to the rafters. Hundreds of people heard the Cardinal pre-judged that night, named and shamed as a paedophile long before he went to trial. Do you think the performance would have been allowed to run with such content was it anyone other than a Catholic priest who was being presumptively called out?
BPLF | 26 February 2019

It is very disturbing that with so many inconsistencies in the evidence, Cardinal Pell was condemned. I hope that justice will be served in the appeal.
Michael Hoban | 26 February 2019

It’s not over yet. There’s still the appeal and Pell could well win that. Frank Brennan has raised some legitimate objections to the case against Pell. I myself always thought that the evidence regarding him abusing those two choir boys was weak. His priestly attire would have got in the way of any of the sexual offences he has been convicted of, as Frank has clearly explained. The fact too that the first trial was aborted because of a hung jury indicates that the same could happen during an appeal which could also result in his acquittal. Not that any Pell/Catholic Church supporters should draw much comfort from this if that happens. First, there would be an enormous surge of outrage against the church from many quarters. The fall-out of any acquittal could be enormously damaging to the Church. Second, the Church must profoundly reform itself to survive as a credible institution in today’s society. Pell with his arrogant dismissal of pedophile complaints epitomises so much that is currently wrong with the Catholic Church. It’s rotten to the core with priestly pedophilia that would go back millennia. It’s a pity Martin Luther omitted that when he hammered his 95 theses to the door of Wurttenburg cathedral in 1523 calling for the church’s reform. The Catholic Church needs another Reformation to make it a religious organisation relevant to the 21st Century. Abolition of priestly celibacy, greater prominence of female clerics (who would be less prone to pedophilia themselves and more likely to protect the kids from offending male priests) and firm protocols for handing over of such priests to the cops would be a good start.
Dennis | 27 February 2019

This apologia by Brennan is appalling and makes it clear why a) the Royal Commission was so necessary, and b) how hard it is for people abused as children to be taken seriously. A curt reminder to Brennan the Pell hid the abuse of other clergy under his command. He was a persistent obstructor of justice.
Merrilyn Wasson | 27 February 2019

Yes indeed Ginger, there certainly was a trial complete with a jury of twelve persons who heard the evidence, deliberated for three days and came to a unanimous guilty verdict. You might recall that a jury of twelve persons in another place and time returned a unanimous guilty verdict against one Lindy Chamberlain also. She, in her own way, was just as reviled as George Pell but I rather suspect that Pell will spend less time behind bars than the three and a half years it took to decide that Chamberlain’s jury was not infallible. There will be an appeal but rather than “picking over the entrails of the case” as you so indelicately put it with a whiff of Pell’s supposed sordidness, let’s hope the appellate judge considers the preposterous charge against him with a clear mind unbothered by the mob mentality howling for Pell’s blood. Perhaps he or she will still decide that Pell is guilty but, in the meantime, why not just wait and let justice run its course.
Tom Brennan | 27 February 2019

It is surprising that some commentators here criticise Brennan for daring to question the jury's verdict. If the jury's verdict is so reliable why, in the first trial, did the jury come to a quite different decision? It is reported the first jury, presumably hearing the same evidence, found Pell not guilty on each count 10 to 2. We are fortunate that someone like Brennan has the courage to examine the evidence in the case and help us understand what is at stake. Has the jury's verdict been founded on the evidence provided to it, or has it been guided by something else? We are fortunate also that our judicial system contains the right of appeal.
JDH | 27 February 2019

With respect, Mary Adams, those cases occurred in small country churches after early weekday Masses. Typically there might be one to three parishioners and they leave straight after Mass. There weren't hundreds of people milling about. Also, they occurred after the priest had removed his vestments.
Someone | 27 February 2019

Pell might take heart from reading the story of Alfred Dreyfus. As he was convicted and condemned for being Jewish in late 19th century France, maybe Pell has been convicted for representing Catholicism. Who knows, but if it is false, I hope the truth comes out in this world. There is a lot of unfair criticism of Father Brennan in this blog. He has written an objective article, not one which criticises the jury verdict as some readers are saying. Thanks for the facts Father Brennan.
Georgie | 27 February 2019

The only useful observation you have made Frank is the obvious one that the jury must have believed the complainant.You find this hard to accept and so attempt to reprosecute the case casting doubt on the soundness of very the jury system our legal system puts its faith in. An appeal will test this.You might have done better to let the processes of the Law take their course before crying foul. I too attended the court and could not help feeling sorry for George who was the picture of a “broken man”but I feel more sorry for all the innocent children whose lives have been deeply affected by abuse and I believe them until it can be proven that they are lying or have made it up. Who do you believe ?This is what cases of historical abuse often boil down to and why victims may be reluctant to come forward because not being believed inflicts further trauma. However improbable inconceivable in your view “impossible” the Pell charges are ,we know abuse happened perpetrated by priests on innocent children in sacristies on an opportunistic basis. Tell me why this is not a possibility in the Pell case?
John Murphy | 27 February 2019

What a sad time for the church as a whole. I feel this was always going to be the outcome with the trial.Trail by media first. We in the Catholic Church are all on our knees.
Rebecca Klarica | 27 February 2019

This is an unspeakable crime, particularly for the abused child. The child's moral compass is shattered when he is a victim of such a bestial attack by a person he has been raised to respect and trust. Brennan seems to regard the facts that the boy did not discuss the matter with his friend and that another boy did not disclose it to his parents, and that the boys remained in the choir after the event as some sort of evidence that the crime did not take place. In fact it is a typical response by sexually abused children. They often believe that in some way they are culpable, or that they will not be believed. They do not disclose until many years later. If they had not remained in the choir, questions by their parents and others would have been asked which they would not have wanted to answer. In another case a boy did disclose to his parents who told him not to make up such dreadful lies about the priest. Please do not use the fact of nondisclosure as an "improbable" or "impossible" as an indication that the crime did not take place.
Margaret M. Coady | 27 February 2019

Yesterday and today will be sombre days, not days of celebration - David Marr said that. I feel compassion for George Pell, although I accept the verdict of the jury. The prosecution case was forensically examined with no expense spared yet still a citizen jury reached a guilty verdict. I feel compassion and admiration for the victims too. Someone I know quite well was abused by two priests in different country towns in the 1950's. He was just nine years old when it began and he thought it was normal behaviour. The blind sense of entitlement those priests had is mindboggling and I suspect that sense of entitlement has plagued the Church for centuries. We saw evidence of this in the Australian Royal Commission findings, and in similar investigations in other OECD countries. One could argue that Cardinal Pell was partly a victim of Church culture in these matters. It's not up to me to do that but I do feel sure that that Catholic Church culture and structures need to change. So far, there have only been words about this. I left the Catholic Church at 18 after looking at its history and dogma. I went to a Catholic girls school over the road from the notorious St. Alipius School in Ballarat. I was never at risk of abuse but was beginning to feel intense disillusionment with Church authority, dogma and practice. I feel compassion for current members of the Catholic Church who have been deeply hurt by the disclosure of sexual abuse in recent years. It just seems to get worse. I believe that the Church needs a more democratic management structure including many laity and women but don't have great faith that this will occur.
Catherine Sommerville | 27 February 2019

This article is a set of forensic suppositions that implicitly assume there are no other dimensions to the truth or otherwise of this case. Yet the world has seen one of its señior Catholic clergy decline to take the stand and bear witness to the truth under the oath of the Holy Bible that he claims to represent. That was his legal right, but from a moral perspective it is entirely reasonable for us to ask why.
Bruce Adams | 27 February 2019

How sad to read this article. Have we learned nothing, from a 5 year Royal Commission, as to the harm inflicted on victims when denial, denial, denial is what stares out from this very article? Sure, let justice take its course. When it does, if the verdict is reversed, will we see a long discourse on the mistakes that were made for that outcome too? Would that be more balanced comment? I was most disappointed that this came from someone who works in the area of social service where the trauma to victims is seen to be widespread throughout the community. I sincerely hope that on looking back Fr Brennan may have the thought that he should have reconsidered his decision to take such a biased stand in regard to justice.
Patricia Hamilton | 27 February 2019

Rosemary Sheehan, the complainant was not identified because he was a minor at the time of the offence. Can we all stop this hysteria regarding vendettas against the RCC and rigged juries? There will be an appeal and it seems they have grounds.
Pamela Albaytar | 27 February 2019

It is natural for Brennan to rise to Pell's defence and find excuses to discount the testimony of the person who suffered the abuse. He is a member of the same church. But unlike the jury and the judge, Brennan did not hear the testimony given by the person abused, who as I understand it, delivered his evidence without the benefit of legal counsel, and was subject to rigorous cross-examination by Robert Richter, reputed to be one of Australia's most intimidating, forensic and aggressive barristers (oh, and one of the most expensive). The jury heard the evidence and they delivered their verdict. Guilty as charged.
Bob Evans | 27 February 2019

Among many of the comments here I sense an almost pathological unwillingness to believe that clergy, especially clergy that we know and revere, might be capable of using their position to sexually abuse. In fact, the abuse, the cover ups, the privileging of the abuser over the abused has been going on for centuries ! If you want an example from old Ireland go read the report of the libel case between The Rev. Roderick Ryder and the Proprietor of the Galway Mercury in The Cork Examiner Monday, July 26, 1847; pg. 4; Issue 919. accessible via your state library.
Ginger Meggs | 27 February 2019

Obviously a captivating article. You only have to read the responses to know how hot and divided folk are on the matter. Further, many of the comments are not connected with either the case or what Frank Brennan wrote. The whole Pell matter is like a screen on to which folk project their, views, rage, prejudices, sympathies, regrets etc. The screen is obscure not because of absence of material but because of a surfeit. During the Royal Commission an Irish witness pointed out that the culture had changed. Once it was the victim who would not be believed; now it is the accused. Another witness declared, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast". And currently media formed culture is not strong on facts nor logic. Pell is far from an endearing character. Not the kind of guy most would want a beer with. However as much as coldness, careerism, ambition, focus on money, fine dining, outdated theology and fundamentalism are unlikable they do not constitute guilt in a particular case. Did anyone ask any of the throng outside St Patrick's how long it took Pell to emerge from the cathedral? Could any one of us clearly elaborate how we formed opinions about guilt or innocence about this case? Does focus on the justice or otherwise of a trial suggest coldness or callousness towards victims? Could anyone knowing how ambitious and careerist Pell was/is imagine him blotting his CV copybook as alleged?
Michael D. Breen | 27 February 2019

I appreciate the honesty and objectivity in the article. It provides some solace for Catholics overwhelmed by this tragedy and the intensity of the media, a matter clearly made by Prof Greg Craven today. With issues of truth and justice, Lindy Chamberlain and Alfred Dreyfus spring to mind
David Rush | 27 February 2019

For years now the Australian public has been bombarded with negative statements concerning the Catholic Church from all directions including church leaders. All seeking relief from the child sex abuse scandal. The jurors’ decision only enforces the use by date of trial by jurors. They as human being were susceptible to the years of negative publicity, through the media, television even by the Pope himself and the Royal commission, including emotion and the complexity of the legalities of law. I allege no juror entered that trial in a neutral state of mind.
edward | 27 February 2019

Tony Coady: Bracketing the points made by Fr Brennan (which I think pertinent, regardless as to whether or not they were voiced by the defence) I find it very odd that one jury finds 12-0 that Cardinal Pell is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, but another jury, confronted with the same evidence (or am I wrong?) found 10-2 that he is not. I see no reason why we uphold the unanimous verdict of the second trial as somehow settling the matter. Particularly, as I noted above, if this case had been tried a mere few hundred ks north, Pell would would have been found not guilty after the first trial and maybe back in Rome uncovering more billions of dirty money stashed away by corrupt clerics. What are the odds that the earlier 10, despite all negative media publicity re. Cardinal Pell over the years, were biased, as opposed to the latter 12, despite all that same publicity, being substantially indifferent or even prejudiced? A middle position, I suppose, is that all jurors in both trials were as indifferent as they should be, but that either the prosecution argument was vastly improved in the second trial or the defence argument in the second trial was vastly inferior to that in the first trial. We eagerly await the transcripts of both trials in order to evaluate that hypothesis. In other words, the "meta-jury" as it were, is still out. P.S. Not that it settles this particular matter, but I think your book “Testimony” was great – thanks.
HH | 27 February 2019

Let's be quite honest about this, the Catholic Church along with the Anglicans, Salvation Army, Hillsong, Methodists, Presbyterians, all ignored the story of the Good Samaritan and we're happy to cross over and ignore the suffering, tears, fears & at Thomas the sheer hopelessness of those who were abused in every conceivable way by this group of Pharisees who thought more of their money, their greed, their reputation than they did of those who they collectively abused. George Pell and for that matter, Peter Hollingsworth, Brian Houston, various Salvation Army Commissioners and other church leaders did their collective level best to decry those who suffered. It's time for them all, and George Pell is a good place to start, to fully feel the effects of the law. If George Pell and the others had shown mercy, compassion & grace, & if they had acted in accordance with the law then we would not be going through this process. Perhaps Pell is feeling how Ellis felt, perhaps he's feeling how those thousands he ignored felt. A pathetic end to a wasted life. The law has taken its course.
James Luthy | 27 February 2019

“He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged.” ? Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
Judith Curtain | 27 February 2019

After publication of this piece, I gave follow up interviews to ABC Radio at and then to ABC 7.30 at Finally I gave an interview to SkyNews at In this last interview, I made it clear that it was now necessary for all interested persons to wait until the court appeal processes have run their course. That being the case, I will not be giving further interviews about the case, verdict and sentence, until all appeals have been exhausted. I see little point in public speculation about the prospects of a successful appeal by Cardinal Pell.
Frank Brennan SJ | 27 February 2019

You misunderstand me Tom Brennan. I agree with you that the appeal process is the right and proper way to resolve this issue and I will have confidence in that process whatever its outcome. Frank has chosen a different route and instead of waiting for the appeal to run its course he has questioned to performance of everyone involved except the accused. A more considered and dare I say constructive reflection on the trial has been made by your own Francis Sullivan in the Age this morning. It’s worth reading < >
Ginger Meggs | 27 February 2019

A number of bloggers seem to think that a 10-2 verdict in NSW would yield an acquittal. That is not so. A majority verdict is 11-1 in NSW (s 55F, Jury Act). 10-2 would still be hung.
GW | 27 February 2019

Re Brennan's comment, if Pell is a scapegoat he is a scapegoat of his own making. For over 40 years he arrogantly put his reputation and that of his church ahead of the need to protect children from criminal priests. I have more faith in the verdict of this jury than the thoughts of the catholic faithful.
Peter Macdonald | 27 February 2019

I find this article to be classic “gaslighting”.
HFA | 27 February 2019

I'm sorry, Fr Brennan. I respect you greatly, but unless you heard all of the evidence (and you can't, given the victim's evidence was closed) you cannot comment. The jury heard it, heard all of it. 12-0. There was no witch hunt here. Pell had the best and brightest lawyers, and powerful backers. If he is acquitted on appeal, so be it. But it is not for you or anyone to traduce the motives of the jury or those involved in the case. This article is, frankly, disappointing.
Burgey | 27 February 2019

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thank you Fr Leahy for being a humane voice. I will remain Catholic and raise my sons as such; but I am highly critical and angry at the Church’s response so far. We must do better. As for the argument that it is highly improbable, therefore Pell must be innocent; see my first line. He was arrogant, and thought he could get away with anything. And the clothing issue? Pah. Many a priest in a small community church does not have altar severs or the like to help with vestments. Which mean they must be able to removed by oneself without any help. Not to mention a priest with many decades of experience would surely be very capable in this area! The real point is that we need to acknowledge what has happened; be properly remorseful and respectful to the victims; and realise that there is something very wrong at clergy level, which we have to fix. Now.
Vanessa | 27 February 2019

This article is the end for me with Eureka St. I subscribed to the print edition and read the online version each week, however I have been deeply troubled by Eureka St's conflicted stance on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. On the basis of this article, you have lost me as reader and supporter
Colin Penter | 27 February 2019

Father Brennan. Now that it has been established by his counsel that Pell had what is described as "vanilla sex" with a child, sex that "only lasted for six minutes" can we expect a public apology from you to the victim whose testimony you discredited in this article?
Dr Jennifer Wilson | 27 February 2019

Err. Pell’s lawyer has just admitted it happened and that he is guilty. Might have been better to wait for the plea deal before posting this article and the comments below, as it shows how desperately you all want not to believe in this man’s guilt. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to the Catholic Church in Australia, and it will never recover.
John | 27 February 2019

Thanks for your exposition Frank. I wondered how this case could proceed to trial, and fully expected a 'not guilty' verdict when it did. Now the Appeal Court will have to rule, and we await its decision. Regardless of that outcome, whatever it may be, do you think that this case may become caught up in the very serious questions about the administration of justice in Victoria, and (at least in the Lawyer X case) the 'whatever it takes' approach by the Victorian police?
Ed Cory | 27 February 2019

Unlike Frank Brennan, Pell’s defence lawyer Robert Richter fully accepts the finding that the abuse took place. However he adds insult to injury by arguing at the Sentence Hearing today that it was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating.” What on earth! Have these people no shame?
Bruce Adams | 27 February 2019

Easy to see that many of Mr Pell’s supporters view the trial and verdict as an attack on the church and the character of the man, rather than an assessment of the guilt of the man for the crimes charged. That line doesn’t survive reasonable analysis. Criticism of the jury and selective comments on some of the evidence by bush lawyers (and some real lawyers too) show a disregard or a lack of awareness of the judicial process. Is anyone really saying Mr Pell did not have a fair trial, or the judge or jury were biased against him? He had one of the best barristers in the country defending him, he had every opportunity to put his case and he had every opportunity to have witnesses cross-examined. The jury considered evidence not available to the rest of us and deliberated for three days to reach its verdict. It was not a rushed outcome. None of us is in a position to criticise the diligence or integrity of the jury, nor should we. Bringing up the first trial is irrelevant, a red herring. The second trial is the one that matters because it delivered a verdict. The attitude of some people to Mr Pell’s victims (not “alleged” victims as one correspondent referred to them) shows a lack of respect and empathy for what they have been through. Mr Pell may not feel he had a fair go and his appeal will determine if there were flaws in his trial. But unless that happens, he has lost the presumption of innocence.
Brett | 27 February 2019

It is interesting that so many correspondents seek to conceal their identities by withholding their names through various ploys. One wonders what they fear or whether they do not trust their opinions. Perhaps just shy?
jeem | 27 February 2019

I'm not a catholic. My mother was, and suffered abuse at the hands of the nuns as a terribly vulnerable and homeless 13 year old. But as a woman I suffer secondary abuse via the power so many religions including Catholicism have inflicted on my gender via their inordinate and inappropriate influence on government, as well as social mores influenced by a darkness within to do with women and their sexuality. I can only say this: the power of denial is powerful indeed. It's almost supernatural, what the human mind can do. Someone close to me denies a history of psychological violence that was witnessed by many. Cannot reconcile it with the person they think they were, and are. Denial can come from not just those who apparently acted, but also those who could have seen, but literally could not, because it is so counter to their belief system. The fact that an act is 'implausible' or horrific appears to be how so many got away with what they did. Pedophiles appear to be quite often marked by the strange daring of abuse in public. There is little reason for an ordinary person to lie about one of the most powerful men on the planet. To suggest that the best defence team in the land,somehow forgot a critical point of how a man lifts up his robes, is absurd.
Gretchen Miller | 27 February 2019

Throughout human history there have been many famous trials that served populism rather than truth and justice e.g. the trials of Jesus of Nazareth, numerous victims of the Inquisition, Joan of Ark, Thomas Moore, Mary Queen of Scots and human life itself in the famous 1960/70 contrived Roe v Wade in the USA. All these were resolved to the not infrequent vengeful clamour of the populace, pawns often manipulated and unaware of the evidence or the machinations of those responsible for bringing the matter to trial. This may well prove to be another such event. However, if an appeal succeeds, the damage already inflicted will persist in accord with Billy Shakespeare's remarkable understanding of the human mind - "The evil [perceived or real] that men do lives after them - the good is oft interred with their bones".
john frawley | 27 February 2019

This is all so so sad for everyone involved. I am not a fan of Pell, and in fact he was very rude to me on the couple of occasions I had personal contact over the years, once with my wife present. Buy even so, having been an altar-boy for ten years until my late teens, and having helped to vest and un-vest priests of every shape and size, this story just sounds ludicrous. Especially since the evidence seems to have been that the vestments somehow opened up vertically and Pell undid his belt! Even if that detail is mis-memory, I cannot believe that a big guy like Pell could seriously pull up his vestments sufficiently to then undo his belt etc....and be able to pull the boy`s head to him while holding his clothes and vestments up with just one hand. And...even in the middle-sized church I was involved in, it was pretty busy in the sacristy after Mass! Finally, it was one person`s word against another, with the second nominated victim being dead and having denied it, poor man. Sounds most like a lynching to me. I feel somewhat lynched too, I have to say.
Eugene | 27 February 2019

One's story being believed is crucial. Pell's (yes, second) Jury unanimously believed one story, over his. It is not their fault. They are not to blame. Richter is a lawyer; he did his best, doing what he had to do, including his cross-examination/rebuttal. Anyway, now I have read this - and all I can say is that I do believe its author, Jennifer. Here, related to the trial and Pell's innocence or guilt, really I cannot credit the range of sentiments being expressed - from paranoia, to conspiracy; from absolute faith, to absolute disbelief. Perhaps it's time for everyone (and myself included) to sit quietly and reconsider that oath in Oliver Cromwell's 1650 letter to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland ??
John Douglas | 27 February 2019

This article is a superb example of why the Catholic Church is now so despised and mistrusted from those without and now many of those within. The Church is dying. Those of influence within the it have a remarkable lack of insight, empathy and leadership and the institution deserves the fate of irrelevance that awaits it.
jt | 27 February 2019

No that is untrue, putting your client in the witness box is seen as a last resort and the worst possible thing to do in a trial. It opens them up to being made to look bad through relentless cross-examination. This conviction is remarkable because a jury has convicted without seeing either witness, based on uncorroborated evidence of an event 20 years ago, that could not be defended with contemporaneous evidence due the passage of time, and they cannot have done so based on witness demeanour. They have essentially just believed a story with strong inconsitencies over Pell's denials, based on impression (and one suspects however unconscious - pre-conceived bias). If this conviction stands, it is an all time low point for the presumption of innocence in western democracies.
John Gabriel | 27 February 2019

This is clearly a matter that is dividing people. On the one hand one needs to respect the verdict of the jury. However, onewould do well to keep in mind that another jury was unable to reach a gulity verdict and thus a retrial was necessary. That is fair enough, it happens in many other cases. Whether the Cardinal is guilty "in fact" remains to be pursued in an appeal. One considers that Archbishop Wilson was convicted, only to have that overturned so due process must be allowed. What I find quite concerning is the level of proof that appears to have been sufficient to render a guilty verdict. There was certainly the testimony of the complaintant, but where was the actual proof that the offense took place? In the prophet Isaiah it entreats us to "State your case, and bring your proofs". However, this appears lacking and to be a case of "he said, he said". It is really so sad for everyone. I do not think that Fr Brennan is attempted to defend the Church per se. I think he is merely being a lawyer and presenting an argument in the interests of reaching the truth.
John | 27 February 2019

Australian Catholic Church is under attack about theme "Child Sexual Abuse" according to the movement by the people are not loving the Church. Many people took this problem to attack the Church, especially the church leaders. We should thoroughly understand the details to make this issue more clear. The complainant is not really clear. Newspapers are too diverse when capturing vague information to condemn and criticize things they don't really see through the truth.
Sang Duc Bui | 27 February 2019

I am very grateful for your level headed article Father Brennan. Just wondering what the lynch mob scenes outside the courtroom may be a precursor to. Is this a return to the sectarianism that identified us in days gone by as witnessed by Jim McLelland and Bob Santamaria. Only this time the battle lines are drawn between the Catholic church and the rest of the country. One of your commenters is disappointed by the article because he was as found guilty in an Australian court of law. Well so was Lindy Chamberlain based on extreme prejudice against Seventh Day Adventists, despite the flimsy prosecution case. That is why so many Catholics are shocked. The prosecution in George Pell’s case didn’t have a case.the outcome was decided befor the trial.
Nicole king | 27 February 2019

While I'm no fan of George Pell, However one thing I do know is that he was very good at his job in the Vatican. He exposed Millions of dollars that was being laundered through the Vatican bank by criminals in Italy. A good enough reason to Hang him out to dry' I would think. As a Catholic I will pray for Truth and Justice in Australia.
Kerry Fisher | 27 February 2019

I doubt, unless Cardinal Pell were to make a public confession, we will ever be certain of his guilt or innocence. The trial was never just about the case itself. The Catholic Church was reeling from the atrocious worldwide paedophilia scandal and quite rightly. I think it is dangerous in thinking Pell's authoritarian manner and seeming lack of sympathy for victims would necessarily mean he is a paedophile. The jury in this case were instructed to make a decision on the facts and nothing else. I think they acted correctly. He is going to appeal, as he has a legal right to. If he is found to be innocent on appeal, just as many people will be dissatisfied with this verdict as were with the first. I must confess this George Pell affair will not affect my beliefs in any way, because, when all the pomp and office are stripped away, we are all just very ordinary people. There is no doubt that the Church's way of thinking and behaving have been very hierarchical and that is very much part of the reason this almighty mess happened. I believe the current Pope is trying to fix this mess. He and the survivors are the ones who need our prayers, sympathy and support.
Edward Fido | 27 February 2019

I am terribly disappointed in this attempt to cast doubt on the jury’s decision despite not being present for the entirety or hearing the same complete evidence to which they were subject. I hope this article is well intentioned, but I don’t think it’s helpful in the slightest given the facts: the jury’s decision, the statistical probability that Pell is guilty (has supported convicted paedophiles in the past, the enormous amount of this abuse in the Catholic Church, rarity of false accusations etc.) and your role in Jesuit Social Services with many vulnerable people. The circulation of this article, particularly to young people in the Church as reported by parents at some Catholic schools, is something I find truly abhorrent. False accusations are incredibly rare and given the surrounding context, stirring doubt is highly irresponsible and damaging to victims. Fair trials are vital – but last time I checked Pell has former prime ministers and prominent journalists defending him, not to mention the press being banned from covering this issue until now. And he will have access to an appeal. So spare me if Pell’s plight is not the first thing on my mind at this time.
Lucy Williams | 27 February 2019

God wants Pell to take the stand and answer the questions.
David Foster | 27 February 2019

Given the boys slipped out of the procession of choristers, is seems to me the most likely person to have found them in the Sacristy/Vestry would be the choir master. He would have noticed their absence and gone looking for them. It would be interesting to know what robes he was wearing.
Jon | 27 February 2019

Thank you for having the courage to offer your reflections on the Cardinal Pell case at a time when some seem to judge, falsely, that the use of reason to defend someone in such a case is incompatible with compassion for victims, and also knowing that you will draw fire from some quarters for daring to speak up. It seems important that respected, well informed people challenge the tide of popular opinion when they sense that an injustice may be occurring. Such dissent may lead other people to also challenge popular opinion when it seems appropriate. On the matter of juries. I cannot see how the members of any jury today can be expected to be equipped with the knowledge of the mass of current research findings in the areas of memory, reasoning, and decision making, including knowledge of the influence of our unconscious in these areas. Such knowledge may be required to make a reasonable judgement. However, without this knowledge their decisions can be error prone, with one American study showing that juries get it wrong one in eight times. It is time for juries to be discharged forever.
Paul Casey | 27 February 2019

John and Bruce, I think you've taken Richter's comments out of context. This was a pre-sentencing hearing. Pending the appeal, Richter's job now is to persuade the judge that the offence for which Pell has been convicted (but which may be overturned) is not a serious one. It's not an admission of guilt; Richter is just doing his job in this narrow context. ;)
Ginger Meggs | 27 February 2019

Having read this article one has to wonder if ingrained societal attitudes, including especially the condemnation and dismissal of victims, to this type behaviour will really ever change. Frank
frank wassmann | 27 February 2019

Frank. Fact is that 12 jurors unanimously believed the complainant. I can't believe Pell did not give evidence. Assuming he instructed his counsel that he was innocent, that would have to be the mistake of the century.
John Rivett | 27 February 2019

The scenario described by the complainant in regard to alleged abuse committed by Cardinal Pell, is absolutely astounding and borders on the ridiculous. George Pell may be a lot of things, but the man I have known for over 30 years, isn't stupid. The idea that he could have sexually abused two adolescent boys in a cathedral sacristy after Mass, with the door wide open, and people walking past, is laughable. Frank has outlined the technical impossibility of this happening, based on the many layers of attire a fully robed archbishop would be wearing. The normal practice of paedophiles is to first groom their victims, before they strike. George Pell saying his first or second solemn Mass at St Patrick's, in December 1996, did not know these two young men from a bar of soap. The other young man who is now deceased even told his mother the abuse did not happen. While anything is still possible, don't these particulars indicate the presence of reasonable doubt, which should be the norm for determining guilt in a criminal case? But even if this is overturned by appeal, I fear Cardinal Pell's reputation is forever ruined.
Andrew Rabel | 27 February 2019

Jeem, you have not used your own name (presumably it has two parts) yet call others out for not using theirs. People choose anonymity online for a range of reasons. Eureka Street {ES} discusses many issues that are controversial and contentious in nature. Pseudonyms allow readers here to say what they think while still being able to retain their privacy and that of others in their lives about whom they may, on occasion, be commenting. A mainstream newspaper requires full name and suburb for letters. That's not how this forum works and ES allows one to speak more freely for that reason I think. It's not about being shy or having anything to hide; it's more that one just doesn't necessarily want others to know one's business. So some regulars here, myself included, have decided on monikers for ourselves and use them for all our posts.
BPLF | 28 February 2019

A “manifestly improbable” scenario? As a 13 y.o. altar boy in Sydney I was present in the sacristy when our parish Monsignor – a large, powerful and domineering man - physically assaulted two older altar boys there within one minute of our Mass finishing. The victims could easily be heard being struck and thrown to the floor. It was an ugly, dangerous and uninhibited attack from a person who had momentarily lost all self restraint: so much so that a second priest who had assisted the Mass instantly fled the scene, closing the back door behind him and leaving me and a class mate serving with me to our fate. Yes, this incident I describe sounds utterly improbable, but that does not alter the fact that it did happen. My class mate and I never told any other person about what happened that day: it was traumatic, and unmentionable. We never spoke of it again together, ever, despite remaining close friends all our life. For the perpetrator there were no consequences or repercussions whatsoever. It was as if it actually never happened. Father Brennan, you appear to be suggesting that - had you been on the jury - then Cardinal Pell would not have been found guilty at this trial either. People are saying the claimant cannot in all fairness be believed because his claims are improbable. I have long admired and respected you and used the things you say to help interpret what I see and hear going on around me. What I‘m grappling with now is as follows. Our Prime Minister’s apology to the victims of institutional sexual abuse said “I simply say … I believe you, we believe you, your country believes you.” Sadly, it is this key statement from our national apology that is now, of itself, starting to look very improbable.
Mark Stack | 28 February 2019

I am astonished that this piece has been circulated to parents at Catholic schools in Australia, indicating it is the Catholic Church's position. A trial has been run. The man has been found guilty. Your 'improbable' argument holds no water. Denial is a powerful thing, even in those who witnessed, let alone those who now believe themselves above the courts, despite not being present as the 12 good men and women of the jury were. I hope you will also publish and circulate this response. It is thoughtful and nuanced.
Gretchen Miller | 28 February 2019

Well said, BPLF, though I do understand the confusion potential of pseudonyms - especially with the number of "Johns" now appearing, a bit like that memorable scene from the film Spartacus! For the record, I'm the first John posted here, and this is my second contribution to Fr Brennan's welcome article. I suggest Dr Jennifer Wilson, John (No.2) and Bruce Adams re-visit the words Mr Richter actually used - he does not accept the guilt of his client.
John | 28 February 2019

I've been reading the comments for the last couple of days. And I've read Frank's article closely. Through an overseas website I was aware of the guilty verdict when it was handed down in December. At that time I thought about the victim. Now, in Australia at this time, the story has exploded in the press and amongst commentators and has affected me profoundly. I have to say what I know about sexual abuse: that it is a secretive crime, can be opportunistic or carefully planned, leaves the victim feeling 'is this really happening', the victim is shocked and often cannot recall the sequence of events clearly or details. I think of the young man who endured abuse, came forward after a number of years, went through questioning, two trials and is now attempting to protect his family. And a Cardinal who is himself enduring trauma.
Pam | 28 February 2019

In Meanjin, Daniel Reeders concludes a thoughtful review of Brennan's piece with: 'The thing I find most troubling is the move Fr Brennan makes next. He writes ‘ I can only hope and pray that the complainant can find some peace, able to get on with his life, whichever way the appeal goes.’ This is the ultimate Catholicism. It extends to the person who has been wronged a false pity that simultaneously implies their complaint springs from being troubled. It is a hypocritical gesture that evades moral accountability while further injuring the person bringing the moral claim.' The whole article is well worth a read.
Chris Gill | 28 February 2019

BPLF. My comment was meant to be comic irony - seems it missed the mark!
jeem | 28 February 2019

Critically reviewing authority of any kind, judicial, political or ethical, is the duty of all citizen and a welcome break from the blind obedience expected in the Catholic hierarchy. Mr Brennan is openly disputing this legal verdict and refusing to accept that we now have a proven victim, not a complainant anymore, and a criminal paedophile sex-offender, that he refuses to call so, but Cardinal instead. So while the convicted sex-offender and criminal is called Cardinal, the victim of this vile abuse is called nothing other than 'complainant' - and 19 times in my count. This seems to align nicely with the callous self-interest and protectionist stonewalling against victims of sex-abuse that we have seen for so long, from so many sources, with convicted sex-offender Pell the architect of the financial protection of the Church against compensation claims by victims.
Ulf Steinvorth | 28 February 2019

The legal representation's public comments on the nature of the offence committed by the Cardinal beggar belief. If indeed the reporting is accurate, any chance of a successful appeal would seem to have been placed squarely behind the eight ball!
john frawley | 28 February 2019

Mathew 5:11. Blessed are those that are persecuted in my name...
Andrew Woods | 28 February 2019

I am afraid that with the justified exposition of the sexual crimes of past decades and the recent Royal Commission into such, a horrible by-product has been the 180 degree reversal of the once sacrosanct "presumption of innocence" to a "presumption of guilt" in other than clear-cut cases involving minors. I also wonder as to why the second choirboy (now deceased) could be implicated when he denied any abuse and so I would assume, should be regarded as having denied this horrific event even took place.
Joe Kelly | 28 February 2019

Apart from allocating pride of place for Jon's wry comment, and unlike many colleagues here, I pray for nothing but good to emerge from these events, whether Pell wins his appeal or not (and I hope, for his sake, that he wins!). Among the many good things, it will make those who run our Catholic Church stop and think about the storm of protest, both within and outside the Church, about the abuse that so many who support the clerical structure and patriarchal culture of Catholicism have perpetrated on its victims. The universal church will hopefully never be the same. The Synod or Council, now virtually around the corner, must deal with the intense public antipathy, both amongst Catholics as well as others, against institutional Catholicism. Those members of the hierarchy and clergy who speak with evident hubris in the manner of Marie-Antoinette, will hopefully be decapitated, if not literally then at least figuratively and metaphorically. The Church will need to return to its pilgrim origins; women, gays and others who have been sidelined will need to be treated with love and respect, and, last but not least, a Vatican III will need to be called, without Cardinal Pell present!
Michael Furtado | 28 February 2019

Father Brennan might want to consider a public apology to the thousands of victims of the sexual violence the Catholic Church has allowed and covered up over the decades by behaviour just like the one he displays publicly now: treating the victims with disdain and reducing them to 'complainants' while publicly supporting convicted paedophiles. Shame.
Victims Advocate | 28 February 2019

Serving as a juror on 2 cases, I remember the emphatic warnings of the judge to the jury before proceedings start- don’t google the law, don’t ask for opinions outside the court, don’t look up information at home or go to the library to research facts about the case. Don’t use your background knowledge about probabilities or improbabilities. This article is a mere abductive argument to the best explanation. But I gather, the jury of the trial ‘the judges of the evidence’ are, by that privilege, the best judges of the evidence. It is highly improbable to win power ball but occasional someone wins. A priori improbabilities are not evidentiary.
Robert | 28 February 2019

"Should the appeal succeed, the Victoria Police should review the adequacy of the police investigation of these serious criminal charges." Why? If the prosecution was able to withstand the efforts of a pre-eminent defence QC with seemingly limitless resources at his disposal, then surely the police investigation can be deemed adequate. Even if the jury found Pell not guilty, the Police had gathered a compelling enough case to have it tested in a court of law, to which the first jury was unable to reach a majority decision, and the second was. What changes to police investigation upon a successful appeal would the author suggest?
Peter | 28 February 2019

Michael Furtado. In the light of last week's summit in Rome concerning this matter where the conclusion, expressed in accord with the Ignatian understanding of good and evil in this world, was that the Devil was responsible, I would suggest that Vatican III should be displaced to a place somewhere in the distant future. Otherwise, with current understandings or lack thereof, the whole thing might be buggered up even more!
john frawley | 28 February 2019

After publication of this piece, I gave follow up interviews to ABC Radio and then to ABC 7.30. Finally I gave an interview to SkyNews. In this last interview, I made it clear that it was now necessary for all interested persons to wait until the court appeal processes have run their course. That being the case, I will not be giving further interviews about the case, verdict and sentence, until all appeals have been exhausted. I see little point in public speculation about the prospects of a successful appeal by Cardinal Pell. I note the spirited discussion here in the Comments section. Let’s all keep the focus on truth, justice, and compassion for all, especially the victims of child sexual abuse.
Frank Brennan SJ | 28 February 2019

So after dragging your coat in the dust, you choose now to withdraw and remain silent leaving all the critics of your article unanswered. So what was it all about, Frank? Surely you owe us some sort of response?
Ginger Meggs | 28 February 2019

Lately, so much has been heard, written and talked about the Catholic priests 'misbehaving'. Devoting oneself to priesthood and leading a life of a celibate is a great sacrifice and not an easy task particularly in the present age of 'sexualised' society. I think the BEST solution is that those who volunteer as Catholic priests should undergo harmless castration (reversible if desires).This should be made a 'compulsory requirement' by authorities in Vatican. This will definitely eliminate the 'misbehaviour' of many priests throughout the Catholic churches in the world.
Amrik Pala | 28 February 2019

Clearly, Fr Frank Brennan's article was written from the perspective of a lawyer not, as many have toiled to point out, as a Catholic priest. There are a number of senior lawyers who have cast doubt on the verdict. I am equally confident there are an equal number who will consider the verdict as just. There are legions of cases where people who have been sentenced to prison after being found guilty by a jury and later, sometimes after decades in prison, have been found not to have been guilty. Such a case occasioned recently in America where a man was found not to have been guilty after 39 years in prison. Neither the law ( including juries), nor for that matter, the Church is infallible in such matters.
Brian Phillips | 28 February 2019

Gretchen Miller, in your disapproval at the dissemination of Fr Brennan's article in schools, are you investing an infallible status in the legal system, or suggesting that legal determinations are beyond criticism? A sorry day indeed if we let such notions become our ultimate norms for justice in the minds of anyone, let alone our young people.
John | 28 February 2019

As I wrote earlier, I do not think either verdict in the appeal of Cardinal Pell will satisfy everyone, because so many vested interests have piggybacked onto the case. These vested interests have no place there, the question of guilt or innocence should be decided purely on the facts. The case is beginning to remind me, rather eerily, of the trial of Ronald Ryan, the last man to be hanged in Victoria in 1967. His guilt or innocence are still being debated and the matter is still highly contentious. What if, on appeal, Pell is found guilty and later, by some miracle, it was clearly established he was innocent? Or the reverse? Would justice have been served or seen to have been served? Who is the real loser here?
Edward Fido | 28 February 2019

Very surprised and disappointed in this article. Brennan has disqualified himself from providing any objective comment on this matter.
Michael Esler | 28 February 2019

I note Father Brennan has decided to refrain from further comment until the appeal. In view of this, might it be appropriate to take down this piece, which casts doubt on both the jury & the victim, & also withdraw it from all schools?
Dr Jennifer Wilson | 28 February 2019

Thanks for this article Fr Frank on what must be a great disaster for the Catholic Church and for you personally as a high profile person in that organisation. Even though you have been very careful to weigh up the legal aspects of the case in your presentation, you have certainly opened a hornets' nest! This was to be expected given the years that the victims of child abuse have had to wait to receive justice and the fact that many were not believed or were bullied by those in power. For two months, many of us have known of George Pell's conviction because we read the story on the websites of overseas newspapers, so it has been an extended calm before the storm. From the start, I have to say that I find I have very little in common with George Pell. I am not a Catholic or a Christian, but have been involved in social movements for peace, social justice, human rights and environmental issues for over 50 years. My feeling is that I would have to be considered an enemy of his on so many of these issues. And during that time I have met many Catholics and other Christians who have dedicated their lives to the same causes and would differ just as strongly as I do with George Pell. Many wonder how much of the teachings of the founder of Christianity he has actually adopted. I sense that he has received so much verbal abuse because his right wing attitudes and because of his lack of compassion. Certainly, he was one of the senior church officials who showed no compassion or understanding whatsoever for the feelings of the victims of abuse when they came forward to seek justice and to prevent others from undergoing the same treatment. Having said that though and having read an overview of the key incident in this case, I can understand why many might consider that there is some reasonable doubt about the verdict of the jury. The overriding priority in resolving this issue should be ensuring that the victims receive justice, adequate compensation for their suffering and support so that they are able to restore their dignity and are able to lead full, happy and meaningful lives after what they have been through. In addition, all the organisations in which child abuse has occurred must establish processes to ensure it does not occur in the future and that, if it does, it is not covered up and the perpetrators are allowed to walk away Readers might like to read Guy Rundle's analisis of the public triumphal response to the Pell verdict in Crikey 27.2.2019 "On Pell and the dangers of celebrating the justice system". We now have to await the result of the appeal.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 28 February 2019

The word on the street today in Sydney is that he didn't do it. He's not like that.
Lewis Buckingham | 28 February 2019

Our thoughts should be with the victim not the convicted pedaphile. Does anyone seriously think a person would subject themselves to three years of the legal system just to make a vexatious complaint.? Having been there I'll tell you what it's like; statement after statement, interview after interview; re-hashing the past trauma and exposing new trauma; post traumatic stress disorder, fear of repercussion, unwarranted guilt, will I believed, knowing I will be cross examined in court by a ruthless defence team who wish to destroy my whole credibility, knowing the matter could go on for years, (and in the case of this man) knowing that in telling the truth he is taking on one of the most powerful men in the land and facing a David and Goliath battle etc etc etc. Having been there I can tell you it is hell and no-one would subject themselves to this horrific ordeal unless the event actually happened. The victim was telling the truth. Pell is a pedaphile. I am happy now that this man has seen some justice and hope he can reach some closure in his life. Thank you for your bravery.
Maryanne | 28 February 2019

Having served on a jury (charge was GBH), where enough ‘reasonable doubt’ was created by the defence & majority had no choice but to acquit, I can attest to the challenge faced by jurors and how seriously they (we) take the task & process. Frank Brennan is trained in the law; he knows how it works but this piece is intended to cast a shadow on the jury’s process & conclusion. WHY? So when Cardinal P’s defence barrister says, ‘well it was “only” X,’ am I to read that as ‘yes he did it but ‘it’ was a small crime/deed/misdemeanour...’ So if Cardinal Pell’s barrister says, ‘it’s only...’ isn’t that an admission of culpability?!
Katz | 28 February 2019

As a juror (1990s) in a GBH case, I concluded that enough reasonable doubt was raised so that even if many of us ‘knew’ only the defendant could’ve broken complainant’s jaw, we had to return a NG verdict. 12 jurors here. One of Australia’s most successful defence barristers couldn’t sway 2, 3 jurors, create enough reasonable doubt?
Katz | 28 February 2019

1. What were each of the five offences, exactly when and where were they committed, and why hasn't the identity of the deceased complainant been revealed (since the dead have no right under the law not to be identified as victims of criminal conduct.) 2. 'Members of the public could attend those proceedings if they knew where to go in the Melbourne County Court.' So did any members of the public attend every day of the first trial and/or the second? Did the media? Did Frank Brennan or any Pell defender/apologist for the Church of Rome? Any staunch critic of Pell or of the Roman Church? 3. On what grounds did the presiding judge excuse the only still living complainant from giving evidence a second time? This seems most irregular and possible grounds for a sucessful appeal, if not in the Court of Appeal, then in the Australian High Court. 4. Did Pell or anyone else chastise or discipline the two choristers for stealing the sacremental wine? If yes, how severe was their punishment? 5. Was the other chorister the second complainant now deceased? Or was the second complainant someone unknown to the first complainant?
Richard Mahony | 28 February 2019

Heading for the dictionary: to pell or to be pelled. Depending on your point of view, this could mean to humble a powerful person’s exalted belief in his criminal impunity ---- or to lynch an unlikable personification of an unlikable power.
roy chen yee | 28 February 2019

In the comments below someone mentions Tim Minchin's song which I believe indicated a certain amount of hatred towards Pell which has been quite relentless. Of course Minchin's song was an attack upon Pell for being unable to return to front the Royal Commission because of health reasons but as soon as Pell was told he would be charged with very serious crimes he did return. Not one of his previous attackers who basically labelled him a "coward" bothered to comment. Minchin also raised funds via his song to send victims to Rome to confront Pell but the leader of that group hid the fact he was himself convicted of abusing a young boy. His victim is a friend of mine and the distress he felt at the time was immense. He finally spoke to the ABC. I contacted Minchin at the time and said it would be helpful if Minchin apologized for aiding that man's abuser. Minchin ignored this request. That's his right but I believe it demonstrated very fixed beliefs many held that Pell is or was guilty of something and no amount of calling for calm would change people's minds.
Andrew B. | 01 March 2019

Point taken that the complainant’s evidence is prima facie unconvincing but he gave it and the Cardinal did not give his. The onvious question is why not? - it would seem unlikely to have been on his Council’s advice. To commit perjury is not only a mortal sin but one against the Holy Spirit and so not one to be forgiven lightly, if at all (Mark 3:28-30). Might it be that the jury considered that the defendant would prefer prison to damnation?
Oliver Alexandre | 01 March 2019

Jesus was innocent.
AO | 01 March 2019

Frank: When I watched you last night on ABC TV giving a list of reasons as to why you were questioning the results of the Pell trial I felt profoundly disappointed. On behalf of the two young men (one of whom is no longer in this world) and their families - and on behalf of every other young person who has had their traumatic testimony disbelieved - or twisted into something not worth believing. I was a mere 11 when I was sexually molested - it had a (fundamentalist) church connection. And when my mother asked if the person in question had climbed into my bed - my first and immediate response was: "No!" But my mother asked - immediately - again - and this subsequent time I replied: "Yes!" Even now - nearly 60 years later - I recall quite clearly exactly the sequence of events in that bedroom - even though at the time I actually had little understanding of what had occurred - and I was whisked away to grandparents in Sydney - returning in the new year just before my start at high school - to face the court case. An interesting technicality I won't go into here saw the miscreant allowed to go unpunished. Blessings always to my mother for having the courage to charge him - and to the police officer/prosecutor who guided me through that process. So Frank - no matter what you write here - I remain unmoved by your sophistry - more angels dancing on a pinhead is my response. As for the kinds of people who wrote references for Pell - look at John HOWARD's nomination for Governor-General - Anglican Archbishop Peter HOLLINGWORTH. Not an especially good judge of character that former PM - another case of priestly paedophilia/cover up - though that time of a junior high lass in boarding school and the school's chaplain/priest!
Jim KABLE | 01 March 2019

I think this article by Fr. Frank Brennan is a reasonable summary of Pell's trial. I have also heard the views of Terry Laidler and are similar to Fr. Brennan. Laidler also said that reporting in the international media was not accurate. I am not a supporter of Pell, but I suspect that he has been denied natural justice because of his history of 'covering up' crimes of child abuse and intolerance towards homosexual people and flawed Catholic social policies such as the use of artificial contraception, abortion and sexual relations for the purpose of enjoyment and an expression of love. The Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Age newspaper have been especially proactice in blaming Pell as the scapegoat for child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. My hope is that the current group of Catholic Bishops use the forthcoming Plenary Conference to formulate a submission for Pope Francis to dispense with the celibacy rules for priests, accept married men and women as priests, accept homosexual people in the Catholic community, accept the use of artificial contraception and allow women a free choice for abortion.
Mark Doyle | 01 March 2019

I am surprised at Frank Brennan's remarks about the vestments. I think he tried to make the issue more complicated than it is. What is a chasuble? A poncho - easily swept aside. What is an alb? Not unlike a nightshirt. Easily lifted, especially as the cincture (rope) is worn at the waist.
Oliver Cosgrove | 01 March 2019

A comment by Waleed Ali on this topic said “Perhaps our character is most severely tested in prosperity and ease, rather than hardship”. I think this is true. Faith tends to be stronger in countries facing hardship. Our churches are increasingly filled with migrants from poor overseas countries. It is sad that ease and comfort make us feel that we don’t need help. We don’t notice the God shaped vacuum inside each of us. I find questioning of the verdict to be offensive and insulting. Let the Court system play out. What isn’t in doubt is that Pell and the broader Catholic Church as an institution, have failed horribly over decades to demonstrate the love, compassion and caring that should be the embodiment of Church. No wonder Ghandi said “I love your Christ but not your Christians”. I agree with him.
Dan | 01 March 2019

Your article is compelling. Since the Royal Commission in sexual abuse in the Catholic Church was heard, there has been a witch-hunt to persecute any person that is a Catholic, it deeply saddens me that an innocent person such as our Archbishop George Pell has been convicted. As a Catholic I find the allegation abhorrent that any person would perform such an act in a Cathedral, as I know it did not happen. The prosecution is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt, one person’s testimony is normally insufficient to bring charges forward without any corroborating evidence. In effect, this trial has been one person’s testimony over the other person. Unfortunately, due to the media coverage and Archbishop Pell’s profile, Pell was convicted before the trial commenced. Justice has not been served and the evidence does not meet the requirements of beyond reasonable doubt. I pray for Archbishop Pell. God Bless
Jessica | 01 March 2019

The guilty verdict handed down by the jurors in the Second Trial of Cardinal George Pell appears to be flawed in so much as the testimony of the complainant is contradicted by evidence given by all the other witnesses (who were called by the prosecution) on salient points of that testimony. Presumably, those contradictions caused “reasonable doubt” in the minds of 10 of the 12 jurors in the First Trial. I do not believe that George Pell abused anyone sexually. All of the many attempts “to get him” and, thus, the Catholic Church failed – on investigation or, in one other case, before the courts. The unsubstantiated accusations of the anti-Pellites, and the atmosphere that ensued, cast a shadow over the court proceedings. All defendants have the right of appeal. In this case it is important that all of Cardinal Pell’s rights be respected both in and out of the courtroom. It is also essential that the serious doubts, that contradict the complainants recollections, be laid to rest by credible explanations. Knowledge of the truth of what did, or did not, happen is essential. That Cardinal Pell is antipatico to many is well-known. However, any lack in his personality, mistake in the way he administered the Melbourne and Sydney dioceses or fault in his theology should not be used to condemn him as being worthy of punishment for something else.
Kristen Johnson | 01 March 2019

Thank you Fr Brennan for this article. After reading various reports and acknowledging that I did not hear the complainant’s evidence, this verdict has shaken my belief in the justice system. I am troubled by the trial by media, possible inadequacies in the police investigation, the shift in the way police investigate these crimes that I have just read about, commentary on how the outcome may have been different in a different state, different verdicts from the 2 juries, the many references to the Compensation Scheme this last week, the judge’s decision not to allow the video showing the scene inside the cathedral. I would think that Cathedral masses are heavily scripted/choreographed especially in relation to choir procedures and assistance to the clergy with robing/disrobing. I tend to agree that the heavy vestments and busyness of the sacristy would make it difficult for offences to take place. Perhaps the defendant should have given evidence. I have read the reasons for and against. It is one person’s word against the other. If I was a teacher/coach/school volunteer/childcare worker/doctor/nurse, in light of this conviction, I would think twice before being alone in a room with a child.
RAE | 02 March 2019

I'm worried: Pell's police interview. What's going on? Was the door locked (Milligan, p. 353), or was it open. Was it the archbishop's sacristy, or the priest's sacristy or the one being renovated? Mind you I've seen similar interviews, similar reactions and the suspect was definitely guilty. Anyone out there do micro-expression analysis? This would be a good time to say something.
Stephen de Weger | 02 March 2019

The Guardian's Melissa Davey is "one of about eight journalists who were in the mistrial and trial of Cardinal George Pell for the entirety of the case. Committal, mistrial, retrial." She reports further on this today - "It has been rumoured that the jurors in the mistrial were split 10-to-two in favour of Pell. Is this right [correct]? This is an unverified rumour with no credible source. There have been plenty of other rumours about the split in the mistrial, including that it was more even. The weight of the split makes no difference. The law requires a unanimous or 11-to-one verdict, and anything else results in a mistrial. The chief judge is not told of the split and he made it clear he did not want to know. Any juror who reveals the split breaks the law." SOURCE - So, just ... an Unverified Rumour with No Credible Source ... and whatever was the weight of the first Jury's split decision it makes No Difference ... that's Blind Justice. She also explains about what Richter was obliged to try to argue in mitigation, after the Guilty Verdict became public. Richter has since apologised for his saying 'vanilla'.
Jack Douglas | 02 March 2019

I’m not a Catholic and not even religious but I find the verdict very disturbing. I’ve been on a jury. I can’t see how the verdict was without reasonable doubt. I don’t warm to the Cardinal’s personality. However I think of Arthur Miller’s famous play, “The Crucible” showing how mob hysteria and emotion can play such a strong part. I also wonder whether false memories, a known psychological phenomena, played a part.
Carole | 02 March 2019

Uncle Pat: the jurors were taken to the scene of the ‘alleged’ offence. John: the police did not discount the relevance of the liturgical vestments. I‘d be interested to know if anyone looked for photographic evidence of what the Archbishop actually wore at his first or second Mass as Archbishop. The victim said his assailant was wearing ‘some robes’. Rosaleen: several witnesses when questioned quite understandably said that they could not be sure that normal protocols and procedures were followed on every occasion. AO: why should ‘we all froze' not refer to both the two boys and an understandably shocked Archbishop? Dennis: on the basis of the evidence publicly available we do not know which ‘priestly garments’ were involved. Andrew Rabel: there are two adjoining sacristies and the victim recalled that one door was open. And George Pell had been Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne since 1987. I appreciate that we have all been trying to piece the story together. But I am baffled by how (and indeed why) Fr Brennan wrote as he did given that he attended the trial and had (for whatever reason) access to the transcript. And of course over two months to consider what to write.
Margaret | 02 March 2019

Margaret: What exactly is baffling about a lawyer who expects more of the law than has been produced in this trial to return a verdict of guilty? As is beginning to emerge, Frank Brennan is far from alone in this opinion.
John | 03 March 2019

John what baffles me is that Fr Brennan used the evidence at his disposal so selectively in writing an article which he myst have known and intended to have a wide circulation. Having a daughter who is a very dedicated lawyer makes me hesitate to make the comment that it is a lawyer's job to use evidence selectively. But she does so out of commitment to her clients.At times it is a heavy burden. To whom is Fr Brennan committed on the basis of this deplorable article? By all means argue in an appropriate place and at an appropriate time for the value of trial by judge alone. But this was not the appropriate place and most certainly not the appropriate time.
Margaret | 03 March 2019

With the case before the courts still until the appeal process is complete, is this article ethical? I would have thought not, but then I am not a lawyer.
Anna Summerfield | 03 March 2019

I look forward to Frank Brennan championing other child molesters wrongfully convicted.
Pascal Mettey | 03 March 2019

John Frawley, if indeed The Cardinal loses his appeal, one would hope that Pope Francis would treat him exactly as he has treated McCarrick. It seems to me that the entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Australia are still in denial over the whole child abuse issue.
Francis Armstrong | 03 March 2019

I am so horrified to read this - it is clear that you are looking for ways to show “this couldn’t have happened”. This sort of crap is the reason I 2nd guess my decision to send my children to a Catholic school. I’m horrified to see that I might be continuing to support a morally currupt organisation that has no intention of changing. This is so upsetting
Leonie Farrell | 03 March 2019

With the complainant's evidence unheard except by a very small cohort and with an appeal process to go through, it's extremely disappointing to see this article - several times over as it has been published in several places around the world. ___ One expects this sort of thing from Bolt et al but here? Frank Brennan? Eureka Street? Would the article ever have been written if the accused were George the gardener rather than George the Cardinal? ___ "Let the legal system takes its course - but I'll just say this anyway." There would have been and will be plenty of time to comment after the appeal. It does no credit that this has been published before then.
MargaretC | 03 March 2019

If he is innocent why frank did he not get in the witness box and tell his story...that is he is not innocent so his barrister didn’t have him cross examined. You don’t have family who were abused too and you work for the church that protects these holy men. This is a very biased article and without all of the evidence should not be relied on by anyone. There are many instances of victims being worn down and run out of money to prosecute too as the church uses parishioners donations to pay top barristers to defend and win too
MATTHEW WILLIAMS | 03 March 2019

Out of all of the 169 comments I have just read, those that actually attended the trial are in disbelief with the verdict. Their comments are factual, and are not emotionally charged, like others. Interesting, isn't it...
Michael Green | 04 March 2019

Whether he is innocent or innocent, its ridiculous that people are being required to remember what they did over twenty years ago. Any incident older than ten years should be thrown out of court. A victim should only have ten years to initiate/seek damages. I struggle to remember what I did last week. 20 years ago, forget about it, because I have...
Henry Kater | 04 March 2019

I agree with Frank Brennan's view that there is 'little point in public speculation about the prospects of a successful appeal by Cardinal Pell'; the law will follow its own logic. It's very clear, however, that Frank's article has polarised readers' views. The way this article has been used in the public arena is problematic: I attended mass in Victoria yesterday and this article was referred to in the sermon and I believe it has been inappropriately used in some school newsletters etc to stem the shock of what has occurred. Fellow priests are themselves devastated. It is not a fair and balanced piece, compared with contributions by Francis Sullivan and Andrew Reader. A cogent point is how much money and church resources are being used in legal defences of perpetrators as distinct from victims. C. Lamb [The Tablet, March 2019] writes: “the old model of the institutional Church may be falling away, replaced by the pilgrim body of Christ, walking with the abused and the suffering and trying to discern a different way of being Church”. The film 'Spotlight' illustrated powerfully the obfuscation and legal defences the Church employs. The dichotomy in so many readers' responses falls into two camps: those who identify with the institutional Church and those who identify with the victims. And one certain point: the Catholic Church in Australia will not volunteer to pay for top legal representation of victims of sexual abuse but it will mobilise financial impetus to support alleged perpetrators, despite the evidence of so many cases of guilt that it simply results in so many loyal Catholics walking away in shame.
PeterD | 04 March 2019

Henry Kater might consider watching 4Corners this evening. Louise Miligan directly addresses the point Henry makes. Most victims don't want to come forward; it takes years; and from their point of view what have they to gain? I know two people in their forties who have been abused and the slow, smouldering pain in their lives is heart-rending. Consider also the 12 people in the one Catholic primary school class in Ballarat who took their own lives. It's probably true as Henry indicates, they may have mixed up some details of time and place but the great aching hole of sexual abuse does not fade with the years; it often intensifies.
PerterD | 04 March 2019

Michael Green it's a fair comment.Except that those attending the trial did not hear the victim's testimony or visit the relevant parts of the Cathedral, and therefore are forming their opinions on the basis of far less information than was available to the jury of whom they are so critical. And many of us whose comments are 'emotionally charged' are expressing our view on how appropriate or otherwise Fr Brennan's article may have been at this point.
Margaret | 04 March 2019

There is some irony about Frank Brennan having his say on Mr Pell’s guilt then suggesting discussion be shut down until the appeal is heard. Makes me wonder why he didn’t think of that before he wrote his piece and gave all his interviews. Frank’s piece had wide circulation, including through the Catholic education system (another irony?) and you can only wonder what that is all about. Sowing seeds of doubt about the fairness of the verdict before the appeal? Obviously it has the support of church leaders, but you could also wonder what that support says to Mr Pell’s victim (no longer the “alleged” victim) when it doesn’t seem to acknowledge the validity of the case against Mr Pell. If I am wrong about that I’m open to correction but the main piece and many comments here are simply full of denial. None of us can say Mr Pell did not have a fair trial or the jury got it wrong. The appeal will determine that. But one thing is clear: if you thought the court case was expensive, imagine the level of resources the church will throw into the appeal.
Brett | 04 March 2019

If an appeal against conviction does succeed, it is probable that a new trial would be ordered. I think it is a step too far to say that "if the appeal succeeds the Victorian police should review the adequacy of the investigation" . This involves an assumption that a successful appeal would turn on the quality of the evidence presented at the trial.
Ron Miskinis | 04 March 2019

Brett, Frank Brennan has not tried to shut down discussion, as evidenced by the fact this blog is still accepting comments. He simply said he would defer commenting futher until the appeal.
Someone | 04 March 2019

The ABC is celebrating the fact that flimsy evidence convicted Pell. Yet there are at least three cases of convicted women murderers where the ABC campaigned against the convictions due to allegedly weak evidence. Odd.
Someone | 04 March 2019

I'm keenly interested in ES's decision not to publish any responses to Amrik Pala's suggestion above that the Catholic Church make reversible chemical castration a compulsory condition for the ordination to our celibate male priesthood. Has the editorial team decided not to pursue this fascinating thread of conversation? If so, on what grounds? Might it detract from the seriousness and solemnity of the main topic, and, if so, why publish Pala's piece in the first place? My many priest friends and acquaintances, including Frank Brennan and Cardinal Pell, would surely be dying to know, given that they would be in the front line of fire for any future action in this regard. Of have they forfeited a say in this matter in view of the shocking offences of some of their fellow clergymen?
Dr Michael FURTADO | 04 March 2019

I feel this man is innocent until proven guilty. Putting him in jail is not going to "fix" the broken people. If this is what they are hoping for, a feeling of getting justice, and therefore peace, then they are sadly going to be disappointed.
Christeen Harth | 04 March 2019

Brett, I don't see evidence of Frank Brennan suggesting that "discussion be shut down until the appeal is heard." Rather, he chooses to reserve for now further comment by himself, a right to which he's entitled, just as he is to question publicly those aspects of the verdict which are dubious.
John | 04 March 2019

I am still bemused by the logic in Frank’s post of 27 Feb. one day after his article in ES and his other media comments he pronounces that ‘it [is] now necessary for all interested persons to wait until the court appeal processes have run their course’. If silence ‘for all’ is deemed ‘necessary’ on 27 Feb, why not for Frank also on 26 Feb before he made his statements? What actually changed in that 24 hours, or does Frank consider that he has some special right to comment that is not available the the rest of us ‘all’?
Ginger Meggs | 04 March 2019

To John and “Someone”, after reading your comments I re-read Frank Brennan’s original piece and his comment of 27 February, to make sure I had not misunderstood him. Frank wrote, “I made it clear that it was now necessary for all interested persons to wait until the court appeal processes have run their course.” Frank also wrote, “I see little point in public speculation about the prospects of a successful appeal by Cardinal Pell.” It was more than Frank just saying he won’t be commenting anymore. That’s fair enough but if that was the only reason, why bother? The “all interested persons” phrase qualifies as suggesting people generally should ease up and wait for the next development, which to my mind is suggesting we also refrain from further comment (actually more than a suggestion, Frank said it was “necessary” to wait), ie, shut it down until the appeal. No problem with him saying that and of course he has the same right as anyone else to share or not share his opinions. I just thought it was a bit late after writing his piece to start thinking on those lines.
Brett | 04 March 2019

Further to John and “Someone”, if Frank Brennan said his comment related only to himself and he did not intend it to have a more general application for others, I would accept his word immediately. I was just responding to my understanding of what Frank wrote.
Brett | 04 March 2019

For the several people here who have commented that the church is funding Cardinal Pell's defence, my understanding is that that is NOT the case. So the newly installed archbishop said on television the other day anyway. I do think it is important to be factual before putting pen to paper in the public sphere - or anywhere else for that matter. There is a lot of misinformation in wider social media about this case. Maybe, in this forum at least, people could try to stick with the facts.
BPLF | 04 March 2019

PeterD: Your first posting of March 4th recognizes two camps here in response to Frank Brennan's article. I suggest there is at least another, more basic than those you identify: those of a mind that, by the law's own standards, insufficient evidence was produced in Trail 2 to eliminate reasonable doubt, and those not so disposed. This recognition goes to the roots of our justice system and democracy, to the credibility and functioning of which law is essential since it affects the individual person's innocence or guilt.
John | 05 March 2019

"those of a mind that, by the law's own standards, insufficient evidence was produced in Trial 2 to eliminate reasonable doubt": John I don't see how we who were not at the trial can possibly say this. In particular none of us heard the victim's testimony. Even on something as specific as the layout of the sacristy or sacristies I would think I was not the only one who looked at the police photo on 4 Corners last night and had some doubts on feasibility allayed. But really it is the general point that should hold: we can't say the case against Cardinal Pell is weak when we have heard so little of the case. As regards whether any of us should speculate: it's a bit late to close the stable door. Whether Fr Brennan should have speculated so publicly is still for many of us of deep concern.
Margaret | 05 March 2019

For all his resolve to extract himself from further commentary on this case, I commend Frank for eliciting what has to be an all time record of responses to his opinion piece on Cardinal Pell. Not only has it enabled the public to voice their views at a time of great division and turmoil, and considered by some to be akin to the Dreyfus case, but ES has given us an important outlet to express our passionate responses to the affair in a dignified and lively manner that I have yet to see replicated in other forums. Among the many consequences of this have been expressions of profound sadness and sympathy (on both sides of the child abuse fence, including the conviction of Cardinal Pell as well as the shame and atonement felt for child abuse victims). However, some days after the jury verdict, it may be timely to observe that Catholics of yore, particularly when assailed by public opinion of a hyper-critical and bigoted kind, had the benefit of being graced by the responses of Chesterton and Waugh, who managed to shore up the faithful with their inspired brands of humour. Thank you, Amrik Pala, for doing precisely this!
Michael Furtado | 05 March 2019

Hullo John You identified two more fundamental groups: "those of a mind that, by the law's own standards, insufficient evidence was produced in Trial 2 to eliminate reasonable doubt, and those not so disposed". I accept this interpretation but I did not proceed to that point because none of the respondents - as far as I can see - were in a position to view all of the evidence because they did not attend the trial(s) nor have access to all of the evidence - even, dare I say it, Andrew Bolt. But it is true, as you say, that these two camps illustrate different views of the law, of what constitutes a valid trial, the appeal process etc. In the US Trump displays a negative attitude to judicial and legal processes - is even contemptuous of them - and this is endemic to our democracy as you state.
PeterD | 05 March 2019

As I see it, what Fr Brennan’s article boils down to is that he believes the victim’s account of what happened to him and his fellow altar boy to be untrue. This is despite the victim having had his account tested by those preparing the prosecution case and then at length in court by an eminent barrister, and the jury concluding the account was true. In the mind of someone who has been abused, I wonder what they think it would take to have their account of the abuse believed.  Given the content and tone of Fr Brennan’s article, I wonder: Would a young person who had been sexually abused by, for example, a Catholic priest or a teacher in a Catholic school, be more inclined or less inclined to report the matter to anyone in authority after reading the article? If the victim is young and has reason to believe that his or her parents had read the article, would he or she be more inclined or less inclined to let them know of the abuse? Further, would his or her decision be influenced by the thought that at some point in the investigation Catholic authorities might seek the opinion of Fr Brennan as someone familiar with this aspect of the law? Would they consider this possibility to be greater if the complaint involved a Jesuit?
John Regan | 06 March 2019

Precisely John Regan, there is a difference between 'what happened then' and 'what one can now prove happened then'. That it can't be proved does not mean that it didn't happen. No one doubts the difficulty of proving what happened then and if Frank had limited his comments to that there would have been little reason to object. But Frank went further and said it couldn't have happened, meaning that the victims' accounts were not true, implying that they were either lying or, at best, confused. In that light, his 'hope [that] there can be truth and justice for all individuals' rings decidedly hollow.
Ginger Meggs | 07 March 2019

John Regan and Ginger Meggs: In my reading of Frank Brennan's article, his position in relation to the process and verdict is mainly based on the lack of corroborating evidence and the degree of improbability of the charge against the accused - a measure insufficient to dispel the existence of reasonable doubt as grounds for defence of the Cardinal's innocence. Brennan's emphasis accords admirably with the presumption of innocence principle, one of the pillars our legal system.
John | 07 March 2019

BPLF asks people to try to stick with the facts, so let me risk stating the obvious. However much we may find it hard to accept, the fact is Mr Pell is no longer entitled to the presumption of innocence. A jury in a trial found him guilty. That is the end of the presumption of innocence for him. It does us no good to try to second guess the jury and talk about “reasonable doubt”. The verdict dealt with that. The jury deliberated for three days before reaching its verdict and not Frank Brennan or anyone else has any basis for saying how it weighed the evidence. The Appeals Court is different. Mr Pell’s legal team will have to convince the Appeals Court that a flaw in the lower court trial was significant enough to overturn the verdict or declare a mistrial. It may well do that but until and unless that happens, Mr Pell remains guilty.
Brett | 07 March 2019

John: Regarding the question of reasonable doubt, I note this issue was considered by a jury in a criminal trial conducted under the law of the land and that it found the defendant guilty. Regarding the point of my earlier post, I am concerned that Fr Brennan’s article, which seems intent on discrediting the victim’s testimony following the outcome of the criminal trial, and which has been published in a highly-regarded Jesuit publication and in a national newspaper, and has been distributed in many Catholic parishes and schools, might have the unintended consequence of deterring those who are abused from reporting the abuse.
John Regan | 07 March 2019

John, there is an excellent article by Professor Patrick Parkinson on the ABC Religion and Ethics website that I commend to you. You'll find it at < >
Ginger Meggs | 07 March 2019

My article has elicited quite a range of responses. I am sorry for any hurt caused to readers, particularly those who are victims of child sexual abuse.

I want to assure all readers that I wrote as I did because I thought there was a need for someone who had attended some of the proceedings and who had read the publicly available evidence to be in a position to state the issues which had arisen at trial and the issues likely to be raised on appeal.

Some readers have thought that I was questioning the honesty and truthfulness of the complainant. I did not, and I do not. I wrote (or at least, I intended to write) respecting the victim, respecting the jury, and respecting the legal processes including the appeal courts.

Given the suppression orders, the prior publicity, the perpetual non-disclosure of any complainant’s evidence, and the likely public outcry once any suppression orders were lifted, I thought it responsible that I attempt to inform the public (and particularly concerned Catholics) about the legal complexities of the case, and as dispassionately as possible.

In such circumstances, justice and transparency demand a suspension of final judgment until an appeal court has had the opportunity to determine if the jury verdict is safe and reasonable. Such a suspension of final judgment is no disrespect to any victim nor to the jury nor to the legal processes.

I am acutely aware that anything said by a Catholic priest on these issues at this time will cause hurt to some people, and motivations etc will always be questioned. That’s why I wrote only one article and gave only three interviews following the publication of my piece. I declined many requests for further interviews and opinion pieces.

Some have suggested that I should have said nothing at all. I respectfully disagree. That would have left the field largely to those journalists who attended the trial, some of whom have a limited understanding of the law, and some of whom display a lack of accuracy as they seek to paint their own picture of the proceedings.

I will give just one example which involves me directly. Journalist Lucie Morris-Marr has been covering the proceedings closely for CNN and The New Daily. On 26 February 2019, she published an account of the events in the court room on the afternoon of Tuesday 11 December 2019 when the jury delivered its verdict.

She wrote that on that day 'loyal supporters [including] Father Frank Brennan remained poker-faced in their seats'. In fact I was not there that day. I wasn’t even in Melbourne, but on my way to Bathurst from Canberra (where I had been since Monday) to address 100 staff of CatholicCare.

Frank Brennan | 07 March 2019

Frank Brennan is an architect of church opinion and as such, his article is veiled in rational but selective argument. However it is designed to diminish the case against Pell from the guilty jury verdict and soften public opinion. Whilst given its broad dissemination, even to Catholic schools, it bolsters an expectation amongst the faithful of a positive appeal outcome.
Anton Dreisch | 07 March 2019

While we're on facts, Brett, George Pell's title is 'Cardinal' not 'Mr.' It seems you have pre-empted a potential Vatican ruling, while at the same time encouraging the rest of us to accept a done-deal Court ruling.
BPLF | 07 March 2019

Thanks to Frank (7 March) for his words in response to the many comments on this thread. Firstly, I acknowledge that he is in an unenviable position at this time: a Catholic priest and a law professor. I've made only one comment on this thread and one comment on another related thread and I wrote my honest experience and perception. We can all hope for justice and a new beginning for everyone impacted by this trial - a great number of people.
Pam | 08 March 2019

Frank Brennan states "Robert Richter QC, who has a reputation for being one of the best and one of the toughest cross-examiners in the legal profession.....". Some people would have a different opinion of Frank Brennan's character reference when the QC stated "This is a court of law, not a court of morals. This is no more then a plain, vanilla sexual penetration case."
John | 08 March 2019

This is a comment on some inaccurate and misleading information reported in the media in relation to the Melbourne Response. A number of journalists and others have stated that a compensation claim is capped at $50,000. I did not know much about the Scheme so checked what information was available online. The lawyer on a panel on a recent television program has a 23 Nov 2016 media release on her webpage which states her firm was pleased to receive the news on Friday, 18 Nov 2016 that the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne planned to increase the compensation cap process from $75,000.00 to $150,000.00. I believe this came in effect from 1 Jan 2017.
RAE | 08 March 2019

To the John who disputes Frank Brennan's description of Mr Richter: Frank's comment is not so much as character reference as an endorsement of his legal competence. This said, I agree that his choice of words was highly inappropriate, as Mr Richter himself has since acknowledged and apologised for.
John | 08 March 2019

John Regan: Our legal system also includes the right to appeal against verdicts deemed unfair by the convicted. I also think the encouragement to speak up and accessibility to a hearing for complainants now outweigh the likelihood of deterrence because of a single article and the reputation of a single magazine.
John | 08 March 2019

It would be churlish not to recognise an honest attempt at an apology or explanation or both in Frank’s post of 7 March. That is evident in the style he adopts for the first half of his post which is in contrast to the self-confident ’ex cathedra’ style that is typical of most of his writing. However, he loses me in the second half where he pleads that he ‘wrote only one article and gave only three interviews’ (as if that minimised the offence given) and that his opinion was needed because of the ‘limited understanding’ and ‘lack of accuracy’ of ‘those journalists who attended the trial’ (as if there were not others who would report accurately and responsibly). It was inevitable, I suspect, given Frank’s several previous expressions of concern for Pell, that he would write something like he did immediately after the verdict was announced but I do wish that he had put it aside for 24 hours before publishing because he may have then questioned the wisdom of proceeding. Finally, while Lucie Morris-Marr’s diaries may contain errors, they do provide an informative day by day narrative of the events of the trial. The diary of the day of the verdict can be found here < >
Ginger Meggs | 08 March 2019

This is one of the muddiest trials in our legal history. The evidence is conflicted, George hasn’t testified..and there are many aspects about the evidence that do seem more than a little bit ‘suss’. I have a three things to add. I would have thought that innocence should be assumed until the appeal makes it’s final judgement. The second is that I am anything but a George Pell fan...and I was part of the St Alipius Parish while I was there. He is probably his own worst enemy and has NEVER presented well in all forms of media. I do not think such a response - and indeed it’s a widespread response is enough to find him guilty. Finally - and I think this is important for all. George’s guilt or innocence is ~ on some levels not important. The malaise in the Hiersrchical Church is some cases continued to be appalling. For all of this though, this is a time of great hope. We can now get on with the work of being the Church that does the work,of Jesus, rather that the work of the blokes who play dress-ups, exclude many from belonging - and have no idea how the ordinary person lives. Let’s get priesthood training out of the seminaries. Then and only then will we come close to the ‘teachings ‘ of the Gospels
Angela Allen | 08 March 2019

frank, just curious how much time you spent at the trial and how much evidence you heard, by the sound of it it wasnt much
Robert Paton | 08 March 2019

To the John who responded to me: I do hope you're right about the low impact of Frank's article.
John Regan | 08 March 2019

The question about Pell "moving his robes aside is easily anwered. Many priests and bishops in summer wear white soutanes and use these instead of an alb. Soutanes unbutton down the front.
Fr Ted | 08 March 2019

Facts BPLF (7 March). If other people call Mr Pell “Cardinal” that is up to them and I don’t take issue with it. I choose to call him “Mr Pell”. Don’t read too much into it. It is a personal preference and I think it is still more respectful than just calling him “Pell”, as other people have done in their comments. I am not pre-empting any Vatican rulings or the outcome of any appeal. You are offering opinions rather than facts on those points. I certainly don’t think the Appeals Court is a “done-deal”. Titles aside, the point of my previous post was that Mr Pell is no longer entitled to the presumption of innocence following the guilty verdict in his trial. Unless the Appeals Court overturns the guilty verdict, his guilt will remain a fact.
Brett | 08 March 2019

In my long experience of the criminal law, a 3 day jury deliberation suggests the whole jury was not persuaded, but that resignation and exhaustion set in, and a verdict ultimately reached. It will be interesting to see if the Court of Criminal Appeal sees it this way: I can think of cases where that factor has gone either way, ie, indicating an unsafe conviction, or suggesting the jury properly engaged in very exhaustive examination of the matters before it
JP | 08 March 2019

I find it sad that you Frank Brennan seem to know more about this case than the 12 people who had to make the decision.... you seem to be saying the australia's most famous QC is a dud... you here can explain away the difficulty of accessing the piece of anatomy in question but Richter could not... what do you have to say about Pell not fronting the witness box... i would have thought any innocent person would welcome this opportunity...i suspect Pell will win his appeal but without having seen all the evidence, which neither you nor i have, we dont have enough knowledge on which to base our opinions. ,
peter white | 08 March 2019

George Pell was found guilty, your use of the words "alleged victims" is incorrect, they are "victims". You claim you respect the legal process, yet your whole article is your opinion that the victim is telling lies. Attacking the victims of clergy abuse is standard procedure for the Catholic Church as stated by the German Cardinal at the Vatican recently. If George is really innocent why did his lawyer describe this even you claim never happened as "vanilla rape" and "a spur of the moment decision". As a lawyer would you have made those remarks about an "innocent person"? Were these remarks "conscience speak"? Finally who pays Pell's legal costs, I don't know of anyone who has contributed to a fund for the legal costs for clergy charged with sexual offences.
Kevin Latta | 08 March 2019

I have long had respect for Frank Brennan and his work. However I am mystified about this article. If, as is suggested, only the judge, jury and lawyers were able to hear or read the complainant’s evidence, how - in good faith - is it possible to write a truly balanced article?If Frank Brennan has somehow had access to a transcript of the complainant’s statement then, as a journalist, I would applaud his ingenuity. If not, we are all in the same boat. We don’t know the full story.
Alan Atkinson | 08 March 2019

Brett, the point for many is whether the presumption of innocence was respected during Trial 2 and whether we now witnessing a new legal principle at work in Australia: "Guilty, until proven innocent."
John | 09 March 2019

One methodological suggestion that I think may be useful is for researchers to put together a critical time-line of how the complainant's narrative came to take shape. I tried to put together a few ideas here:
Chris Friel | 09 March 2019

John (9 March), with respect you are making a lot of assumptions. I can understand many people sincerely believe Mr Pell could not have done such horrible things to the young boys. That comes out in Frank Brennan’s original piece and many of the comments here. They are looking for all sorts of excuses to explain away the trial verdict, including second-guessing the jury, selectively interpreting some of the evidence and suggesting Mr Pell is the victim of a wider witch hunt against the Catholic Church. I’m not a George Pell fan or a hater of the man and I’m not looking for excuses. Like most of us I wasn’t at the trial and I am not interpreting the evidence. I accept the jury’s verdict with no joy at Mr Pell’s fall from grace but with respect for the integrity of our legal system. You have no basis for questioning whether the presumption of innocence was respected during the trial. The appeal will determine if the jury’s verdict should be overturned, but unless that happens, Mr Pell is guilty and has lost the presumption of innocence.
Brett | 09 March 2019

Dear Frank - try reading Louise Milligan’s book, then try to respect the verdict brought in by the jury. No wonder the book was withdrawn for sale in Victoria.
Christine Harris | 09 March 2019

Brett, I don't see how respect for our legal system necessarily commits me or any citizen to accept without question its verdict, especially in cases where experienced legal commentators - not only Frank Brennan - are doing just this.
John | 09 March 2019

Frank Brennan’s 7March posting is an incomplete justification of his original article. It contains an apology for unintended hurt to victims; claim of a dispassionate elucidation of the legal complexities of the Pell case(s); and an account of outrageous, hostile reporting by a CNN/DM journalist. His posting did not address substantial criticisms, as well as the inappropriate use of his article in Catholic circles to provide hope for loyal Catholics devastated by the guilty verdict. Reference to the “unwitting victim of a wounded nation in search of a scapegoat”is redolent of biblical tones but hardly applicable to this case. “Most unlikely that a bishop would… etc…” Daniel Reeders[Bad Blood blog] writes: “Fr Brennan asserts what lawyers and legal scholars describe as tendency evidence in order to argue that this particular event was ‘improbable or even impossible.’ The degree of emotional involvement in the statement - “I was devastated[by the verdict].” - illustrates the challenge in writing objectively about the Pell trial(s). “Truth and justice for all individuals involved in these proceedings” is a worthy ideal, so what then of private funding, through Catholic personal and public networks, for instance, to provide top level QC support for all complainants? Frank Brennan has long been a national treasure in Catholic public life - and I hope he remains so - but in this instance I would like to see more of the reformist spirit of Francis Sullivan and Kristina Keneally crying out in the wilderness. The law will follow its own logic at the appeal stage but what we learn in these darkest hours is of the moment.
PeterD | 09 March 2019

Kevin Latta, no it was not "conscience speak". Robert Richter has since described the verdict as "perverse". The submissions he made before the Court were pre-sentencing submissions. By then, the case had been lost and a guilty verdict delivered. It would, in any trial, be churlish for a barrister to use the conditional tense: "If these crimes had been committed ..." after a verdict is in. It would be poor form. He/she must accept the verdict in that moment. Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so. Regarding the funding for the case. It is being funded privately. The Catholic Church is not paying. A fund has been set up at a legal firm and donations have been made and, no doubt will continue to be made.
BPLF | 09 March 2019

Irrespective of whether GP committed this crime or not (I suggest that he's innocent herein), he's guilty on a wider charge: that of being a Company Man. Much like a bikie-gang, the Catholic Church operated outside the Law and now the Day of the Locust is at hand. We should have seen it coming. Inexorably, the cosmic wheels of justice as perceived and promulgated by the Greeks spring into action and punish hubris down to its taproot. GP is getting his comeuppance; of that, there can be no doubt even if the Court of Appeal reverses the decision. I am surprised that Frank SJ has a such a blinkered view here. As Edmund says in Lear: "the gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us." B
Bernard O'Hanlon | 10 March 2019

Orrite, Frank. There must be a distinction between the naturalistic dogmas of the (neo)Modernist oligarchy and the irreformable dogmas of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The two are not at all compatible or assimilatable.
Oldavid | 10 March 2019

I should say that I have no argument with the Pell decision and believe the Law must take its course as it applies to all, regardless of societal position. Further, what I write here is an analogy which in no way is intended to detract from the evidence of the victims of sexual abuse. Human memory, particularly in situations of sudden and unexpected threat (which might be a good descriptor of the sudden emergence of sexual abuse threatening a child who has no idea what it is about and is frightened by it) is a fragile beast. During 40 years of doing emergency surgery for life threatening disease which legally required full and informed consent from the patient, I was constantly amazed by patient recall, not only of what I had told them but also of what operation I had done on them, as little as 6 weeks later when fully recovered and attending for the first post-operative visit. They all, however, knew that they had had an operation, but after the event, often through the opinions or perceptions of others, some entertained the most amazing lack of understanding and developed a creative memory for what I had told them and what I had done. I suspect this arises from a lack of knowledge of what was going on - similar perhaps to the lack of knowledge of an innocent child who has no idea of what is going on when he/she is being sexually abused. {Different for the aware adult or in my analogy for the doctor who requires an emergency operation}. As with the surgical patient, the abused child similarly knows that he/she has been abused but, after such a traumatic event, human memory may be flawed. To me, THE EFFECT OF THREATENING TRAUMA ON HUMAN MEMORY IS THE WHITE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM and must not be allowed to represent a loop hole for the child abuser. The child's memory of the fact of the event is almost certainly true "beyond reasonable doubt". Human memory has possibly failed in the detail. Justice has been done and we must uphold the law. Otherwise we have nothing.
john frawley | 12 March 2019

Good point John Frawley. Thanks.
Ginger Meggs | 12 March 2019

The things that needs getting straight is the sequence of all the different versions of the narrative of what the complainant said went on in the cathedral - dates, whether doors were locked, what was said, the colour of the wine, the parting of the alb. Also, what was said about the complainant's own memory. A time-line would be helpful:
Chris Friel | 13 March 2019

That might be fine if we were part of the jury, Chris, or even part of the defence legal team... but we're not. The prosecution and defence put their evidence and argument. The jury considered and reached a decision. The appeal will review the case. That's all.
Ginger Meggs | 16 March 2019

Ginger, good citizens should not out-source their thinking.
Chris Friel | 17 March 2019

An excellent article written by Fr Peter Murnane is relevant to this discussion- see it here Like Many others here I really do hope that Cardinal Pell is as ‘innocent of these crimes’ as he claims. But at aged 60 I can still remember clearly the face, the clothes and the car type and colour of the man who approached me and a friend when we were about 8 years old and playing in a park (quite far from home and in contradiction of parental orders). He offered us a ‘bob each if we would w*nk me off ‘ pointing and gesticulating to his nether regions. Not knowing what it meant but having enough sense to run away, we were thankfully not actually confronted with the actual sight of anything ‘rude’. I did tell my parents however and asked what it meant. They were naturally horrified but elected not to go the police about it because (as I was told years later by my mother) they didn’t want to cause a big fuss for me. My point here is that certain childhood memories Remain clear as a bell for all of ones life. I very Much doubt therefore that a 13 year old choir boy could forget the anything significant about the experience of having a priest in robes sticking his d*ck into his mouth and then touching his naked genitals!
John H | 17 March 2019

You’re missing the point Chris. There is no suggestion that the ‘good citizens’ of the jury did ‘outsource their thinking’, and, in this case, it is their thinking that is the only relevant thinking. What you or I or any other ‘good citizen’ with neither access to all the evidence (and that includes the demeanour of the witnesses and the accused) nor a statutory responsibility to reach a conclusion upon the evidence as to guilt beyond reasonable doubt, is not relevant. That way leads to lynch law.
Ginger Meggs | 18 March 2019

A more substantial contribution this time moving from Brennan's remarks to take in key chapter's of Milligan's book. And answering those who would out-source their thinking:
Chris Friel | 19 March 2019

Yes, it’s a sad story but not of much interest to me.
Kathryn Barton | 19 March 2019

Every day that this article stays online and can be accessed by those people who have been affected by CSA, either victim or family member or supporter the damage that Brennan’s article increases. Brennan’s article has already meant that his Emeritus degree has been postponed. I suggest that the Jesuit order remove this article and request The Australian removes its mirror from their digital edition. This article has ripple effects of trauma. For Brennan to lose his reputation forever over this article and his one attacking SANO is the height of stubbornness. Myself and others will never read Eureka Street again as your publication has shown a callous disregard to survivors and our families. Please consider also the added trauma of reading the comments list
Survivors and Friends | 19 March 2019

Chris, this article is not about Milligan’s book ! Nor am I about to subscribe to ‘’ which is nothing but a profit-making business masquerading as a scholarly site. Why can’t you accept that perhaps the jury got it right ?
Ginger Meggs | 19 March 2019

Ginger, and anyone. You ask me about my reasons, but I have explained at length. You will have to read me to understand. Now, you don't have to sign up to Academia. Annexed to this is a website, and you can download all my stuff for free there. You go go here:
Chris Friel | 19 March 2019

The church own funded research shows that less than one per cent of victims reports clerical abuse. Anyone who reports clerical abuse must be supported by the church, not seen as the enemy and anyone who acts as a witness to clerical abuse, should be supported and not seen as the enemy. If the church is about 'caring for the flock', why does a court case immediately put people in two camps - laity v clergy? It seems protecting the church from 'scandal' is more important than caring for the laity. Fr Tom Doyle, in his recent NCR article, noted that the privilege and deference that protected Bishops for centuries are rapidly withering as secular legal systems across the world are treating church leaders like anyone involved in a criminal enterprise.
PBOYLAN | 20 March 2019

There have been a couple of new insights (maybe they are only "bright ideas") in the Pell case. I'm afraid you have to wade right through to the end of endnote xxxv.
Chris Friel | 11 April 2019

The opinion of Frank Brennan as a lawyer but more importantly a Catholic priest does nothing to support catholics legal and moral compass. At this point opinions can not be gauged by anyone including a lawyer/priest who did not have full involvement in the court process that arrived at a guilty verdict. This is a time to celebrate our legal system not condemn it. The appeal process will further allow Pell to have his day in court. Our legal system is sacrosanct and Frank Brennan a lawyer should understand that better than most people.
Aldo Santamaria | 11 April 2019

People are talking about Billy Doe. I look at the significance of this case for Pell:
Chris Friel | 14 April 2019

I have just published a fourth piece, Murmur in the Cathedral. I argue that we can only make sense of the many inconsistencies in Milligan's Cardinal by supposing that the author was aware that the narrative had to shift:
Chris Friel | 16 April 2019

I have just this morning made an interesting discovery and so have written a fifth piece looking at the Detective Sergeant who left Operation Sano in March 2016: ?
Chris Friel | 18 April 2019

I know there are compelling reasons to doubt the reasonableness of the verdict. The fact that the church has been shown to protect itself rather than victims of sexual abuse was a strong motive for prejudice against Pell. The greatest shame of this trial for me is that the recorded evidence of the complainant , which must have been absolutely compelling , has not been disclosed in full. How is the public to have faith in the administration of justice when the central evidence leading to a conviction is concealed? It seems to me that there is an imbalance between the protection of the victim and need for the public to have confidence in the administration of justice in this case.
John Curr | 22 April 2019

JF. Justice? has been done and we must uphold the law? The fact that Jesus was crucified, yet He was innocent, clearly points to the subordinacy of human laws. Rather I would say. Justice? -- You get justice in the next world. In this one you have the law.
AO | 25 April 2019

The presence of the servers, and acolytes returning the sacred vessels after a Solemn High Mass is Key. They purify the vessels, place them in their cupbourds, place the key that opens the Tabernacle in a safe, and don't leave until all in in absolute order. At a Solemn High Mass, at least 6 servers, 2 acolyte and 10 priests help as Eucharistic Ministers. The Sacresty at St Patrick's would have had at least 4 people in it during the 15 minutes mentioned as the time frame today in the High Court. It could not have been during that time, completely absent of anyone, or more servers or acolytes.
AO | 05 June 2019

"Our legal system is sacrosanct and Frank Brennan a lawyer should understand that better than most people. Aldo Santamaria". Aldo your faith in the legal system astonishes me. Have you heard of Giordano Bruno, who was burnt at the stake in 1600?
Richard Mullins | 08 July 2019

"The case against Cardinal Pell seemed incredibly weak and improbable from the outset but he has been convicted by the jury and I have the greatest respect for juries. Paul | 26 February 2019" Paul the case against Pell is a fairy story. It is an invention and no more relevant than the story of little red riding hood and the big bad wolf, or hansel and gretel. You should have lost your respect for juries long ago.
Richard Mullins | 08 July 2019

Dear All, please read this excellent piece which was the substance of a homily on Sunday 3rd March 2019 in Melbourne “To those who think George Pell’s Verdict Was Wrong” Peter Murnane OP pages 6-8
Bernadette McPhee | 12 July 2019


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