There is an extraordinary amount of information being hidden concerning the trial of Catholic Church leader, George Pell. Key aspects of the case, and related offences, are apparently subject to a suppression order by the courts. This aspect of the trial ought to be discussed, writes an academic with an interest in child abuse cases under the pen name of Lady Diodati.
OPINION: Widely regarded as Australia’s most powerful leader in the Catholic Church, Cardinal George Pell is currently facing trial in Melbourne on a raft of child sex crimes that apparently date back decades. The trial of Cardinal Pell also has worldwide interest in it with the church leader believed to be the second or third most powerful Catholic in the Vatican after Pope Francis. However, huge secrecy now surrounds the case, or, even discussion of the trial or allegations that have been brought against Cardinal Pell.
What Happened in Ballarat in the 1970s?
On 27 July 2016, the ABC’s 7.30 Report first aired allegations that Cardinal George Pell had indecently assaulted two boys in a Ballarat swimming pool. The reporter, Louise Milligan, interviewed each of them in detail about the events. Then, toward the end of the program, it was noted in passing that each of the informants had also been severely sexually abused at St Alipius school.
LOUISE MILLIGAN: D. was also fearful of some teachers at St. Alipius. He has given another statement to police outlining serious and repeated abuse by a female relief teacher.
Likewise, a little later in the program:
LOUISE MILLIGAN: L. says he too had kept silent about other serious abuse unrelated to George Pell in his case by a vicious teacher who made him masturbate and perform oral sex.
It was surprising to viewers of the program that no further facts were made reported. Who were these abusers? Had they been charged? Was anyone going after them?
The publication of ‘Cardinal’– Ms Milligan’s book released late last year but now prohibited from sale in Victoria – offered a chance to follow up this story. There were apparently two alleged offenders, both women, and both teachers at St Alipius. One has never been traced. She was possibly a student teacher on placement. Her name is said to be “Miss Karen”, and “records from the time are scant.”
The other is a person well known to everyone associated with the school, and many people brought up her name when contacted by Louise Milligan, who says: “At this point, I am not able to name the teacher for legal reasons. … There is so much more to this story and the teacher’s identity is about the most shocking part of it.”
In the 7.30 Report, it was said that these other serious cases of abuse were “unrelated to George Pell”.
But they are not unrelated to the public interest. The way that this is so shut off distorts the whole story.
In the Courts Today
The award-winning journalist and author, David Marr, who has extensively researched the career and reputation of George Pell, attended the first court hearing in Melbourne held in late July.
Unlike most of the journalists, he did comment, although obliquely, on the suppression orders. Writing for the Guardian Australia, Marr said:
“A great billowing, lace-edged cloak of secrecy still surrounds the case of the Director of Public Prosecutions v. G Pell. Months down the track, we don’t know what the charges are. Even if they fell into my lap, I would not say a word. Why not? Sorry, that’s a secret too.”
Marr attributes the secrecy around the trial to George Pell’s legal team, and says that it is a mark of their “great skill”. Marr’s article suggests that Pell’s lawyers will push for three separate trials, which: “would almost certainly involve continued restrictions on reporting both of the charges and of evidence.” It is suggested that the full story would not be told before 2020.
But, having read David Marr’s article, one wonders if a full account is further than three years away.
The stifling effect of suppression orders, and also orders which forbid publication for the reasons for the suppression, is not well understood. It cannot be, as it is very risky to mention. It is illegal to say too much.
In the USA, the National Catholic Reporter published a cheerful and misguided statement by BishopAccountability.org, which hailed the prosecution:
“Whatever the outcome of the case against Pell, his presence today in a secular courtroom marks the victory of transparency over secrecy.”
This is somewhat wishful thinking.
In the Media
One cannot assess the significance of the suppressed facts. But something evil is being concealed, and that the story we are allowed to know is conditioned by censorship of almost epic war-time proportions.
Generally, the investigative journalists who have campaigned against Cardinal Pell appear content with this situation. The only dissent came from the Sydney tabloid Daily Telegraph, a newspaper which has published some articles in Cardinal Pell’s defence.
On 1 July 2017, the Telegraph published an article under the headline, ‘Secrecy Benefits No One’. This article was written by Michael Cameron, a big-hitter in Sydney legal circles. He is National Editorial Counsel at News Corporation Australia, publishers of the Daily Telegraph. He has received awards for his work in: “challenges to suppression orders, injunctions, defamation actions and so on, advocating for transparency and open justice.”
Cameron is the only person, as far as I am aware, to go on the record with questions about the suppressed materials in the Pell trial. In a very short, plainly worded article, he points out despite all the press coverage no one has “any detail about the charges”.
He suggests that this level of suppression can harm the defence in any trial, because as he writes “open administration of justice benefits the defence … It allows, for example, a new witness to come forward to refute false allegations submitted to the court by the prosecution. But if the public is denied information about the case then this cannot happen.”
He is correct, of course.
The ‘Secrecy Benefits No One’ article acknowledged that the lack of detail “is entirely lawful and this commentary in no way should be viewed as criticism of those who administer justice.”
But then the article went on to further say: “In more enlightened jurisdictions there would be a public outcry over this unnecessary secrecy… Our media laws are an international embarrassment.” [NOTE: True Crime News Weekly wholeheartedly agrees with this summation. See our recent reporting on the ‘ACON sex offender’ to witness what a mockery media laws are in Australia where even the guilty are protected]
Michael Cameron’s excellent article then all of a sudden disappeared from view. Just like that. If you look under internet searches, it does not come up. The title appears in Press Reader, but if you click the link, there is a missing page notice. It is not found by the search function on the Daily Telegraph’s own page. The only place I have been able to locate it is in the printed paper version, and in the international Factiva database, which reproduces the article as it was reprinted in the Daily Telegraph’s News Corp stablemate, Townsville Bulletin, as ‘Document TOWNBU0020170630ed710006l’.
This is, indeed, a close pall of secrecy.
Lady Diodati is the pen name of a well-regarded and highly-respected academic who has an interest in child abuse cases and preventing sexual violence.
NOTE: True Crime News Weekly has elected to publish this opinion piece on the basis that the jurisdiction of a court in one state should not over-ride the freedom of media in a completely different state or territory. The trial of Cardinal Pell is taking place in Melbourne under Victorian state law while True Crime News Weekly is based in New South Wales. True Crime News Weekly does not suggest Cardinal Pell is guilty of crimes related to child sexual abuse, just that he is currently facing trial on a number of such charges.