EXCLUSIVE: Long a close watcher of the career and crimes of Catholic Church head honcho and convicted paedophile rapist, George Pell, the journalist and author David Marr has newly released an updated version of his book, The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell. Therese Taylor takes a look at the wider questions surrounding the Pell case after seeing Marr speak in Sydney recently.
On Wednesday 13 November 2019, the very day when the High Court announced that it would hear argument for an appeal for the Pell case, David Marr gave a talk at Gleebooks to launch the latest edition of The Prince.
The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell, first published in 2014, was the first of the books which put Australia’s highest ranking Catholic clergyman under scrutiny. Marr was ahead of the field. Since then, The Prince has been revised several times and the latest edition gives an account of Pell’s trial, and the ruling of the Victorian Court of Appeal.
The 2014 edition of David Marr’s book on Pell had a cover in gold and red, with a picture of Pell in vestments, seated on a throne-like chair. It concluded with the words: “he has what inspired him from the start: a place at the highest levels of his church and a voice in the world. He has power”.
This latest edition has a black and white cover, with Pell in profile, wearing a dark suit, shadowed. It concludes with the words: “He is bound for one of those jails in the bush where Victoria houses its paedophiles. He will know so many of the priests and brothers there”.
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No view of Cardinal Pell is ever free from the impressions of the looming wealth and influence of the Catholic church, and also the scandals of priests convicted of sex offenses. These are combined in The Prince, but it offers a view of Pell’s career as a whole.
David Marr gives one a cogent account of Pell’s achievements, and the exceptional level of dedication which made him both an effective, and no doubt sometimes onerous, authority figure in the church. He also explains the lengthening shadows, around Pell, of allegations about sex crimes. Little is said, in The Prince, about the recently revealed events which went to trial and led to Pell’s conviction. Rather, Marr looks at the earlier rumours, from different sources, about Pell’s conduct, and the way that these relate to criticisms of Cardinal Pell as uncaring when confronted by allegations against priests.
Cardinal Pell’s final church job, in 2014, of being responsible for regularising the Vatican’s finances, was an important appointment. It is lucidly described in the The Prince and was the topic of witty diatribe by Marr at the book launch. Pell made a good beginning on this gargantuan task, but was foiled and had the position taken away from him, by Vatican insiders. Marr is, on this aspect of Pell’s story, admiring of Pell’s professionalism and scathing of Pope Francis’ weak decision making.
At Gleebooks , Marr commented on the decision of the High Court to consider the appeal of George Pell against his conviction for sexual offenses. He suggested that there was more to it than points of law, and that the dissention in the community about the Pell verdict was so great that it could be “a danger to the justice system itself”. In order to quell the claims of Pell’s more “rabid supporters” the courts had to show that Pell was given every chance of a fair trial.
As Marr noted, the arguments about this are rampant, and have included even professors of law who have taken to the media to question the validity of Pell’s conviction.
So – where are we, as a community, in respect of the Pell trial?
As noted, in an early article by True Crime News Weekly, the presence of so many suppression orders in the Pell case is remarkable.
Since TCNW published this, there has been some public criticism of the suppression orders which put key aspects of the evidence of this famous case forever out of public view. It is normal that complainants in sexual assault trials are given anonymity, but their evidence is usually open. In this case, the victim of the assault gave his evidence by video link, to a hearing only open to the lawyers, judge and jury. The judicial registrar has ruled that the transcript of the evidence will not be available to the public.
Even those few who do have access to this evidence, have found it difficult to reach a decision. The first jury of Pell’s trial could not agree, and the second deliberated for five days. The Court of Appeal ruled, by a majority decision, that Pell’s conviction should stand. But one of the three judges, Justice Mark Weinberg, dissented, and found the evidence of the complainant had too many flaws, “there were inconsistencies, and discrepancies …”
George Pell: Paedophile rapist who is friends with John Howard, Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott and Alan Jones (Image: Wikipedia)
The voices of those who doubt the justice of Pell’s conviction are gathered in the conservative and Catholic media.
There is a certain predictability to these views, as the right-wing lines up to defend Pell, and the left-wing denounce him. But the various writers are not simply parroting their political stances, and they make insightful and individual points. More recently, the issues raised by the balance of evidence in the Pell case has led to critical views from the liberal/left spectrum. As Russell Marks wrote in The Saturday Paper:
“I’m no defender of George Pell’s. As David Marr’s researcher for his 2013 essay examining Pell’s complicity in the Australian church’s cover-up of child sexual abuse, I was very open to suggestions that he might have been more directly implicated. But as well as providing avenues for successful prosecutions, the justice system must afford people – even people we don’t like – opportunities to defend themselves against allegations that cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt.”
An objective, literary and insightful review of both sides of the decision by the Court of Appeal is given by Jeremy Ganns, Professor at Melbourne Law School, in Inside Story.
Views of a Trial
The new edition of Marr’s book is good reading, and brings one away from the disputed edge of the current debate, and into the depth of Pell’s career, which led up to this point.
As well as The Prince, there have been two other books, Fallen, by Lucie Morris-Marr, and a new edition of Cardinal, by Louise Milligan. All fill in gaps in our knowledge, but are unlikely to change the mind of any of the firm supporters or opponents of the guilty verdict.
This case is different from the other Catholic abuse scandals to which it is compared. Most of these cases are indisputable. They are supported by incontrovertible evidence, multiple testimonies and usually a confession by the accused, as well.
It is unfortunate that Pell’s conviction was not brought in with a consensus about his guilt, equal to the extent of his reputation. The subsequent fall out, continuing through voices and writings up and down the land, are damaging to Australians’ trust in the legal system. I agree with Russell Marks that, however the High Court rules on the Pell appeal: “the cultural fallout will be immense”.
Feature Image: Therese Taylor