TRUE OPINION: The historic sentencing of Cardinal George Pell as a convicted child rapist this week was less about true justice for the victims and more about a future appeal, writes Tim Kent.
In watching and listening to Chief Judge Peter Kidd’s sentencing commentary regarding George Pell it was like watching a pendulum hanging over a scale indicating on one end extreme culpability and the other mitigating factors. That pendulum throughout Judge Kidd’s discourse moved to one end, and then it was dragged back to the other, to the middle, and then all over again to each ends of the continuum.
The legal test of whether Pell was of “sound mind” at the time of the offending otherwise known as McNaughton’s Rule was completely rejected by Judge Kidd and it was his view of course that Pell was indeed of sound mind in absence of any mental health and or other psychological conditions that may have rendered him incapable of firstly controlling his actions and secondly the knowledge that his actions were profoundly wrong, even criminal.
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The commentary was extremely measured in my view ticking every box meticulously for purposes in addressing a number of factors including as he put it the “febrile” tone and veracity of the external views on social and other forms of media and added it was unprecedented. It is always a point of curiosity with me that the letter of the law drives an expectation that public consciousness and emotion or should I say reason and emotion can be so easily separated when it is quite impossible given a trial proceeding of such magnitude involving the most senior clergy in this country and one of the most senior in the world. First and foremost the dire seriousness of the crimes he was convicted of. And Judge Kidd took particular attention to using the letter of the law in isolating the Catholic Church from any criticism.
WATCH THE SENTENCING (VIDEO: ABC NEWS)
The other factors that appeared to be clear to me that despite the statute of limitations not being applied in historical sex abuses there still appeared to be a vicarious application of it by way of mitigation in the time frame between the offending and the present.
So, in essence this action – whether by design or simply applying the letter of the law – was still heavily skewed against the victims and in favour of Pell.
His age and physical condition also played a part in mitigation and the interpretation that Pell no longer presents a danger to the public was a breathtaking long bow to draw, as when is a child sex offender or any sex offender not a danger to the public? Just this week, a 70-year-old man was arrested for indecently assaulting a nine-year-old boy at a Sydney swimming pool. Pell himself is now 77-years-old. When does this danger magically stop unless advancing age and physical incapacity renders them incapable? And just as importantly, Pell still holds great public influence.
Just take a look at the likes of former prime ministers John Howard, Tony Abbott, Catholic higher-up Frank Brennan and a coterie of IPA acolytes like Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine who have all come rushing to the defence of the convicted multiple child rapist, while slurring the jury, survivors and even journalists who actually covered the case. They all make me sick.
I do not profess to be a legal expert however the long term damage to the victims of Pell cannot ever be adequately calibrated on a scale of psychological and physical harm. Just take into account, for example, the lives destroyed and the victims of child sexual abuse who have taken their own lives over the years, and even family members incurring premature deaths due to the collateral trauma these type of crimes engender.
In one of the most legally suppressed and secretive trials in our history Judge Kidd also took aim at the media after geo-suppression failed in preventing the story from being highlighted at an international level with media outlets in the United States leading the way. Kidd even described Pell as the victim of a “witch-hunt”, seemingly referencing scenes from two weeks ago when survivors of abuse told Pell to his face outside the court house what they really thought of the violent rapist. Again the expectation regarding reason, emotion and the what constitutes a matter of public interest in the eyes of the media was baffling and confusing, and skewed in favour of the guilty.
The sentencing remarks from Judge Kidd where on numerous occasions he referred to Pell as having had led an “otherwise blameless life” were perhaps another example of when the legal system is an ass, and truth has to be sacrificed for deference to power.
Pell has numerous credible allegations of child sexual abuse dating back to 1961 and his days as a trainee priest. While another criminal case against Pell involving offences against young children at a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s that was due to take place over the next few weeks was only called off after one of the alleged victims died earlier this year from ill health. It should also be noted that Pell has been the senior Christian leader responsible for the endemic cover-ups by the Catholic Church over child sexual abuse for the past two decades and more.
For mine, there was no “truth” in the sentencing and Judge Kidd’s sentencing address appeared to produce more points concerned with the upcoming appeal to be mounted on Pell’s behalf points such as age, health, his safety in prison and of course not posing a danger to the public .
Whatever the legal processes and the structure of the discourse the outcome including the sentencing was not a proportionate serving of justice for the perpetrator. Nor was it for the poor long suffering victims, their families and all the silent voices of all victims who watched the sentencing hearing who were hanging on to a hope that it would instil some level of confidence that they themselves may come forward safe in the knowledge that justice will be served.
It remains reasonable to suggest that only certain victims of child sexual abuse matter according to the power, status and privilege of the perpetrator and the institutions that support them.
Pell has received a grant total of six years imprisonment, with parole to be available in three years and eight months. My view is that it was another wave of inflicted trauma for all concerned. And that there is a long, long way to go before survivors of child sexual abuse and rape can have full confidence in the justice system.