George Pell: Backflip on cardinal an (Andrew) Bolt from the blue
By Beau Donelly
Sydney Morning Herald
March 2, 2016
Who knew that conservative writer and broadcaster Andrew Bolt was also a master at the art of satire?
In his latest piece, published on Wednesday, the News Corp columnist delivers a sobering analysis of Cardinal George Pell's second day of testimony to the child abuse royal commission.
In doing so, Australia's most powerful Catholic appears to have lost one of his staunchest defenders.
And loyal readers have been left in a state of perpetual shock, asking if this might be the "backflip of the century".
Some wondered if Bolt's latest views would compromise his chance at an exclusive interview with the Cardinal on Thursday for Sky. And it's not certain. Sky is hedging its bets when asked to confirm.
On the question of what Pell knew about notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale - his former colleague and housemate - Bolt posed the question that looms large for the commission.
"Is the Vatican's third-most powerful leader a liar when he says he never knew what Ridsdale ... was doing in Ballarat? Or was he just dangerously indifferent to his responsibilities and to the warning signs that children were being raped?"
It followed Pell's testimony on Tuesday about when he learnt of Ridsdale's offending. "It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me," he declared, prompting audible gasps.
And with that comment Bolt changed his tune, writing that Pell had "uttered words that will stain his reputation forever". He said Pell failed to explain why he never asked about Ridsdale's movements between parishes, and writes about his tendency to fall back on the lines of command defence. He even described the commission's questioning as "rightly aggressive".
It's a withering and unexpected commentary on the man Bolt has long described as the victim of a vicious witch-hunt. And some readers were surprised.
"Stain on Bolt's reputation … Split personality mad … Backflip of the century ... Is this real life?" they wrote. One questioned if a character assassination of his good mate Tony Abbott was next on the cards.
Only recently, Bolt condemned police and his own newspaper, the Herald Sun, for running a front-page story about an investigation into allegations Pell himself sexually abused children.
"Last week I called the witch-hunt against Cardinal George Pell vicious and shameful," he began. "Now the campaign to destroy Pell has become sinister as well, after it was joined by - in my view - elements of Victoria Police."
He went on to write about the "scandalous injustice and abuse of state power" and Victoria Police's "culture that encourages officers to hunt Catholics and smear their church".
In other pieces, Bolt has leapt to Pell's defence. In his column on Tuesday, he questioned the "public determination" to force the Cardinal to take the blame for the failure of others in the church.
And then, in another bizarre twist for the conservative columnist, Bolt on Wednesday appeared to backflip on his backflip, saying on Sky that he thinks he owes the Cardinal an apology for his comment piece.
"I joined that attack on George Pell, as you've just read, and I think for the first time in my life I'm trending positive on Twitter as a result," he said.
"I think I owe an apology and I'll go back to being hated on Twitter."
Asked about Pell's testimony and the admission he never asked why Ridsdale was being moved, Bolt said the Cardinal was not "plugged into the community" and had been "incurious".
"But … I think where the exaggeration has occurred is in thinking that he knows of abuse and he doesn't care. And that fits a stereotype," he said, adding that Pell had devoted his life to the church.
"I mean, you gotta [sic] really think he's a sociopath, as some clearly do, and I think that's highly improbable."
Bolt has been in Rome to cover the Cardinal's testimony for Sky all week, watching the extraordinary testimony of the man he has so long championed.
It remains to be seen, if Bolt does get his one-on-one interview, if he will ask the question he posed in his column: Is the Cardinal a liar?