The hounding of Cardinal Pell: things Australia’s liberal media don’t want you to know

By Damian Thompson
May 30, 2015

The attempt to implicate Cardinal George Pell in the Ballarat child abuse scandal is a virtuoso display of score-settling by Australia’s left-leaning journalists, who have hated Pell for many years. This morning, however, The Australian broke ranks by publishing a column by Gerard Henderson that helps set the record straight. I’m simply going to quote extracts from it because you can be damn sure that they aren’t going to penetrate the liberal Aussie media’s firewall.

On Pell’s record in tackling child abuse:

On all the available evidence, Pell was among the first Catholic bishops in the world to address the issue of child sexual abuse by clergy. He was appointed archbishop of Melbourne in July 1996 and announced the creation of the Melbourne Response (to deal with child sexual abuse) the following October …

The fact is that Pell was a leader on this issue not only within the Catholic Church but also within the Christian community. And he was well ahead of many secular and government institutions.

On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s own record:

The ABC, under the direction of managing director and editor-in-chief Mark Scott, has been pursuing Pell for years. In 2013 Four Corners edited its Unholy Silence program to Pell’s disadvantage by cutting out a crucial comment where he explained his role in the Catholic Church in Australia. Scott, in private correspondence, subsequently supported this act of censorship.

ABC chairman Jim Spigelman was a key adviser to Gough Whitlam’s Labor government, which appointed professor Richard Downing (1915-75) as chairman of the ABC in June 1973. In 1975, the ABC radio program Lateline gave sympathetic coverage to three self-confessed pederasts. This caused some scandal at the time since pederasty was — and remains — a serious crime.

Downing wrote to The Sydney Morning Herald on July 19, 1975 — in his formal capacity as ABC chairman — stating that “the phenomenon of pederasty seems appropriate for public discussions in a society which, if it is to be open, democratic and responsible, needs also to understand the diverse natures of people who compose that society”. Downing’s letter expressed unequivocal sympathy for pederasts.

It so happens that when Downing, as ABC chairman, was calling for an understanding of men who had sex with young boys, the now defrocked priest Gerald Ridsdale was raping boys in the Catholic diocese of Ballarat. Yet Spigelman has declined to distance the ABC from the shocking statement of one of his predecessors.

Meanwhile Scott, who joined the board of Knox Grammar School Council in late 2007 and became deputy chairman in mid-2013, has declined to answer several questions as to what he did, or did not do, with respect to auditing child sexual abuse at the school.

As evidence to the royal commission demonstrates, there was a nest of pederast teachers at Knox Grammar and offending continued up until at least 2003 and the issue did not become public until 2009, some time after Scott joined the board. As far as I am aware, Scott’s association with Knox Grammar has not been reported on the ABC. Of course, I’m not suggesting Spigelman or Scott are responsible for biased reporting, or that they in any way condone pederasts, just that they should have stepped in or made a public statement demanding balance and admonishing rogue clergy.

On biased and ignorant reporting of Cardinal Pell and the scandals:

The ABC’s coverage of Pell has been replete with ignorance and prejudice. On Radio National (May 22) presenter James Carleton described Pell as a former ‘bishop of Ballarat’. This shows a total misunderstanding of Pell’s role before he moved to Melbourne. Pell was never in control of priests in the Ballarat diocese.

The ABC’s The Drum contains an article by lawyer Michael Bradley that describes Pell as a ‘def­endant’. The cardinal has not been charged with any offence whatsoever.

Early last week, ABC News Breakfast opened its coverage of the royal commission hearings in Ballarat with the claim that ‘new evidence’ had been discovered with respect to Pell. In fact, the claims by David Ridsdale (Gerald Ridsdale’s nephew) that Pell offered bribes in a bid to obtain his sil­ence were first made — and refuted by Pell — as long ago as 2002.

The allegation by Tim Green that he advised Pell of child abuse in Ballarat 40 years ago has been long denied by the cardinal.

So, too, the allegation that — as a member of the Ballarat bishop’s college of consultors between 1977 and 1984 — Pell was involved in moving pedophile priests from parish to parish.

On Sky News, presenters Paul Murray and Derryn Hinch ranted against Pell and demanded that he come home and give evidence before the royal commission. In their invincible ignorance, both men seemed unaware of two matters.

First, Pell has already given evidence to the royal commission twice, once in person and once by video link.

He also voluntarily appeared before the Victorian parliamentary inquiry.

Second, no one can just rock up at the royal commission and demand an instant hearing. It’s not the way such organisations work. As it turns out, Pell has advised the royal commission that he is willing to attend its hearings again — by video link or in person.

Murray and Hinch allowed their guests to make misinformed claims against Pell without challenge. Both men channelled the ABC’s version of a debate where everyone agrees with everyone else and contrary views are excluded.

As Henderson says, Cardinal Pell has admitted to mistakes in the handling of child sexual abuse cases: ‘He concedes the issue of compensation could have been better handled. And Pell acknowledges that he should not have walked with Ridsdale to court in Melbourne in 1993, having previously declined to present character evidence on Ridsdale’s behalf.’

Is there any evidence that Pell – charged by Pope Francis with taking on the Vatican financial mafia – was complicit in covering up child abuse? No. But there is evidence that he is a social conservative and climate change sceptic. Hence the kangaroo court.


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