Leaked claims against Cardinal Pell aim to destroy
By Andrew Bolt
February 21, 2016
|Andrew Bolt writes that Cardinal George Pell is the subject of a witch hunt. Digitally altered image.|
LAST week I called the witch hunt against Cardinal George Pell vicious and shameful. I thought it could not possibly get worse.
On Saturday, it did.
Now the campaign to destroy Pell has become sinister as well, after it was joined by — in my view — elements of Victoria Police.
VICTORIA POLICE INVESTIGATING CARDINAL PELL
Sources which to me clearly seem to be well-informed police leaked to the Herald Sun unverified and even improbable claims that Pell sexually abused as many as 10 boys between 1978 and 2001.
These sources gave intimate details of the police Sano Taskforce now investigating those claims, including what its members now want from their bosses to go after Pell. Yet Pell himself had not been told of these allegations, which the Sano Taskforce has investigated for a year without senior police approving any charges, or even any questioning of the cardinal.
This leak is clearly timed to hurt Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic.
It seems to me a scandalous injustice and abuse of state power to leak information that the leaker must have known any newspaper would feel compelled to report, if not endorse.
This is not the first sign that Victoria’s police force has a culture that encourages officers to hunt Catholics and smear their church.
In 2012, Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton, now Chief Commissioner, told the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child sexual abuse that police were investigating 43 cases of victims allegedly killing themselves because of what they’d suffered.
Yet a police taskforce at that time had concluded only one such death could be substantiated. Police did not correct Ashton’s claim for two years.
Ashton also claimed police had not “had a single referral of a child sexual abuse allegation by the Catholic Church”.
But Peter O’Callaghan, QC, the independent commissioner in charge of the Melbourne-based compensation fund set up by Pell himself, showed victims were indeed referred to police, sometimes with his direct help.
O’Callaghan revealed that of 304 complaints, 97 had been reported to police, 115 related to offenders already dead, nine involved offenders overseas, and 76 had him encourage complainants to go to police.
Police also made a third false or misleading claim against the church to the inquiry — that Pell’s fund made victims sign a confidentiality clause in exchange for compensation, stopping them from going to police.
In fact, the inquiry accepted this was not true.
All those false and inflammatory claims were made by police against the Catholic Church in Melbourne, under Pell’s leadership.
Now comes this malicious leak against Pell personally.
Is there a pattern here?
Premier Dan Andrews must reassure Victorians that their police force is not some lynch mob but an agent of justice.
He must reassure us that no other citizen will have police leak viciously damaging accusations made against them without even the chance to respond or disprove them.
The timing of this leak could not have been worse for Pell.
It came just days after Network 10 and other media outlets promoted a Tim Minchin song sliming Pell as a “coward” and “scum” for being too dangerously ill from heart problems to fly to Australia to give evidence — for the third time — to the royal commission into child sexual abuse.
Minchin’s video, falsely suggesting Pell was a friend and protector of paedophiles, also comes just days before the cardinal will instead give evidence by video link from Rome to again answer accusations that he covered up abuse by some priests.
(Pell strongly denies those un-proven claims, and countered one by producing his passport to show he was in Rome when one Ballarat vic-tim claimed he begged Pell for help.)
I cannot say these latest claims are false. The police must investigate.
Nor can I swear Pell never knew other priests were raping children. The royal commission must investigate.
But here is what I do know. A man is innocent until proven guilty.
Moreover, an innocent man must never be punished for the crimes of others.
And here is one more thing I know. This leak stinks.
It smells like an attempt to destroy a man without giving him a chance to defend himself.
Pell is accused of sexually assaulting boys as recently as 15 years ago, when police and media attention on his church was intense, and after he’d already become the first bishop of any faith in Australia to create a compensation fund for victims.
Is that likely?
Is that consistent with the serious and moral Pell I know?
And why are these alleged victims, abused as much as 55 years ago, accusing Pell only now, despite decades of media vilification of this prominent conservative?
Even the apparent genesis of this inquiry is odd.
It started with the one allegation Pell is familiar with — that he abused a boy during a church camp on Phillip Island in 1961, when he was a 20-year-old trainee priest.
The incident was actually investigated in 2002 by an exhaustive church inquiry under retired Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell, who dismissed the complaint in what even the anticlerical Age conceded was “a just result”.
No wonder. That complaint was made by a former alcoholic, union heavy and convicted criminal who said an activist had told him he could get $50,000 from Pell’s compensation fund.
In giving evidence, he was vague about the year Pell allegedly attacked him, and confused about other key details.
He claimed Pell abused him repeatedly in front of other boys, but not one witness corroborated his story. He even refused to report Pell to police.
Not surprisingly, police did not bother investigating this case in 2002.
Yet the Sano Taskforce is investigating it now, even though the Herald Sun reported the alleged victim “has refused to give a police statement”.
He has also rejected appeals to give evidence to the royal commission.
So why have police revived this dubious allegation?
Don’t think police are immune to that hatred of the Catholic Church endlessly preached by the media.
NSW, for instance, had its Chief Inspector Peter Fox, who remains a favourite ABC guest after claiming a “Catholic mafia” in the force had protected paedophile priests.
Fox repeatedly belittled Cardinal Pell by referring to him merely as “Mr Pell”.
Fox’s claims, like Ashton’s, helped to fire the public rage which produced the royal commission.
But a Special Commission of Inquiry investigating Fox’s claims concluded they were false, and found that Fox gave “deliberately untruthful’’ evidence and was a “zealot” with “an obsession about … the Catholic Church”.
I am not suggesting Chief Commissioner Ashton is also a “zealot” or that he condoned this latest leak. I cannot believe this respected officer would do that.
And, again, I cannot say these claims against Pell are false.
I wonder only at the culture of a police force that could produce false evidence against the church, and now — almost certainly — this leak.
End this witch hunt now.