Cardinal George Pell has, in the face of fresh allegations of sexual abuse of children aired by ABC TV’s 7.30 Report this week, demanded a “probe” into what he perceives to be a conspiracy between the Victoria Police and the ABC to “pervert the course of justice” using a “trial by media” to establish his guilt before the matters are afforded due process.
I’m calling bollocks. Everything aired thus far by ABC TV has come directly from the complainants, Pell’s alleged victims. We have watched them give excruciating accounts of their experiences, and the effects those experiences have had on their lives. There are no police “leaks” in these first-hand accounts.
Anyone is at liberty to speak about his or her experiences at the hands of another, and we have defamation laws that deal with false claims.
There is no indication that Victoria Police have provided the ABC with information other than that they are pursuing their inquiries into the allegations, and that the matters have been referred to the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions where it will be decided whether or not charges are to be brought against the cardinal.
There is no legal requirement to protect Pell from identification. There are no minors involved in the complaints: they are historical. The ABC has offered Pell every opportunity to respond, and have published his responses on their website.
As long as the law permits the identification of alleged perpetrators, media outlets are at liberty to name them. This may or may not be fair: it is legal.
Pell’s position is no different from that of any other alleged perpetrator of historical sexual crimes against children in this country. Such people are identified in the media, and their alleged victims are frequently interviewed by the media. Police announce that they are pursuing lines of inquiry, and charges may or may not be brought. The Cardinal isn’t being granted, and should not be granted, any special favours or protections, neither is he being unfairly pursued.
The fact is, people continue to make complaints about Pell, and these complaints have to be investigated. Our justice system does not require the complaints be kept secret until they are proven or dismissed.
Like any other alleged perpetrator, Pell has to endure public curiosity and judgement, not because of any conspiracy, but because that is how our society works.
There are no doubt many benefits that go with being a prince of the catholic church. There are also responsibilities and intense scrutiny. The Vatican has deep pockets and should Pell choose to bring a defamation action against his accusers, lack of money will be no barrier to that pursuit. The Cardinal has on more than one occasion threatened legal action of this nature. It is still an option open to him if he feels himself to be a victim.