May 26, 2019

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An Australian Dreyfus? The Cardinal Pell imbroglio

http://daphneanson.blogspot.com/2019/04/an-australian-dreyfus-cardinal-pell.html

By Daphne Anson

 

Australia’s Dreyfus?

The (left-dominated, politically correct) Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV; formerly the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies), the roof body representing organised Jewish communal life in the Australian state of Victoria, has issued an abject apology to the Jewish gay rights lobby group Aleph, regarding the latter’s failure to be admitted to membership two decades ago:

“Aleph Melbourne submitted a valid application for membership of the JCCV in January 1999.  The Executive of the JCCV supported admission of Aleph Melbourne as a member. On 10 May 1999 the JCCV Plenum debated the motion and voted (39 votes in favour and 46 votes against) to deny the application for membership

In the course of the debate, homophobic views were expressed by some delegates which caused long-term harm to members of our LGBTIQ+ community.

Accordingly, this Plenum now apologises unconditionally to all members of our community who were impacted by the rejection of the membership application and for the unacceptable homophobic views expressed during the debate.

We apologise for the deep offence and humiliation caused by the hateful words spoken in the course of the debate. We apologise for the subsequent distress, further marginalisation and stigmatisation caused by the rejection of Aleph Melbourne’s membership application. We now recommit ourselves to welcoming and embracing LGBTIQ+ Jews in all our work, as part of our broader commitment to social inclusion for all members of the Jewish community of Victoria. Through our genuine commitment to equality and diversity we seek to ensure that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.”

Among those resolutely opposing the admission of Aleph to the JCCV in 1999, mindful of such passages as Leviticus 18:22,  was a prominent mainstream Orthodox rabbi in Melbourne, Ronald Lubofsky, well-known and well-remembered in circles promoting Jewish-Christian understanding.  As he afterwards explained on ABC (Australia’s equivalent of the BBC) radio:

“The core of the philosophy, the religious philosophy, the political philosophy of being Jewish, is in the written word. The Christians call it the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some would reduce it to the Ten Commandments etc. and that excludes the notion of homosexuality, and as a consequence it’s a contradiction in terms. You simply cannot consider the two ideals as being compatible. So true enough, the members of this group are Jewish and it may well be that they are secular in their intent, but I’m afraid that as a group, as an organisation, they cannot claim parity as individuals absolutely. This is a point which I and others have made, that Jewish gay people, lesbian people, they can join synagogues, they can join the organisations which are represented under the umbrella of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, they can be the presidents of those organisations, but as an organisation, as an ideology, they’re not compatible…. 

These are individuals who do not produce families, these are individuals who perform sexually in a way which is aberrant, to say the least, with regard to Judaism. It is something which runs counter to the fundamentals of Judaism, that is the family unit…”

This is not unlike Cardinal George Pell’s attitude towards homosexuals, to judge by what the cardinal told a reporter:

‘How was he to know if someone was gay or not? If someone came before him in Mass with cupped hands of course he would give the bread and wine. He was hardly going to quiz each parishioner.

But if someone came before him in a rainbow sash — as the gay parishioners had — in what he saw as an open act of rebellion against the church, then he was duty bound as a servant of the church to defend its honour.’

Lay Catholics are now copping abuse

As we all know, Cardinal Pell, who is not in good health, has since been convicted of sexually abusing two choirboys in a busy cathedral after Mass 22 years ago, and languishes in a prison cell awaiting the outcome of an Appeal in June against his sentence of six years’ imprisonment with no possibility of parole for three years and eight months.  A day of prayer for him scheduled by one Melbourne Catholic institution for Saturday, 9 March, was cancelled owing to an outcry. He’s in solitary confinement, for his own protection apparently, is permitted no sacramental wine and no breviary, although he does have his rosary. He’s permitted only one visitor a week, few books, and gets to leave his cell for just one hour each day. 

What a victory his fate is for visceral haters of the Catholic Church, for whom the theologically conservative Pell has long been, in his own words (in the course of his interview here with columnist Andrew Bolt) “a hate figure”, and which has ensured a “lynch-mob mentality” towards him that included, among an avalanche of prejudicial press items (here‘s a taster), intemperate comments (taster here), an acclaimed obscene portrait of him and a much-publicised spiteful song, and which now sees Open Season on Australian Catholicism itself in full swing: see, for example, here
 

Many of those ebullient at Pell’s downfull undoubtedly see the Church as a relic of the pre-Enlightenment era. Yet, it must be asked, how “enlightened” is it for a court of law to find a person guilty and deprive him of his liberty and his reputation on the testimony of a single plaintiff, uncorroborated by forensic evidence.

In a nutshell: doubting the justice of Pell’s conviction (from here)

Does not this have grievous implications for all Australians who find themselves defendants, not just Pell?  The cardinal has not been proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. The “guilty” verdict is unsafe.  No wonder that many people are comparing his case to that of the famously wronged Alfred Dreyfus, as well as to such proven miscarriages of Australian justice as the Lindy Chamberlain and Josephine Greensill jailings.

“[T]he boy from Ballarat with the film-star looks.”  

In its blurb, that’s how Dublin-born lapsed Catholic  ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s much-hyped book   The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Pell, now triumphantly reissued with an update following his controversial 11 December 2018 conviction on historic sex abuse charges, describes the big imposing former Australian Rules ruckman (pictured left in his forties).

The book was commissioned by Louise Adler, the  leftwing Israel-critical head of Melbourne University Press, who also commissioned Antony Loewenstein’s despicable My Israel Question. (She ‘resigned in January following reports of internal conflict over Cardinal and budget subsidies. The university’s chancellor, Allen Myers, is one of Pell’s lawyers’ notes a very recent publicity feature on Milligan in the Financial Review, in which she deplores those who question Pell’s conviction.)

“In the end”, Ms Milligan (who since the original publication of her book has been snapped up by the ABC’s Four Corners current program along with the ABC’s openly anti-Israel Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill)  told ABC news website readers gloatingly in March, after the Pell’s sentencing, 

“he was just an elderly, grey-faced man in the dock.

Not a prince of the church, not a cardinal, but a man convicted of and sentenced for terrible crimes against children.

A man who once flew first class will celebrate his 78th birthday in prison, and at the very least, his 79th, 80th and 81st….

We saw a man in a beige jacket and black shirt who seemed to have aged years in a matter of weeks….

Here was the man who dined with prime ministers, who went into battle in the culture wars, who cast an enormous shadow over the Catholic Church and Australian culture life.

He spent his days telling the rest of us how we ought to live our lives, and now, here he was, scratching out his signature on the sex offender register.

He could be on that register for life….”

    In 2015 Pell’s successor as Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Anthony Fisher, identified the reasons for the “unfair”targeting of the cardinal: 
“For so long he was the most prominent churchman in Australia, so people assume he’s in charge of everything and has been since birth,” he said, noting that Pell was never the bishop in Ballarat and had no direct responsibility for [convicted paedophile Gerald] Ridsdale or other priests in the diocese.“Add to that a lot of people didn’t like him for the very strong conservative stand he took on a number of issues, and they would be happy to see him humbled,” Fisher said.
From a vile longstanding anti-Pell Facebook page

Fisher said there’s also a personal edge to the anti-Pell sentiment.

“Probably, some people too are looking for public contrition. They think George looks too self-confident or too gruff, too defiant. There’s a kind of Aussie male macho element about his whole demeanor they don’t like,” he said.

“They’d like to see him crying, they’d like to see him blush … they’d like to see him in some way looking hurt,” Fisher said. “Maybe they’re thinking that by putting him through this again, he’ll finally crack.”

Noting that Pell has responded to most of these charges several times before, Fisher said the experience of having to do it again seems to be taking a toll.

“People think he’s indestructible, but I’ve sensed seeing him this time that it’s getting to him,” he said. “It just goes on and on. No matter how many inquiries there are it just keeps coming back, and it gets a bit more vicious each time.”

 Even before Pell’s trial doubts were being expressed that he could ever expect a fair one.  In the conservative Quadrant magazine (3 July 2017) David Flint, an emeritus professor of law, wrote inter alia:

‘Without in any way debating his guilt or innocence, like every Australian, Cardinal George Pell is entitled to a fair trial.

If he is denied this, will this be because of the leaks to the media about the police investigation, will it be the failure of the Victorian government to take serious action against this, or will it be because of those in the media who have engaged in character assassination?

Australians may well wonder why the announcement that the police had finally decided to make charges was made by a deputy and not Victoria’s Chief Commissioner Graeme Aston. Was it because he had, in one of his conversations about the case in the media, described  the complainants as ”victims”? Did the police believe that by using his deputy his apparent pre-judgement of the case was somehow extinguished from the minds of potential jurors? 

…. Pell was undoubtedly the pioneer here in dealing with institutional sex abuse. He subsequently cooperated fully with the Royal Commission. Recalled in 2015, the hearing was delayed by curious attempts to force him to fly to Melbourne even when it was revealed his doctors warned that the long flight could be fatal.

Just before he was to appear, the world’s media were filled with well-timed leaks revealing a police investigation about which even the Cardinal had not been informed…. 

In the meantime, the Royal Commission video examination was extraordinarily long and unnecessarily hostile….’

(See also this refutation of misrepresentations regarding the cardinal and the Commission)

In a speech in Hobart in 2017 believing Catholic-turned-agnostic Dr Gerard Henderson, director of the Sydney Institute, made, inter alia, these salient points:

“In its wisdom, the Royal Commission decided not to conduct hearings into institutional responses by the Australian media to instances of child sexual abuse…. The Royal Commission also did not hold hearings with respect to Islamic institutions or government schools.

While the Royal Commission chose not to conduct hearings into the ABC or Islamic institutions or government schools, it focused overwhelmingly on the Catholic Church in general and Cardinal George Pell in particular. This was lapped up by sections of the Australian media—particularly the ABC, Fairfax Media (mainly the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald), the Saturday Paper, the Guardian Australia, Channel 9’s 60 Minutes, Channel 10’s The Project and Sky News’s Paul Murray Live and Hinch Live (the latter program is no longer extant).

While all these media outlets employ objective journalists, it is true that some contain a high proportion of alienated ex-Catholics along with Catholics who disagree with the social conservatism of George Pell. Then there are the atheists, many of a sneering disposition, who resent believers—particularly Christians. In short, sections of the media have used the Royal Commission’s obsession with Catholicism to run campaigns against the Catholic Church….

The Christian tradition today faces two fundamental challenges—from militant Islamists who want to kill Christians and place the so-called Islamic State’s black flag on the Vatican; and from intolerant atheists who hold believers in contempt, particularly Christians, and wish to restrict their freedom of expression and action.”

Catholic journalist Michael Warren Davis observed in 2017:

 ‘Let’s be clear: he’s guilty, as he’s admitted, of not being aware of the abuses by priests under his charge. That’s a serious ministerial lapse … Yet, somehow, I doubt the anti-Pell crowd is up in arms because he’s an inadequate prelate. One suspects they’re not concerned about a marked aloofness in the Catholic hierarchy. Indeed, as [Julia] Yost points out, Archbishop Frank Little – Pell’s superior when the abuses took place – is known to have actively covered up abuses. Is it worth noting that Little was a progressive, and Pell’s a conservative? Julia Yost makes that transparently clear in [her] First Things critique of ABC operative Louise Milligan’s recent hatchet job.’

Distinguished Catholic scholar Dr George Weigel who happens to be a founder member of the Friends of Israel initiative (part of what he says about Israel has long featured on this blog’s sidebar, and the rest can be read here) has known George Pell for 50 years.  (See here too.) He characterises the Pell imbroglio as “this generation’s Dreyfus Case”.  There are very many, and not all within the Catholic Church, who share that view.

“Look, I know I’m innocent,” Weigel quoted the cardinal, on the eve of his sentencing in March,  as telling him, “The only judgement I fear is the Last Judgement.”

Added Weigel: “This whole thing had weirdness about it from the get-go … who put the Victorian police up to this?”

Here’s John Macaulay, a prominent Sydney Catholic and conservative, explaining why the cardinal’s prosecution and conviction is “extraordinary beyond belief”:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?&v=ht7cWkd-KF4

Phillip Breene, writing in The Spectator on 9 March this year (“Prosecuting Pell: Can public hate figures get a fair trial?”) observed:

“The important question is not simply whether the verdict in this case is sound but whether a responsible public Prosecutor should have brought the charges…

This is the difficulty with trials in which the defendant is a controversial public figure and has been demonised among the population from which the jury is drawn.”

And here‘s Pell’s biographer Tess Livingstone (behind a paywall, I’m afraid) giving her take on the conviction:

Full text available here

‘….The guilty verdict was delivered in December by a unanimous jury, in a properly constituted court, after an earlier jury was dismissed on September 20 because it split 10-2 in Pell’s favour. Hence the second trial, in which many people, whether they like or loathe Pell and all he stands for, believe went badly wrong.

If so, the jury were not the only ones to get it wrong, nor the most culpable. Hard questions need to be asked about police and judicial processes, including how and why certain allegations ever made it to court, let alone to trial.

During the first trial, observers in the gallery claimed: “Even if he didn’t do it he deserves to be punished. He was in charge of the whole show’’. How much did such sentiments influence the verdicts, if at all? Australian justice cannot sink so low.

Studied closely, the five convictions of child sexual abuse are grotesque, implausible and break the bounds of credulity. In religious terms, they would be grave sacrileges….

It is extremely unfortunate, some of Pell’s friends believe, that the two juries hearing the case were taken around the cathedral on a quiet weekday when it is usually all but deserted, rather than having the chance to see its hustle and bustle on Sunday mornings….

According to the evidence, Pell was fully vested when he committed the crimes of which he was found guilty. Over his trousers and shirt, he wore an alb — a long, straight white garment, extending from shoulder to the floor, with no openings and no splits at the front or sides that would have allowed the garment to be moved aside, as alleged. Over the alb, Pell wore a cincture — a thick cord tied several times around his waist, and over that a heavy chasuble (the outer robe). Those garments, worn by every priest at Mass, have spiritual significance. The choir boys were also vested in robes over their shirts and trousers.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good

The timing was odd for another reason. The scandal of clerical abuse was a major issue in the news in late 1996 in Melbourne after the inglorious legacy of Pell’s predecessor, Archbishop Frank Little. Pell had launched the Melbourne Response in October 1996, a system to deal with the problem led by an independent QC and the first of its kind for the Catholic Church in the world. In that atmosphere, the notion of Pell committing grotesque offences in a semipublic place with an open door (a point not disputed by the prosecution) at a busy time defies logic.

During the committal hearing, [magistrate] Ms Wallington dismissed even more grotesque charges against Pell, dating back decades before 1996 to provincial Victoria. As [Pell’s lawyer] Richter said in his summing up in the Committal hearing, one charge that was subsequently dismissed owed “more to the watching of Satanist movies’’.

It was extreme, violent and satanic, lending weight to the view that Pell has been the victim of a vile stitch up. If so, it needs to be uncovered. In the committal hearing, Richter said had the police made proper investigations (as the defence did) they would have discovered no evidence that Pell was ever at the institution where the alleged Satanic incident occurred….’

 Any serious student of the Pell imbroglio should also read this article by veteran award-winning Australian crime writer John Silvester.  Inter alia:

“Pell was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the uncorroborated evidence of one witness, without forensic evidence, a pattern of behaviour or a confession.

 It is a matter of public record that it is rare to run a case on the word of one witness, let alone gain a conviction….

Pell has become a lightning rod in the worldwide storm of anger at a systemic cover-up of priestly abuses. But that doesn’t make him a child molester. If Pell did molest those two teenagers in the busy cathedral, it certainly does not fit the usual pattern of paedophile priests….

He could not have known if one of them was not the son of the chief commissioner, the premier or the chief justice who were waiting outside to collect them. He could not have known if one of them would walk straight out and blow the whistle on him, and with two kids in the room he would have been sunk….”

In this month’s issue of the conservative political and intellectual magazine Quadrant, the front cover of which bears the unequivocal headline “The Persecution of George Pell“, former Anglican priest Peter Wales puts it  this way:

… If you wanted to invent a perfect nemesis for Australia’s left-wing media, you could not  do better than to come up with an intelligent, energetic, tough-minded, Australian-rules-playing, politically and religiously conservative straight white male.

 The ABC’s almost psychotic obsession with finding something dreadful to report about Cardinal Pell was noted at least as long ago as 2015, when Gerard Henderson suggested the mainstream media had the wrong target, and was focussing on Pell simply because he is a social conservative….’  (See another pertinent Peter Wales article here)

Writes Quadrant editor-in-chief Keith Windschuttle in another trenchant article:  

‘The current heroine of the news media pursuing this story is Louise Milligan, who has a best-seller with her book Cardinal, and her own special reports on ABC television’s 7.30 and Four Corners programs. The latest edition of her book lists the number of awards this work has won her: the Walkley Book Award, two Quill awards from the Melbourne Press Club, the Sir Owen Dixon Chambers Law Reporter of the Year award, the Civic Choice award in the Melbourne Prize for Literature. The new edition also carries accolades from an impressive array of left-wing journalists and authors: Annabel Crabb, David Marr, David Armstrong, Peter Fitzsimons, Kate McClymont, Quentin Dempster, Michaela Bond, Derryn Hinch, Yvonne Rance, Gerard Windsor and Anton Rose, plus a foreword by novelist/historian Tom Keneally who says Pell got what he deserved because he was “a notable neo-conservative”, who “had questioned climate change” and “has raised only muted opposition to the  federal government’s heinous asylum seeker policy”….’

Windschuttle places great significance on a case in Philadelphia dating to 1998, involving a boy referred to as “Billy”.

See in full context here

‘The Philadelphia case was written up in Rolling Stone in September 2011, well before Victoria’s police began what they called their “trawling operation” against George Pell, hoping to find someone to testify against him….

The only difference between the American and Australian evidence was the account of a second alleged meeting, which the boys said took place “a few months later” in Philadelphia and “a month or so later” in Melbourne. In the American version, it was a different priest involved this time, who led the same boy to the sacristy, told him to undress and then fellated him. In the Australian version, Pell allegedly found the boy in the back corridor of the cathedral, forced him up against a wall and fondled his genitals.

Nonetheless, the two accounts are so close to being identical that the likelihood of the Australian version being original is most implausible. There are far too many similarities in the stories for them to be explained by coincidence. The conclusion is unavoidable:

“The Kid” [Louise Milligan’s term for the still anonymous Australian testifier] was repeating a story he had found in a magazine – or repeating a story someone else had found for him in the media – thereby deriving his account of what Pell did from evidence given in a trial in the United States four years earlier. In short, the testimony that convicted George Pell was a sham. This does not mean the accuser was deliberately making it up. He might have come to persuade himself the events actually happened, or some therapist might have helped him “recover” his memory. But no matter how sincere the accuser’s beliefs were, that does not make them true, especially when there is so much other evidence against them.

There is little doubt that if members of the jury in Pell’s case had been informed of the surprising similarities between the two versions, some of them must have had serious questions about their witness’s veracity. The result would have been either a second hung jury or a not guilty verdict….’

Surely this not too dissimilar allegation, about the late Rabbi Lubofsky, might not, unwittingly, have been grist to the anti-Pell mill.  It appears to have first surfaced publicly several years ago, when it was referred to on the Facebook page of a well-known victim of paedophilia turned victims’ advocate, though without mention of names:

 It was, incidentally, repeated on high-profile Aleph activist mikeybear‘s blog in this form in January 2018:

“It was alleged by two men in 2012 that the late Rabbi Emeritus Ronald Lubofsky AM [Member of the Order of Australia] of St. Kilda Synagogue masturbated in front of them during their bar mitzvah lessons in the 1970s and 1980s.  These men would have been 12 or 13 years old boys at the time.  So far neither of the men have gone public with the details of the sexual abuse.”

And again there, this year, following Pell’s conviction:

 “What do Cardinal George Pell and Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky have in common?

What do Rabbi Emeritus Ronald Lubofsky AM and His Eminence Cardinal George Pell AC [Companion of the Order of Australia] have in common? 

Both appointed to the Order of Australia.

 Both revered in their religious circles.

Both vehemently opposed to homosexuality and sexual immorality.

Both sexually abused / predated on young boys.”

Rabbi Lubofsky, by the way, died in 2000.

It’s not necessary to be convinced of Pell’s innocence to deplore his conviction.  The conviction is “unsafe” and that’s enough to believe it should be set aside.  To quote Michael Warren Davis again

“Pell’s cause is an unpopular one, to say the least. Our taste-makers decided to destroy this man long ago. But, if his conviction goes uncontested, who will be next? Who else will be condemned in the eyes of law without forensic evidence or corroborating witnesses? Who else will be imprisoned because he fails to conform to fashionable opinion? Me, perhaps. Or you. Mark my words: if the third-most senior prelate in the Roman Catholic Church isn’t safe, we don’t stand a chance. This, in my opinion, is a fight for Australians’ basic civil liberties. I personally believe that, if Cardinal Pell’s conviction isn’t overturned, we’ve already lost.”

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