“…It is evident that there is a possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.”
- Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, High Court of Australia quoting from the judgment of all seven judges of the High Court – Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justices Virginia Bell, Stephen Gageler, Patrick Keane, Geoffrey Nettle, Michelle Gordon and James Edelman in George Pell v The Queen, 7 April 2020
The trial, re-trial and conviction for historical child sexual assault of Cardinal George Pell, the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy at the Holy See in Rome, gained international attention. In April 2020, in a remarkable unanimous decision, the High Court of Australia quashed the conviction.
In Cardinal Pell, The Media Pile-On & Collective Guilt, Gerard Henderson takes apart the events of nearly two decades that entrapped Australia’s highest ranking Catholic figure Cardinal George Pell. This commenced in sections of the media, initially the ABC and The Age newspaper, and was taken up by Victoria Police which charged Pell on 26 counts of historical child sexual abuse. Only five charges made it to trial and all five convictions were quashed by the High Court of Australia in a seven to zero decision. Before the High Court, the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions could not explain how the alleged offences took place.
Henderson names and follows the media campaign, over the years, against Pell, a campaign led by the ABC’s Louise Milligan, author and commentator David Marr, The New Daily’s Lucie Morris- Marr and The Guardian Australia’s Melissa Davey. Media reports repeatedly amounted to a pile-on against George Pell, allowing only a one-sided analysis and reducing the Cardinal to a figure of guilt long before his trial. Some media commentators also pushed the line that Pell should be convicted for the collective guilt of the Catholic Church’s mishandling of historical child sexual abuse of three to four decades before.
Henderson also examines forensically the deliberations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, headed by Justice Peter McClellan, and shows how the Commission’s findings in relation to Pell were contradictory and, at times, devoid of due process.