It was a combination of unwavering viciousness and happenstance that allowed evil to win in the Coen brothers’ celebrated neo-noir neo-Western. Hopes for a just denouement were dashed on the rocks of brutal reality – though it must be acknowledged, with due respect, that evil was playing a long game and conscientiously. The enemies of Cardinal George Pell had that sort of resolve and that sort of luck. A DPP who kept indulging preposterous briefs of “evidence,” a Pell-hating police force now regarded as the most corrupt in the country, a public broadcaster with a years-simmering hatred of the Cardinal, a second jury of dupable vigilantes eager to convict the self-same but, by then, notorious George Pell and an appeals court which this morning raised preposterous hearsay to the level of DNA and CCTV. For make no mistake: the liberty of any Victorian accused by a single person of an unverifiable crime (even one allegedly committed decades ago) is now in jeopardy. That is, until such time as similar accusations are made against a beloved leftist whereupon “growing calls” will be heard to reform the law. If ever there was a case in need of High Court correction, this is it. The future of the Commonwealth depends on it.
Whenever I’ve encountered scorners’ schadenfreude, I’ve always told them I’m a happy warrior. Scorn all you like; the fight continues. In that spirit, I wanted to review a little-noticed and bizarre feature story about George Pell’s supposed “fall” written by Louise Milligan in March. She has made herself the face of the anti-Pell movement, after all. It is instructive to parse the entire article to remind ourselves what a witch-hunt looks like. In brief: George Pell is in prison because conjoined twins – enfants terribles indeed – assassinated his character. There was absolutely no chance of him ever receiving a fair trial. No person with a triple digit IQ can deny that. The degree of joint enterprise by Victoria Police and the ABC is not known at this time. Suffice to say – and nothing more is here argued – that these two notoriously anti-Catholic, anti-Pell institutions were always sailing in the same direction. Perhaps the scandal is not that they colluded en route but that signal flags were never needed.
Choked Up In the Booth
Already love-bombed with accolades by euphoric Pell haters, earlier this year the ABC’s Louise Milligan published her version of the George Pell prosecution for the Women’s Weekly. Yes, really. In the April number she muscled into a contents page that included “Best ever hot-cross buns” and “Oprah’s secret to true happiness.” Without wanting to insult that revered magazine’s readership, it is nevertheless true to say it’s extremely unlikely many of them would be aware of the convoluted matrix of factoids, incredible accusations, deranged personalities, dirty tricks and vendettas that led to the conviction and imprisonment of the nation’s most senior Catholic. Not only is Milligan the national broadcaster’s Pell roundsman, she has also become a kind of Miss Marple of sacristy and surrounds – albeit one with a Cliff’s Notes grasp on Catholicism – whose ‘investigations’ have made her a one woman anti-Pell cottage industry. With customary airs, she recently announced the publication of a spoken word version of her book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell.
Many have asked, I’m pleased to announce: My #Pell book #Cardinal is now an @Audible_AU audiobook. Voiced by me. I’ll admit there were times, as I narrated this terrible history, I choked up in the booth. But it’s a history that must be told. Get it here.
Her description of the book as “terrible history” is uncharacteristically accurate.
Mother of Mercy
Milligan begins as all lapsed Catholic journalists do, especially if they want a long-term future at the ABC: by setting out to prove what a pious Catholic she used to be. This is now a tradition in the Western media, akin to an ambassador presenting credentials to an embassy. The ritual says, ‘I’m about to write about Catholics and I want Catholics especially to believe that I’m not doing a vinegary, prejudiced hit piece (which of course I am).’
I was raised a devoted Catholic. Mass every Sunday, confession, giving up sweets for Lent. At school we recited Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.
The prayer is called the Hail Holy Queen (or the Salve Regina). Nobody – and I mean nobody – calls it the “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.” Anyway, after the boilerplate bona fides, she gets down to business. Her business being guilt by association and the misrepresentation of Cardinal Pell’s words at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child abuse. Before we get to that, it is necessary to concentrate on another witness who gave testimony to that same Inquiry because, like Carl Williams, his indiscretions provoked a gut-shot that, arguably, became motive for war.
The most noteworthy alleged whoppers in testimony at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry in late 2012 were related – possibly inadvertently (we don’t know) – by then Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton.
A VICTORIAN police deputy commissioner and the force have been accused of false and misleading evidence to the state’s child sex abuse inquiry in a withering takedown of their allegations.
An eminent lawyer has accused police and Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton of “blatant untruths”, a “travesty” of justice, “utterly false” claims and of “malicious nonsense” in evidence obtained by The Australian.
Peter O’Callaghan, QC, independent commissioner in charge of the Catholic Church’s Melbourne-based complaints system, has exposed weaknesses in the police submission and provided evidence that contradicts the most damaging claim by Mr Ashton and the force that the church failed to report a single case of abuse to police.
In other words, Ashton was humiliated by O’Callaghan. He also made claims regarded by the Church’s lawyers as even more egregiously incorrect (again, perhaps unknowingly):
Victoria Police has been exposed vastly overstating the number of suicides related to child-sex abuse by Catholic clergy …
The assertion that 43 suicide deaths were related to Catholic abuse was a central reason for the formation of the Victorian inquiry, which in turn was a key reason the national sex abuse royal commission was formed …
Mr Ashton told the Victorian inquiry in late 2012 that the force was examining for the coroner 43 suicide deaths allegedly related to church abuse… But at the same time a police Sexual Crimes Squad investigation was wound up, detailing how the original claims of up to 43 deaths could not be substantiated…
Operation Plangere could substantiate only one firm case…. Despite knowing for more than two years that the figure was grossly wrong, the force has never publicly corrected it, regardless of the enormous damage it caused the church.
The concocted deaths cited in Ashton’s testimony (for which he has never been reprimanded; he was, indeed, promoted) sound a lot like the inventions that brought into being Operation Midland, the Metropolitan Police inquiry into Carl “Nick” Beech’s counterfeit Westminster VIP paedophile ring allegations.
The Searson Set-up
Louise Milligan didn’t notice any of this. In her non-telling, VicPol’s shameless dishonesty before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry never happened. Her alarm bell was set off by somebody else’s testimony. Guess whose:
Julie had all of that hope and innocence dashed when she was abused in the confessional by a thoroughly horrible human called Father Peter Searson, a Brylcreemed paedophile priest who carried a gun around the parish school at Doveton, in Melbourne’s south-east, where he terrorised the children.
Many years later, when he was giving evidence to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into child abuse, Cardinal George Pell denied knowing about sexual abuse at Doveton, saying only “there might be victims”. But as we discovered for our program, in 1998 Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, had sent Julie a letter apologising for the abuse and paying her a confidential settlement through his Melbourne Response scheme. It made me think two things: First, I should investigate this man more because I had serious questions about whether he was a truth-teller.
The full transcript of the exchange Milligan here conveniently reduces to a four word abridgment (and of the entire Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry) may be read here. I urge readers to find the questions asked and answered by Inquiry deputy chairman Frank Maguire and Cardinal Pell respectively. The Cardinal does not “deny knowing about sexual abuse at Doveton.” He points out that Searson was never charged or prosecuted for a sexual crime, despite two Victoria Police investigations and a third investigation conducted by Minter Ellison lawyers at the private behest of the Melbourne Catholic Education Office.
Ergo: despite Victoria Police taking no action against Searson, Julie received compensation and a letter of apology from the then Archbishop of Melbourne. This was no doubt based on Searson’s bad general reputation; Pell told the Victorian inquiry that Searson was “not a pleasant man” and that he was eventually convicted for an act of cruelty. It was Pell who sacked Searson and then manfully defied a ludicrous order from the Vatican that he be reinstated. The payment to Julie, then, brought great credit upon Cardinal Pell. By airbrushing away the annoying facts – assured that readers of the Women’s Weekly are no more likely to check them than they are to make those hot-cross buns – Milligan re-badges the episode as a black mark against the Cardinal’s name. What did Justice Peter Kidd have to say about such criminally negligent conduct? This:
… you [are not] being sentenced for any failure to prevent or report child sexual abuse by other clergy within the Catholic Church. You have not been charged with or convicted of any such failings.
This was just one of the slap-downs administered by Justice Kidd to the ABC (by logical implication if not by name). By the way (for non-Victorians), Frank Maguire was and is a Labor MP and a former ABC journalist. As with Operation Midland, the witch-hunting by police, Labor politicians and state journalists has been starkly symbiotic throughout the Pell saga.
The Men She Began To Meet
And so Milligan proceeds to the allegations that led, albeit haltingly, to an infamous prosecution. Needless to say, she leaves out the corrupt “trawling” operation conducted by a vengeful Victoria Police to find somebody – anybody – who wanted to make accusations against one George Pell. Again, this mirrored what British police did at the behest of Carl Beech, the paedophile recently convicted of 12 counts of perverting the course of justice (inter alia).
I by no means thought Pell himself was an abuser until early 2016. From February that year, I began to meet men who made extremely concerning allegations about the Cardinal, going back decades.
She “began to meet men” who made accusations about the Cardinal? How? Where? Who facilitated this exordium of her enlightenment? If a third party made the introductions, what interest might they have had in cultivating an ABC journalist? She won’t say.
There was nothing in the men whom I began to meet (and whose stories I told in my book, Cardinal, The Rise and Fall of George Pell) that made me think that any of them were not telling the truth.
Let’s emphasise her key assertion: that every single one of them was telling the truth.
In fact, the claims of two of the men Milligan began to meet were blocked by Justice Peter Kidd and abandoned by the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions. For the latter, Fran Dalziel SC had sought to have three swimming-related accusations heard together in order to use “pattern” trickery to push-poll a jury. Justice Kidd ruled this package deal of wild, no-witness charges could never be safely tried. In other words, it was cowboy posturing and legal trash.
Additionally, we know that the two principal swimmer “victims” had serious criminal records, one being a former drug-peddler jailed for assaulting his girlfriend. Also, he had a lengthy history of psychiatric illness. The two mates (for mates they were) also made accusations of far worse abuse against other people – teachers – which Taskforce SANO, mysteriously, didn’t bother to either publicise or prosecute. Why? Because they concluded the allegations were utter nonsense, that’s why.
Milligan leaves out these latter details because they are damning. Instead she asserts that nothing about these men she began to meet made her think they were anything other than admirable truth-tellers. She even worried about the “strain” it was causing them. (Not as big a strain as being bashed by a drug dealer). Prosecutors had already given up on other fanciful charges before the committal. Magistrate Belinda Wallington herself threw out others as warped, fantastical claptrap. In truth, only a solitary accuser (the former choirboy) survived the cull and his claims were not accepted by a majority of jurors in Cardinal Pell’s first, abandoned trial. They were accepted by a second jury for whom George Pell, by then, was obviously synonymous with child molestation – not least because of the dedicated propaganda of Milligan’s employer, the ABC, which devoted an entire episode of the7.30 Report to the now deep-sixed accusations of the aforementioned “swimmers.”
So much for the men she began to meet.
Florid Mental Illness
Having demonstrated her ineptitide at gauging the legal credibility of chancers, oddballs and ex-cons, Milligan then touts her skills as a psychiatrist while dismissing suggestions Pell’s accusers are fabulists or storytellers. For the record, Louise Milligan is not a psychiatrist.
I think you would have to have a florid mental illness to endure that if it hadn’t happened. And while these men have suffered from post-traumatic stress, they do not have florid mental illnesses.
Clinically, the word “florid” is used almost exclusively in relation to schizophrenic psychosis. Saying Pell’s accusers must be believed because they are not psychotics is a weirdly low bar for establishing their soundness. There are countless examples of outwardly steady people who are known to have made false accusations and maintained the charade up to and beyond verdict day. Carl Beech is their newest exemplar. Left-wing journalists (that’s most of them) were so giddy on Trump hatred that they believed every claim uttered by US Supreme Court then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers. All of whom, it turns out, were certifiable. Just last month, actor John Jarrett was acquitted of raping a woman 40 years ago. The jury deliberated for 15 minutes – which was just enough time for “yeah-nah” to be said twelve times. His accuser found her way to a police station after local #MeToo wrangler Tracey Spicer asked the public to email her any claims against big names in the entertainment industry. This was very similar to VicPol’s “Operation Tethering” – used to round up some Pell “victims” when miffed detectives realised there were no accusations against the Cardinal. Other Spicer-promoted trials are now unlikely to go forward. This will be a huge relief to Big Ted and Mr Squiggle.
An Imaginary Vatican Doctor
To illustrate how somebody who isn’t suffering from a “florid mental illness” might nevertheless paint the lily, malice aforethought, we need only read Milligan’s next casual slur.
Like everyone else in Australia, I did wonder about Pell’s decision not to fly to Australia in late 2015 because of a heart condition. One of the fascinating things I discovered when researching my book was that Pell’s sick note had been written by a Vatican doctor who is responsible for declaring medical miracles, which mean that a person gets the tick of approval for being a saint. I thought that was a telling choice of person to make the decision that Pell was too ill to fly.
Like everyone else? Note this infantile tendency to exaggerate. We’ll return to it shortly. Milligan’s claim, of course, is risible balderdash. There is not – nor has there ever been – “a Vatican doctor” who declares medical miracles. Rather …
To even be considered, a potentially miraculous cure must be instantaneous or sudden, complete and permanent, and without apparent scientific explanation. When reviewing such cures, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican office that oversees sainthood applications, first turns potential miracles over to the Consulta Medica. This board, established by the Vatican in the mid-1900s, is made up of about 100 renowned Italian (and Catholic) physicians. Traditionally, a panel of five Consulta Medica doctors will review the putative miracle, examining any available CT scans, X-rays, and medical reports. At least three of the five must agree that the hand of God has prevailed where science faltered.
Her mockery of some of the finest medical minds in the world tells you what a sour lightweight Milligan is. Raised a “devoted Catholic” remember, she is saying that any doctor involved in investigating miracles must, ipso facto, be a dishonest quack. She finds that easier to believe than that a conveniently anonymous “victim” who claims to have been raped by George Pell – in an open room amidst dozens of passers-by (not one of whom noticed) – might be less than credible. There is no evidence whatsoever that Cardinal Pell ever considered hiding out in the Vatican. Implying otherwise is brazenly dishonest. Besides all that, as even nominal and lapsed Catholics know, only the Supreme Pontiff may “declare” something to be a miracle. A Petrine judgement closer to home was delivered by Justice Kidd (yet again): “You [George Pell] have a significant history of cardiac problems and currently suffer from hypertension and congestive heart failure. You have a dual chamber pacemaker.”
Milligan was wrong again and for the same reason: summit fever on Mount Get Pell.
We have already seen how Milligan tends to angrily exaggerate as a lazy way of mimicking rebuttal. There is also her triumphant love of mobs. Everyone in Australia wondered about Cardinal Pell delaying a return to Australia on medical grounds, for example, when a more accurate claim would be that some commentators (who hate George Pell) wondered about it. This they did in columns (or, in one case, song) to viciously calumniate the man in the public’s eyes. Her majoritarian hubris continues …
… the response has been 99.9 per cent positive. I have had dozens and dozens of messages from people around the country and internationally, many of them ordinary lay Catholics or religious like nuns and priests, who are pleased that a light has been shone on this very dark place.
Dozens and dozens is not a lot of emails. And only “many” of those were from admiring lay Catholics and “religious like nuns and priests.” I guess all the others were from David Marr. I strongly doubt that many “nuns” emailed Milligan about her book. The chances of nuns having a copy, reading it and then emailing her about it are close to zero. Elderly women religious from moribund congregations – in between workshops on puppetry in the liturgy – maybe. And most priests are secular, not religious. I doubt many priests religious contacted her either. These are the sloppy phrases of somebody with an amateurish, recently assembled understanding of Catholicism. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. But she does know how to exaggerate and fulminate on behalf of a mob.
Loud and Shouty
A loud and shouty minority has insisted Pell is innocent. The fact that the defenders of a now-convicted paedophile include two former Prime Ministers floors me. I understand that people have friendships and political alliances with Pell. They have gone in to battle with him in the culture wars. But their comments have shown, in my view, an extraordinary lack of empathy for victims and their families who are hurting.
Two other former prime ministers, Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating, defended Pol Pot and General Suharto respectively. I doubt Milligan would be floored to learn this. History (and hours of videotape) prove that the only “loud and shouty” people in the larger Pell circus were the ones outside various court houses in Melbourne during the accused’s committal and trial. In the judgement of Victoria Police – which dispatched tens of armed officers to protect the Cardinal – he was in very real danger of being assaulted or worse. In sentencing, Justice Kidd accepted the truth and appropriateness of the character references provided to the court. Pointedly, he also noted that “these references were not challenged or contradicted by the prosecution.” Notice also Milligan’s plural trickery: “victims.” There was, of course, only one (supposed) “victim.” The second choirboy told his mother he was never sexually abused. Moreover, George Pell also has a family but that didn’t concern the ABC when it was slandering him using testimony from men whose claims have now been flushed down the Victorian legal system’s toilet. And a busy old dunny it is, already clogged with the Lawyer X scandal whose leitmotif is – get this – rigged prosecutions.
As for the “loud and shouty,” they were dealt with by Justice Kidd in an extraordinary aside:
… we have witnessed, outside of this court and within our community, examples of a ‘witch-hunt’ or ‘lynch mob’ mentality in relation to Cardinal Pell. I utterly condemn such behaviour. That has nothing to do with justice or a civilized society. The Courts stand as a bulwark against such irresponsible behaviour.
You can always pick the ring-leaders of a lynch mob. They invariably claim to speak for “everyone else in Australia” and “99.9 percent” of people.
I’m Guessing It Was Also a Dark and Stormy Night
Actual passages from the Milligan piece:
“… that evening is etched in my brain because releasing my book was a leap of faith into shark-infested waters.”
“… a dawn of change is sweeping through parishes and schools.”
Geez, Louise. For this, Australia’s arts apparatchiks awarded her several prizes for ‘literature.’
“We used my son and my neighbour’s boy …”
Here’s something that’s etched in my brain after reading Milligan’s essay: her strange obsession.
I remember when we started shooting a reenactment of a game being played by George Pell and some eight-year old boys at a swimming pool for our ABC story. We used my son and my neighbour’s boy for that scene. They enjoyed playing the game. It brought home to myself and my friend the horrible loss of trust that children who are victims of sexual abuse by clergy suffer.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this passage horrified Women’s Weekly readers more than any other. It certainly should have. What sort of person ‘uses’ two little boys in a filmed child molestation “reenactment”? Milligan could just as readily have used her aunt to dramatise the testimony about these particular charges given by the pool owner’s wife. That lady told police she never once saw – and was never apprised of – anything remotely suspicious involving George Pell. Milligan thinks she is clever in decorating the bereft case against the Cardinal with multiple “victims,” bogus patterns of behaviour and predictable third parties to hate: John Howard, Tony Abbott, the evil Vatican Doctor. She even gives left-wing Jesuit Frank Brennan a drive-by spray with the mud Uzi. It must have been particularly irksome to Milligan that Brennan – a distinguished lawyer and intellectual with a long record of theological animosity to Pell – questioned the propriety of the major partners in the Pell prosecution: Victoria Police and the media.
Time To Spike Milligan
One final mistake Milligan makes is general; as sweeping as the dawn, so to speak. Having appended to George Pell’s name culpability for multiple non-existent crimes – all the better to leave the phony impression of habituated sexual monstrosity – she concludes her Women’s Weekly feature by extrapolating for the Catholic Church a wider, revolutionary significance in the Cardinal’s conviction, as also an emphatic vindication for abuse victims. This hackneyed left-wing idea of justice – where the healing of a class of “victims” trumps even the safety of the prosecution that magically enables it – was forcefully and explicitly repudiated by Justice Kidd:
This leads me to say something to other victims of clerical or institutional sexual abuse who may be present in court today or watching or listening elsewhere. This sentence is not and cannot be a vindication of your trauma. Cardinal Pell has not been convicted of any wrongs committed against you. Cardinal Pell does not fall to be punished for any such wrongs. I recognise that you seek justice, but it can only be justice if it is done in accordance with the rule of law. For me to punish Cardinal Pell for the wrongs committed against you would be contrary to the rule of law and it would not be justice at all.
This too may be seen as a demolition of the Milligan/ABC exegesis. It is no excuse for either prosecutorial or journalistic chicanery to argue the unjustly spiked head will at least straighten out the recusants.
And yet …
So her work is marbled with harebrained suppositions, egregious cherry-picking, factual blunders, suspicious omissions, queer mysteries, adolescent prose and now discredited assertions; no doubt. But somehow Milligan – or, more to the point – a revoltingly ugly mentality walked away triumphant this morning from a car crash. We can only hope a second appellate sequel is in the making to right the wrong.