FALSELY accused by liars, vilified by bigots, framed by scoundrels and convicted by nitwits, George Pell was liberated from prison on 7 April when all seven justices of the High Court rejected the spurious charges against him. His imprisonment was the worst miscarriage of justice in Australian history and a global embarrassment that brought the nation’s justice system into unprecedented disrepute. Some would say the persecution of Lindy Chamberlain was even worse. The sectarian loathing observable in both cases was comparable but nobody ever suggested Mrs Chamberlain was convicted solely because malicious officials wanted to destroy her as a political enemy. Nor was a behemoth of fake news like the contemporary ABC marshalled against her.
Chronicler of the Rumble in The Jungle, Norman Mailer, once observed of the blows that caused George Foreman to buckle that Muhammad Ali held off on a coup de grâce as his opponent fell because it would have spoiled the elegance of the flurry. Pell’s restraint is actuated by spirituality rather than a boxer’s aesthetics but his victory in the hempen square is no less emphatic and his challengers are no less KO’d.
Since he left HM Prison Barwon, he has sought no revenge and has stated he will not sue the journalists and broadcasters who defamed him for spite and the applause of the like-mindedly vicious. No compensation will be sought. Pell has neither broken down like Graham Ashton – the police commissioner who once described the Cardinal’s accusers as “victims” – nor scampered from scrutiny through a graveyard like Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Instead, the 79 year-old prelate returned to work almost immediately and played the key role in banishing the money launderers and mafiosi from the Vatican. This week’s decree by the Supreme Pontiff that all power over Church monies has been stripped from the Secretariat of State and transferred to Cardinal Pell’s former office – the Secretariat for the Economy – is, in this writer’s opinion, the most stunning high policy triumph by an Australian churchman in history.
Tim Blair this week prophesied that an increasingly rage-fuelled Kevin Rudd may end up “selling self-published books at market stalls, in the manner of crazy old Jim Cairns.” There’s a good chance failed Pell hunter Louise Milligan might be there to keep him company. Like the gonzo guerrillas she once proudly captained, the ABC-employed author of the back-to-front titled The Rise and Fall of George Pell refuses to apologise.
Instead, since the acquittal of the century the punchy dead-enders have taken refuge in purported ‘findings’ of Julia Gillard’s Royal Commission Into Getting George Pell. Without evidence – and hard-pressed to table red meat for the ravenous mob – the commissioners declared themselves “satisfied” that Cardinal Pell knew about Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes and consciously discouraged situations involving clergy generally that might give rise to abuse or even the suspicion of it. Here the phrase “we are satisfied” has the same meaning as “the vibe of it” or “close enough for government work.” On the prudential avoidance of scandal, it’s a tragedy the Commission didn’t do the same. By not challenging its own poisonously construed terms of reference, those in government who still cover up child sexual abuse in remote communities and other state-governed entities got off Scot-free. The ALP officials who paid, loved and lionised Bob Ellis must have been pleased.
George Pell’s prison journal – now an internationally available spiritual classic – will still be read long after all the fatuous calumnies and their authors are forgotten. But he isn’t Man of the Year simply because he won but because of who he proved himself to be against impossible odds. All of the traits Australians prized most before saccharine mawkishness became culturally endemic – a sportsman’s bearing, courage, unwillingness to sob or whinge, never quitting, plain-speaking, cocking a snook at respectable authority and gracefulness in victory – were exhibited by him; indeed, they now define him. In this sense, the persecution of George Pell was actually the making of him. The cross are no match for the Cross. Never were; never will be.