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Australian Cardinal George Pell. A floncie Roman high priest hiding in Rome

Broken Rites Australia- researching the Catholic Coverup

Cardinal George Pell “can’t be FORCED to re-appear in Australia”, lawyers say

By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 15 May 2017

According to legal experts, Australian civil authorities cannot force Cardinal George Pell to re-visit Australia to be questioned on certain matters relating to church sexual abuse. As Pell is now a senior official in the Vatican State, this can give him diplomatic immunity, protecting him from being forced back to Australia. However, it is possible that he might choose to return to Australia voluntarily.

Sydney lawyer David Shoebridge, who is a member of the New South Wales state parliament, has written (in an article in Australia’s Newcastle Herald on 20 February 2017):

“In 1973 the Australian government granted the Vatican (called the Holy See in official channels) formal diplomatic recognition. This protected the Vatican, and gave its senior officials and head office in Australia the same protection we afford embassies and staff of foreign nations. Their documents cannot be subpoenaed and their senior officials cannot be forced to attend court or provide information…

“Australia has an extradition treaty with Italy, but hasn’t managed in 44 years to get one in place with the tiny pretend nation-state of the Vatican that exists wholly within Rome. This is why George Pell can’t be forced back [to Australia] to face questioning…”

During 2017, other lawyers have made similar comments.

George Pell can choose to return to Australia voluntarily.

Role of the Royal Commission

The following Broken Rites article is based largely on our research into the public hearings of Australia’s national child-abuse Royal Commission. These public hearings investigate how churches have handled (or mis-handled) the general culture of clergy sexual abuse.

In addition to the public hearings, the Royal Commission may also receive certain other information in private interviews with members of the public, including victims. Sometimes this private information may allege a sexual crime committed by a particular clergyman. But the Royal Commission does NOT investigate crimes; instead, the alleged victim is given the right to have a private chat with police detectives, to see whether (or not) this alleged victim wants to make a signed statement for the police regarding the alleged incident.

Pell visits other countries

Cardinal George Pell is a frequent flyer, travelling in comfort in Business Class. During his years as Archbishop of Sydney, he would regularly make the flight to Rome so as to keep an eye on career opportunities at the Vatican. Now he has become the third most important person in the Vatican, possessing a Vatican passport. He still travels from his Rome headquarters to other countries. For example, during 2016 and 2017, he has made a number of air trips from Rome to London (for example, most recently, in mid-May 2017). But he is reluctant now to make a public appearance in Australia.

Broken Rites has ascertained that, in March-April 2015, Pell made a secret trip by air to Australia, and then he returned to Rome in time to “appear” by video-link (instead of really appearing in person) for a public hearing of Australia’s child-abuse Royal Commission a few weeks later (in May 2015). The Commissioners had approved Pell’s May 2015 video-link because of the long distance if Pell had to fly to Australia from Rome. The Commissioners did not know of Pell’s recent secret trip but the trip became known by the time of the May 2015 hearing. And Pell’s video-link in May 2015 turned out to be a technological disaster. The Commissioners then asked Pell to appear in person at his next scheduled public hearing in Australia (in December 2015) but Pell refused to re-visit Australia, citing “health problems” as grounds for getting yet another video-link. Meanwhile, a few weeks before his December 2015 “sick note”, Pell travelled from Rome to France to tour the World War One battlefields (but Pell doesn’t have “health problems” in France or other countries, only in Australia). Pell made his next appearance (for the Royal Commission) by video-link in the week beginning 29 February 2016.

Pell’s secret trip to Australia in March-April 2015 included a visit to his home town, Ballarat, which is the town at the centre of church-abuse allegations (and the cover-up) in western Victoria. Pell’s trip was revealed in the April 2015 edition of the magazine of St Patrick’s College, Ballarat — the school where Pell had been a pupil. The magazine article, which has been seen by Broken Rites, indicates that Pell’s visit to the school occurred about 27 March 2015, “during a short vacation in Australia”. There is a photo of Pell, together with headmaster John Crowley, while touring the school to see its latest extensions.

The editors of this school magazine didn’t realise that, by revealing Pell’s visit, they were “letting the cat out of the bag”. News of the school magazine article (and the secret trip) reached journalists in Australia during the Commission’s May 2015 public hearing.

Even the Australian Catholic bishops’ spokesman on Royal Commission matters (Mr Francis Sullivan, from the church’s “Truth, Justice and Healing Commission”) didn’t know about the trip until journalists told him in May 2015.

For Pell, a video-link is a much easier experience than appearing in person in the same court-room as the church-victims and their families.

Video-link problems

The Commission’s cross-examining of Pell, by video link, in May 2015 was a technical disaster, with disruptions to the vision and/or the sound. And, with the Royal Commissioners sitting in a court-room in Ballarat, it was difficult for the commissioners to show certain documents to Pell when seeking his comment about those documents.

Church victims in Australia offered to pay first-class air fares for a specialist doctor to accompany Pell on a flight to Australia for the Royal Commission. But, clearly, Pell is not keen to make a public visit to Australia at present.

3 case-studies: Sydney, Melbourne, Ballarat

George Pell, who was born in Ballarat in 1941, was a Ballarat East priest from 1973 to 1983 and was in charge of education in the Ballarat diocese over that period. He also acted as an adviser to Bishop Mulkearns. He was later the archbishop of Melbourne (from 1996 to 2001) and then became the archbishop of Sydney before gaining his current senior role in the Vatican (in charge of the Vatican’s treasury) in 2014.

The Royal Commission has been examining a series of three specific case-studies:

  • Case Study 8, held in Sydney, in March 2014 (about how certain matters of clergy sexual abuse were handled in Sydney and suburbs). Pell, who was then the archbishop of Sydney, answered questions for this case study in person. This was just before he departed from Sydney to take up his new role in Rome being in charge of the Vatican’s treasury.
  • Case Study 35 (about how clergy sexual abuse was handled in Melbourne and suburbs). For this case study, Pell was questioned in May 2015 by video-link, just after his secret visit to Australia.
  • Case Study 28 (about how clergy sexual abuse was handled in the diocese of Ballarat, covering the western half of the state of Victoria).

Pell announces a “health problem”

By early December 2015, the Royal Commission was well advanced into its four-weeks public hearing about Melbourne and Ballarat matters.The Royal Commission hoped to do its final cross-examination of Pell (about church procedures) for Case Study 28 at a public hearing in Melbourne mid-December 2015.

According to Royal Commission documents, a Qantas Airways booking was made for Pell to fly from Rome to Melbourne (in a business-class seat) on the weekend of December 12-13, in order to be in the witness-box at the Royal commission in the week beginning Monday 14 December, after which there was another Qantas booking made for Pell to return to Rome on December 21. (These travel arrangements are outlined in Royal Commission document EXH.028.500.0001_R, dated 30 November 2015.)

Meanwhile, on Wednesday 2 December 2015 (according to Fairfax Media), detectives from the Victoria Police sex-crimes squad executed a search warrant on premises associated with Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Catholic cathedral. The detectives were investigating complaints about child-sex assaults that were allegedly committed at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral between 1996 and 2001.

On Friday 11 December (a day before Pell was scheduled to fly from Rome to Melbourne), it was announced at the Royal Commission public hearing that Cardinal Pell has decided that, for “health” reasons, he does not wish to make another plane trip from Rome to Melbourne.  Pell sent the Royal Commission a medical certificate signed by a medical specialist who works for the Vatican. The medical certificate didn’t say that Pell couldn’t travel; it merely indicated that that it would be better for Pell if he did the evidence by video-link from Rome.

Pell still missing in 2016 and 2017

On 5 February 2016, the Royal Commission held a brief procedure (a “directions hearing”) to ascertain whether Cardinal Pell is prepared to visit Australia to appear in person when the public hearing (on the Melbourne and Ballarat case studies) resumes later in February 2016. The answer from Pell’s lawyers was: “No, Your Honour, he is still not well enough to visit Australia”.

Significantly, Broken Rites can reveal that Cardinal Pell’s chief media strategist (Katrina Lee, from the Sydney Archdiocese headquarters) was one of the Pell support team (e.g., lawyers, etc) who were present at this directions hearing. In the past, many of Pell’s statements regarding church’s sex-abuse have been issued (in Pell’s name) by his media strategists as “media releases” (rather than being uttered by Pell himself at the Royal Commission, where he can be cross-examined).

This same media manager, Katrina Lee, travelled to Rome to assist Pell when he was to be interviewed by the Royal Commission, by video link from Rome in the week beginning Monday 29 February 2016.

The Melbourne-Ballarat public hearing resumed in the week beginning Monday 22 February 2016 — this time in Ballarat. Pell was to be questioned by video link from Rome in the week beginning February 29.

Pell makes other trips but not to Australia

Although George Pell was “not well enough” to re-appear in Australia during 2016, his health did not prevent him from travelling from Rome to other countries around this time.

  • In November 2015, just weeks before he was due to attend the Royal Commission in Melbourne, Pell travelled to France (to visit World War One battlefields), according to a report published later in the Melbourne Herald Sun. Evidently his health did not prevent him from making this trip.
  • A church organisation (the New Liturgical Movement) reported, on 26 May 2016, that Cardinal George Pell conducted a Pontifical High Mass at the London Oratory for the Feast of St Philip Neri.
  • Dan Hitchens, deputy editor of the Catholic Herald (U.K.), reported on 29 Nov 2016 that Cardinal Pell gave a talk at St Patrick’s Church, London, about contemporary Catholicism.
  • On 13 May 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald website (and other media outlets) published a photograph of Cardinal Pell arriving at London’s Heathrow airport. The photo was taken by an Australian journalist (Zoie Jones), who is based in Rome. Evidently this journalist happened to notice Cardinal Pell walking through the airport, with his luggage, after the plane landed.

Headlines in Rome

Meanwhile, because of Pell’s absence from Australia, people attending the Royal Commission’s public hearings in Sydney in 2016, were forced to watch the cross-examination of Pell on a large video screen. Some victims flew from Australia to Rome, so they could be present in the conference room in which Pell was being cross-examined by video-link from Australia. While in Rome, these Australian victims were interviewed and filmed by world-wide media.

By giving his Royal Commission evidence in Rome, Pell’s decision had the unintended consequence of magnifying the event, which might otherwise have remained confined to a few news cycles in Australia. Now Pell prompted the European and American media to cover a story about pedophile priests, the rape of children and the church’s botched cover-up — a story which the Vatican doesn’t welcome.

Pell’s refusal to re-visit Australia for the Royal Commission certainly increased the public scrutiny of him around the world. Indeed, for Pell, it turned out to be a public-relations disaster.

Police investigation

Pell’s non-appearance in Australia also prompted the Australian media to wonder if any alleged victims had made complaints to Australian civil authorities about any actions allegedly involving George Pell (that is, not about other clergy). As explained earlier in this article (under the sub-heading “Role of the Royal Commission”), the Royal Commission’s role is to examine the general issue of cover-ups, leaving the police to investigate a particular crime.

In February 2016, a journalist from the Melbourne Herald Sun sent some questions to Cardinal George Pell in Rome, seeking to find out if there had been any such allegations about Pell and, if so, whether these allegations are being examined by Victoria Police. (The police are obliged to examine any such complaint from an alleged victim if the victim requests this.).

Pell responded to the Herald Sun by issuing a written statement, objecting to any such “police investigation”. Pell’s media statement attacked the Victoria Police (instead of criticising the Herald Sun or the Royal Commission).

Pell’s media statement was available not only to the Herald Sun but also, simultaneously, to all other media outlets in Australia and around the world. Thus, in February 2016, Pell’s own media-crisis strategists had a hand in bringing this “police investigation” story to the whole world.

In late 2016, George Pell agreed to be interviewed by the Victoria Police in Rome, so three detectives went from Melbourne to Rome to see him to hear his response to the complaints of the alleged victims. The detectives’ trip to Rome became a worldwide news story, thanks largely to George Pell criticising the police for investigating the statements of the alleged victims.

During 2017, the Victoria Police and Victoria’s Office of Public Prosecutions have been conferring about certain information that has been gathered by the detectives.