The article below by Barney Zwartz in The Age Victoria Australia is fairly well-written, although he clearly has a slightly liberal agenda.

It’s a shame few journalists in Australia, in fact in the world, have retained old-school detachment and journalistic integrity. Maybe it has never existed.

When all is said and done George Pell is finished and his reputation, whatever the outcome of his trial(s) has been trashed.

I wouldn’t have a clue if George Pell is guilty or innocent. Do we believe the alleged victims and their allegations? Or do we believe George Pell?

I like to believe the alleged victims allegations against a perpetrator but many innocent people have been falsely accused of bad or deviant sexual behaviour.

In my experience, most victims are telling the truth.

I will weigh the evidence like everyone else but at the end of the day only George Pell and the alleged victims will know the truth.

One thing I know is that pedophiles, like murderers and every extreme deviate, are among the greatest liars, deceivers and manipulators on the planet.

And if George Pell is guilty, why would he admit it? He has so much to lose: his reputation, his power, his legacy and his health and well-being. Everything is on the line.

The alleged victims, if they are telling the truth, are being very brave and there is a great price for them to pay to testify. But normally there is an anger and a determination, no matter how hard it is, in the victims heat and soul, to speak out the truth in the public domain about what happened.

The Age Victoria Australia

Cardinal George Pell: Charges of historical sex offences will define Vatican official’s legacy

Barney Zwartz

  • Barney Zwartz

Today the mood is numbed acceptance, the feeling that this is the inevitable last act in the drama of a man who authored his own tragedy.

It was his appearances before the child abuse inquiries by the Victorian Parliament and the Royal Commission that really savaged his reputation, both because of the deficiencies they uncovered and because of his wooden, cold responses.

But in the Australian Catholic Church, the damage from clergy abuse was done long ago, and the latest development is merely cause for more disappointment. For years, most ordinary Catholics have focused on their local parishes and ignored the hierarchy, as dismayed as anyone by the shocking revelations of official cover-ups, moving paedophile priests and silencing victims.

Largely inured to bad news, most will simply carry on.

On Thursday, Victoria Police announced that Pell will face multiple allegations against multiple victims, though we will not know the details until the charges are filed on July 26 in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

No one would relish a court ordeal, but – after years of rumours swirling, accusations and counter-accusations – it is surely best for the cardinal, for the alleged victims, for the Catholic Church and for wider society that these claims are tested in court. Only then can the saga be laid to rest.


To his admirers, he was courageous, resolute and dependable; to his critics he was arrogant, ruthless, a bully. I’d say all those adjectives contain elements of truth: the very qualities that made him a hero to some made him a villain to others, and vice versa.

When Pell was at his height, as Archbishop of Melbourne, then Sydney, few inside the church had the energy or tenacity to take him on as he strove to restore clerical authority and provide an orthodox Catholic voice on social issues. His immediate predecessors were felt, not unreasonably, to have been a little timid in standing up for Catholic teaching against an often hostile media – and no one could accuse Pell of being timid.

Father George Pell (right) was 46 when he was named as an assistant bishop for Melbourne.Father George Pell (right) was 46 when he was named as an assistant bishop for Melbourne.


He battled hard to reshape the church in his own image and, under Pope John Paul II, must have felt for a while that he was winning, but it was too late: the church was victim of several social trends he could not control, including the loss of authority common to all institutions in recent decades, vastly exacerbated by its own failings.

Under Pell, the unpleasant practice flourished of reporting “innovations” or minor infractions to Rome, where – the progressives noted – the authorities acted far more quickly and decisively against a priest who adapted the Mass or advocated an end to clerical celibacy or favoured women priests, for example, than one who abused children.

Pope Francis receives a cricket bat from Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican in 2015.Pope Francis receives a cricket bat from Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican in 2015.


Pell was reportedly a gifted and ambitious student, whose attitude to life and the church mirrored his behaviour on the football field (he was good enough to be offered a contract with Richmond), using his size and strength to crash through the opposition. Louise Milligan in Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, (now being withdrawn from sale in Victoria to avoid prejudicing the trial) quotes a seminarian contemporary of Pell’s, Michael Leahy: “Once he set out in pursuit of a cause – whether it be possession of the ball on the football field or winning a debate – he was unstoppable.”

As an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, Pell was appointed to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, once known as the Inquisition, where he worked with Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. Pell’s brand of theological and social conservatism and clerical authoritarianism was very much in the spirit of Popes John Paul II and Benedict as they sought to wind back many of the liberal reforms of the 1960s.

Cardinal George Pell (left) and Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley attend the closing of the Jubilee of ...Cardinal George Pell (left) and Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley attend the closing of the Jubilee of Mercy in St Peter’s Square on November 20, 2016.


Pell’s vigorous prosecution of this agenda saw him fast-tracked for promotion, first to Archbishop of Melbourne, then of Sydney, then to Cardinal. He worked relentlessly to “rescue” the church from the progressives and restore it to its former orthodoxy, with his Melbourne replacement Denis Hart a key ally. He refused communion to gay Catholics and instructed that Catholic politicians who voted for abortion should not take the sacrament.

In 2006 a Sydney priest, John Crothers, accused him of being autocratic and inflammatory, but Pell was utterly unmoved by complaints of bullying by those he steamrolled. Yet his peers noticed, for his fellow bishops never elected him to the top position in the Australian church, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference (currently Denis Hart).

Cardinal George Pell speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra in October 2007, on the subject of World Youth Day.Cardinal George Pell speaks at the National Press Club in Canberra in October 2007, on the subject of World Youth Day.


Finally, Pell was transferred by his ecclesiological polar opposite, Pope Francis, to the Vatican to tackle the murky finances. That appointment followed Pell’s much criticised evidence to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into how the churches handled abuse, and there was a strong feeling among many Catholics that he was being deliberately removed from Australia.

Even his critics acknowledge that he has been a gifted administrator, incisive and persistent in following decisions through, and a man of formidable energy. From the start, as a priest in Ballarat, he had a strong involvement in education, which he continued in Melbourne. In Sydney his record was exemplary: supporting the Australian Catholic University, founding the Notre Dame University campus in that city (it had been established in WA in 1989), strengthening university chaplaincy across the city and reviving the seminary.

One of his achievements was bringing Pope Benedict to Australia for World Youth Day in 2008, featuring one of the biggest masses in Australia’s history, when more than 400,000 pilgrims joined the Pope, Pell, 25 other cardinals, 420 bishops, and a 300-strong choir at Randwick racecourse.

He was named Oceania representative on the “group of eight” (now nine) cardinals whom Francis appointed to advise him on church reform in 2013.

Cardinal Pell has strongly denied abusing children, anywhere, anytime. He and his supporters have blamed a “media witch-hunt”, and sometimes that has been true. But he has always had uncritical media supporters too, especially at The Australian, whose columnists have staunchly defended him even in defiance of the facts. They endorse Pell’s oft-expressed claim that Justice Alec Southwell’s 2002 investigation into alleged abused in 1961 “completely exonerated” him when in fact the verdict was closer to the Scottish “not proven”, and they parrot Pell’s line that he was the first bishop to introduce a redress system for abuse victims, ignoring its clear priority of protecting church coffers and the way it undermined the national response, Towards Healing.

Certainly, the charges this week owe nothing to media witch-hunts. Victoria Police would have deliberated long and hard before deciding to prosecute, with doubtless a passing thought for the political and media ramifications. But in the end, their decision must have been based on their assessment of the probability of conviction.

What will Pell’s legacy be? It will be heavily contested, as Pell himself has been a combative participant in Australia’s culture wars. But in the end, Pell has written it by his failures of empathy and compassion, his inability to look victims of abuse in the eye, his efforts to limit damage to the church instead.

Victim advocate Anthony Foster summed up his experience of the cardinal’s “sociopathic lack of empathy” in evidence to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry about the serial abuse of two daughters by a priest at a primary school in Oakleigh. He said they met in a furniture storage room at a Melbourne presbytery, where the Fosters were squeezed onto a narrow wooden bench, while Pell sat in a “grandiose” padded leather chair. He showed no emotion when shown a picture of the Fosters’ daughter Emma harming herself – she later killed herself – and said expressionlessly: “Hmmm, she’s changed, hasn’t she?”

But even this damaging account paled compared with Pell’s own evidence to the Royal Commission in 2016. It seemed that everybody had let Pell down, those above him in the hierarchy, those below, those alongside, but he bore no blame for this conspiracy of silence. He had no particular responsibility to look after children. He adopted the usual Catholic hierarchy tactic of blaming the dead and the now-demented.

He had a tough time from a clearly sceptical senior counsel Gail Furness and commission chairman Peter McClellan. At one early hearing, after Pell said he capped payment in the Melbourne Response because common law settlements were too high, McClellan took him on a circuitous but masterly Q and A until Pell had to concede that common law settlements were appropriate.

What all this showed the watching world was that Pell was first and foremost a company man: the institutional church ranked first, second and third.

As I ponder again the Pell enigma, two images spring to mind. First is Jan Hus, the early reformer burnt at the stake in 1415 after being promised a safe conduct by the Vatican, revoked on the grounds that “error has no rights”. I’ve often wondered whether a six-century-older version of Pell, who has always placed official church teaching – the Magisterium – above individual conscience, would have agreed.

Another, more charitable, image as the media circus begins again is the wounded bear being dragged to its knees by the baying pack, trumpeting defiance to the end but reduced by age and circumstance. But this bear always raced to battle, relishing it. He will know the warning of Jesus that those who live by the sword die by the sword.

But the last word on his legacy will be decided by courts in the coming months.

Barney Zwartz was religion editor of the Age from 2002 to 2013. He is now a senior fellow with the Centre for Public Christianity.