Pell Derangement Syndrome is alive and well, post the High Court's exoneration of the Cardinal. The reactions of the Get Pellers, while entirely predictable, are a cause of considerable concern, not just to supporters of the Cardinal, but to all who value a civilised society and proportional responses to past heinous sexual crimes against the young.
The Holy Week release from prison of Cardinal George Pell has unleashed some truly strange reactions.
In addition to the massive relief and the eternal gratitude felt by those who have either prayed for the Cardinal’s freedom, or sung Christmas carols outside Melbourne’s Spencer Street prison, or given much or little money to help meet his legal costs, or cheered his release from inside the walls of Barwon Prison, or visited him or written to him, there is the peculiar, bordering on deranged and creepy, sense of grief/anger experienced by those who want Pell to remain defeated and not to be allowed any sort of “comeback”.
Whether this state of defeat means “back to gaol”, more criminal charges, civil lawsuits, clerical “defrocking” (to use the quaint secular vernacular), endless media condemnation – either mainstream or social, or both – or physical harassment like that which he experienced at Hume Highway servos, there is a band of brothers (and indeed sisters) who are signed up to not letting the Cardinal ever rest in peace on this earth.
This is quite weird, and quite unprecedented in Australian history. It is especially bizarre given that Pell is now clearly in retirement, with there being no evidence of his having any desire to make a return to public life. The Pell obsession is a little reminiscent of the media’s fascination with Tony Abbott, who was as recently as last week rumoured, with no evidence whatsoever, to be entertaining his own comeback to public life via a by-election in the seat of Eden Monaro.
But with Pell it is more, much more, than fascination with a past enemy. Those who continue to hate the Cardinal in such a public way seem not to be able simply to let it go. To resume their day jobs and normal lives, free from their sick obsession. They are extremely fortunate, then, that there is always some juicy new tidbit on hand to feed their habit. Yes, I believe it is an addiction that they have.
Individually, these folks probably go home each evening and do things that normal people do. Cook meals. Watch TV. Talk to their families, nuclear or otherwise. Walk the dog. Go to bed. Yet publicly, usually via echo chamber social media outlets or even through the more traditional forms of media, they continue to scream blue murder, to call for yet more revenge, and to seek to justify their own earlier Get Pell behaviour.
Who are the main current sufferers of Pell Derangement Syndrome?
Well, clearly the overlap with the most active and ardent Get Pellers of the last decade is considerable. David Marr seems to have retired hurt. Witness JJ, aka the complainant, has also bid us a fairly dignified farewell, at least for the moment. But others are in it for the long haul. Till death does my Pell hatred part.
Julia Gillard, whose half billion dollar gift to the anti-Catholic cause and to the coffers of her friend, survivor lawyer extraordinaire Vivian Waller, certainly paid back her political career debt with interest, was quickly out of the blocks after the High Court exoneration of Cardinal Pell. Wearing her Beyond Blue hat, she suggested calling for help if any survivors out there felt a bit ordinary.
Waller herself reminded us all of the conga line of civil cases in the wings that are coming to get Pell.
Daniel Andrews, whose inner fascist and his desire to deny freedom to everyone, not just innocent cardinals, are well and truly on display during the COVID affair, was also quick out of the blocks, with his now infamous “no comment” comment that, yes, we STILL believe you, even if your accusations are patently fantastic.
Graham Ashton, who sits atop the Circus that is VicPol, is still clearly smarting from the touch up he received from the Archdiocese of Melbourne during the 2012-13 parliamentary Inquiry, where he was, in effect, accused of perjury, was on hand to laugh off the very notion of using the law enforcement arms of the State to target individuals. I guess Graham and VicPol have more than enough to occupy them until his forthcoming retirement, which he probably hopes will arrive comfortably before the McMurdo Royal Commission’s findings on Lawyer X.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, so notoriously in the forefront of the Get Pell campaign for the best part of a generation, even had a go at explaining away its own history of Pell Derangement Syndrome. Full marks for even bothering to try this one. The Cardinal’s own graceful, typically understated suggestion that the ABC “wasn’t serving the national interest” was, indeed, a very controlled response. Other commentators have not been so forgiving, and the calls for an inquiry into the ABC’s anti-Pell activism, on the taxpayer’s dime, are growing. The ABC’s facile self-defence can only be seen in the context of its fears over these calls for an inquiry, and of its fragile public position.
The ABC’s chief Get Pell protagonist, Louise Milligan, has been relatively subdued, other than through the murky confines of the twittersphere, where she again, like Daniel Andrews, raised her voice in defence of “the victims”. This was part virtue signalling, and part wishing to defend the gains afforded her CV through her book’s strategic destruction of the Cardinal’s reputation in 2017. A book that, mercifully, continues to languish on the bookshop shelves as it awaits inevitable remaindering, and an author whose credibility has vanished with the High Court’s conversation-ending decision. Well might Ms Milligan be subdued.
Survivors of clerical sex abuse and their very vocal supporters, who seem to grow an extra dimension when networked in an activist group, lawyered up and financially compensated, are on the march again, post the High Court decision. Like Waller, they are waving bits of paper that threaten further legal action, while their more anarchist inclined fellow travellers deface churches and the more meek among them forlornly place ribbons on Church property fences. Just to remind everyone that he really did it, whatever the High Court said. Victim pain, now weaponised against the Church, trumps all, including the conviction of the innocent on baseless accusations.
What are the Pell Deranged now up in arms about? Where do they go from here?
Initially, there is the Cardinal’s legal exoneration to be explained away. This has been the first order of business, and quite a difficult task. The most common early cry of the Pell-deranged was “technicality”. Without ever fully explaining how a 7-0, unanimous finding which quashed the earlier bizarre conviction and which eviscerated those few remaining bits of the Victorian Appellate Court’s dignity which had survived Judge Mark Weinberg’s earlier gutting, could actually be termed a “technicality”, these hardy souls still refused to be cowed in defeat. The legal debate lasted a mere few days, and even the second rate legal academics who moonlight at The Conversation who were routinely wheeled out had little of substance to contribute to the propagation of the “technicality” meme.
Since the debate over the verdict died down and the High Court’s exoneration of Pell easily withstood the scrutiny applied by the usual suspects, the Get Pellers fortunately still have had other cards to play.
The redacted bits of the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Sex Abuse, the sections relating to “what Pell knew” about others accused of sex abuse, and what he did about them, were there to be released. More hope for the deranged. Surely there will be another trial or two! The Victorian Attorney General, with Daniel Andrews inevitably and creepily on hand, gleefully called for the release of the blocked out parts. Definitely something to see here.
The persistent and underwhelming Pell case analyst John Ferguson in The Australian, normally having a bob each way in his reporting of the whole Pell saga but always ending up appearing to be a sneerer, is on the prowl again, ever looking for new angles and new copy. Perhaps he hopes against hope for a final Pell humiliation.
Change.org is gunning for a defrocking, though I am not certain the Vatican listens to social media campaigns to deliberate on and determine the workings of canon law.
Andrew Bolt, a robust Pell defender and therefore even more deserving now of ogre status than his underlying, locked down conservatism normally achieves, was vigorous in his attacks on those who saw fresh hope of destroying Pell in the Royal Commission’s now public recommendations. Long- time sober Pell observer, Peter Westmore, concurred with Bolt.
On the face of it, the Royal Commission’s report is a nothing burger. Its findings, relating to one paedophile priest now locked up and another, now deceased, who faced accusations of all sorts of depravity, suggested Pell should have known of, and/or done more about, the behaviour of these priests back in the 1970s and 80s. This is despite the fact that it wasn’t Pell’s job at these times to make decisions about accusations against priests. Another case, relating to a St Patrick’s College Ballarat teacher, suggested that Pell was told about but dismissed the allegation without action. Again, it was not his job to discipline wayward College teachers.
There is much Monday morning quarterbacking, as the Americans say, going on here.
Similar accusations to those now re-surfacing yet again against Cardinal Pell were made to stick against Archbishop Phillip Wilson of Adelaide two years ago, only to be dismissed upon appeal. These related to what Wilson knew, and might have acted on, in historic cases in the Maitland Diocese decades before, and his memories of very old conversations and hearsay about abusing priests there. The charges against Wilson never had substance, and were found to be without substance. The appeal judge noted at the time the sheer pressure on him and fellow judges to find against Catholic priests. Hmmm …
Cardinal Pell wondered aloud, during his recent interview with Andrew Bolt on Sky News, what others who may have known at the time about “rumours” about the paedophiles Ridsdale or Searson – including the families of those abused, or VicPol itself – could have done to act upon the rumours. Not unreasonably, Pell suggested that he and other priests were trained NOT to believe gossip automatically. He was well off the pace in Ballarat in terms of what he might have known at the time about decisions by the then Bishop of Ballarat, the widely criticised Gerard Mulkearns, to move offending priests on. And George Pell DID, in fact, himself move suspected priests on – many, many priests – when he had the opportunity and the authority to do so. This was after 1996, at which time he was also responsible for instigating innovative, tough minded and fair new forms of procedural justice for victims of abuse. Not unreasonably too, a now elderly man cannot be expected to remember what was said to him, by whom, and how he reacted to what may have been said to him in conversations that (allegedly) took place up to half a century ago, about matters that weren’t his place to fix.
Royal Commissioners, so much the creatures of the legal and secular world and perhaps ignorant of Catholic Church procedures and jurisdictions, might nonetheless be expected to grasp these facts and to note how much the Church, and the world, have learned about the heinousness, the widespread occurrence and awful impacts of sex abuse on victims and the management of suspected paedophiles since these crimes were committed.
There were coverups aplenty, and not only within and by the Catholic Church. And, indeed, moving priests on may not have even been seen at the time as “covering up” but rather as kicking the problem down the road. Ghastly management practice, of course, and still par for the course, alas, in most organisations. Paedophilia as a “crime” had still to supplant paedophilia as a “sin” in the eyes of the Church. Few players had their eyes on the ball. Few perhaps knew of the problem, and of its prevalence. As the Chair of a Victorian Parliamentary Committee inquiry looking into these matters in the mid-1990s – Len Smith MP – admitted, few in positions of responsibility at even that time, could bring themselves to believe that adults would do these awful things to minors. No, it wasn’t only the then Father Pell who missed seeing it all.
Hindsight is indeed a wondrous thing. We always “could have done more”, about anything that was ultimately shown to have been awful. And now, the previously unknown unknowns have had a strong and searching light shone upon them, and new approaches are taken to addressing problems we now know much more about.
VicPol’s own notorious performance on the same turf at the same time in Victoria can only be seen as shameful. George Pell’s tenure in Melbourne, with its reforms (the Melbourne Response) and its inherent sense of, and acknowledgement of, justice, and the much later revelations coming out of the USA (for example in Boston in 2002) and through various inquiries from 2012 onwards in Australia, brought much needed change. Prior to these developments, few institutions, including those of the State, knew much about this crime nor took appropriate actions to police and punish it.
And yet the world again descends with force and malice upon the ageing, retired, unjustly criminalised George Pell. One of the Church’s greatest friends of sex abuse victims. A friend of young people in the best, the most innocent, the most Chestertonian of senses. A man of far greater scruples and decency than most of his own abusers are.
A final source of hope for the sufferers of Pell Derangement Syndrome lies in the opportunity for civil actions against the Cardinal, following both the lifting of the criminal charges that landed him in gaol and the Royal Commission’s now fully public report. As a result, priest chasing lawyers like Vivian Waller are, of course, sharpening their pencils while simultaneously virtue signalling their caring for survivors. Families, often even more bent on revenge than the victims themselves, are lining up too. The late ex-prisoner and drug addict Choirboy’s father is one, despite the by now almost universally known fact that his late son had reported no sex abuse, by George Pell or anyone else. Indeed, he had reported the opposite. The virile Ballarat brigade, seemingly incapable of forgiveness where the Catholic Church is concerned and, very sadly for them, apparently destined to see out their days full of venom and bile, may well be primed for legal action against Pell. They will only be further encouraged in this by Broken Rites, their corporate sponsor. (One thing that the deranged Pell haters might not have reckoned with here is that while, yes, the standard of proof is lower in civil cases for damages, the complainants will have to take the stand, face cross examination and have their identities and backgrounds revealed. The playing filed might well be more level, and some of the inherent advantages experiences by complainants in criminal trials removed. Even in Victoria).
The pile on, to borrow a phrase from Gerard Henderson, can best, indeed only, be understood in terms of Pell Derangement Syndrome. The ways that the formidable Pell gets under the skin of his enemies are numerous and have been thoroughly recognised and documented elsewhere. I have myself written before about the ways he offends particular people, especially vocal and perpetually offended ex-Catholic feminists and homosexuals.
Likewise the lukewarm support Pell received from the “official” Church in Australia, and from his fellow bishops in particular, evinced a benign and resigned response from the Cardinal, who simply said, reflectively, “that’s life”. Yet this response from the hierarchy revealed not merely collective guilt over paedophilia and its coverup, or even the Bishops’ Conference’s legendary timidity – to put it at its most polite – but also reflected the Australian Church’s inherent theological divisions, wherein George Pell was seen as a vocal, sturdy, coherent, persistent, indeed compelling voice for robust orthodoxy. The enemy within, and reviled for it.
Much more will be written about the Get Pellers in the Vatican who had their own reasons for wanting him gone. The Cardinal merely noted during the Bolt interview that many high up in the Roman Curia concur with the theory that his Vatican enemies did indeed, find a way to have him destroyed back in Australia. The American pundit Rod Dreher has long believed this. A child sex abuse scandal normally works. The history of the Calabrian mafia’s activism in Australian life is almost as notorious as the influence and reach of its tentacles in Rome. In Rome, Pell was feared more than loathed. His enemies suffered not so much from derangement as from mortal fear.
Yet here in Australia the loathing of George Pell – the sobriquets, the name calling, the spittle flecked vitriol, the sheer obsession of it all – is real, outsized, widespread and embedded in key vocal and influential institutions.
The derangement goes beyond mere scapegoating for the Church’s manifest sins, though that is part of it.
It borders on the insane, the incomprehensible, the shocking. It is typically misplaced, with accusations of crimes he did not commit and for not taking action in matters either unknown to him, or not his concern, or neither. It is creepy, and weird. There is a certain madness about it. It is extremist.
It is group-specific, with the contagion notably virile among feminists, social justice warriors, ex- Catholics, leftist journalists, ABC employees, and certain Melburnian priests. The contagion is also location-specific. Think Ballarat. And Melbourne (of course). North of the Murray, it falls away with the kilometres travelled.
It is Trump-like, and, and on a scale of common derangement syndromes, very high. Far beyond George Bush Derangement Syndrome, for example. George Pell, Go to Hell! The derangement is, above all else, in no way proportional.
And it is in total inverse proportion to Pell the man’s inherent meekness of soul, his humility, his sense of justice, his kindness and his personal charm. Worse than this, Pell Derangement Syndrome is totally out of synch with his activism against sexual abuse. Go figure.