March 2, 2019 by lucieromarin
- Pell was among the first leaders in Australia to introduce child-protection measures and systems for investigating abuse claims into his area of responsibility. His efforts pre-dated the Boston revelations by about five years. In other words, those efforts were not a concession to public pressure or an attempted post-Boston image-management. His actions reflected his priorities. He did this work in the very diocese in which he is supposed to have committed crimes against minors. Accepting a guilty verdict requires me to believe that a man who knew himself to have a criminal history voluntarily opened up channels by which he might be reported, discovered or held accountable. This belief also requires me to invent a narrative that explains this discrepancy, a narrative for which there is at present no evidence. He was incredibly stupid? He’d forgotten what he’d done? It was a maniacal attempt at a long-con? Any story can be constructed, but who’s to know? Believing in Pell’s innocence requires no invention to account for a discrepancy; it only requires me to believe that his plea is consistent with his work.
- Pell did not have to return to Australia. Even if the security afforded by distance was only temporary and partial, it was real for a time. Accepting the current verdict means I must believe that a man who knew himself to be guilty voluntarily surrendered what little security he had in order to face trial. Thinking him innocent, however, only requires me to believe that Pell’s choice reflected not only his knowledge of his innocence but the attendant belief that a trial would clear his name.
- To believe in Pell’s innocence, I need only believe that twelve Australians did not really understand Catholic ceremonial. This does not strain credulity. I do not need to believe that the jurors were morons or maleficent; one showing of vestments does not an expert make. No, I need only believe that without a prior immersion in the world of Catholic liturgy, sacred choral music, and sacristy culture, you cannot really hear or feel the near-impossibility in statements such as ‘we broke away from the procession’ (!?!?!?!). We know why it is impossible for missing choristers not be noticed or for their disappearance not to be remembered. We know why young teenagers whose school scholarships depend on their choral commitments are not allowed to just run about; we know that they would be disciplined, not forgotten, if they did so. That sense of impossibility, born of a statement that runs counter to the knowledge and experience of a narrow-yet-universal culture, strikes us with an almost physical force. That giant “HUH?!” is like a blow to the stomach. To believe in Pell’s innocence, I need only believe that the jurors could never have felt that blow. To believe in his guilt, however, I need to believe that as many witnesses perjured themselves when they testified that no such thing had ever happened.
- The second ‘victim’ told his mother before he died that nothing had ever happened. To accept the current verdict, I need to doubt a woman’s testimony with no grounds given for that doubt. What makes the mother an unreliable witness? Here, I need to invent a story that explains how a woman could get her dying child’s words so wrong – or, perhaps, why a dying man would decide that his last act in this life would be to cover up for his assailant. Does this remind no one of the time that our legal system and a jury of peers found it easier to believe that a woman murdered her baby (and then lied about it), rather than that a dingo did? Of course explanations can be invented or suggested – but who has offered any, much less any evidence for them? Meanwhile, to believe in Pell’s innocence, I only need to believe that when two statements of innocence concur, it’s because they’re both true.
- This can hardly need to be repeated, but anyway, here goes – to believe in Pell’s guilt, I need to believe in a swiftness and strength which can, in the space of six minutes, get from the aisle to the sacristy, subdue and assault two teenagers – either by holding them with one hand and using the other to lift several layers of clothing or by using both hands to subdue them while penetrating them through said layers of clothing – then return the scene to normal in time for return of every other member of the procession already en route. (I also need to believe that this took place with the door open in a high-traffic area, while the organist was still playing and facing the open door, and in the certain knowledge that the rest of the procession was only a minute or so away.) Affix a representative object to yourself beneath your underwear. Leave your trousers on. Then throw a sheet, some ropes and table-runners, and finally a heavy brocade curtain over yourself. Then ponder how well this arrangement would work for you. To believe in Pell’s innocence, I don’t need to believe that any man at all, much less Pell in particular, is so powered.
- Nobody has explained how the boys got through the locked door between the sacristy and the rehearsal room. This is something I would like to know. As far as we can tell, no one has even bothered to deny that the door was locked. The two entirely inconsistent statements are currently happily co-existent in the verdict of guilty.
- Even single-act rapists of adult women attack their victims in private or in the dark. To believe in Pell’s guilt requires me to accept a narrative that is entirely at odds with standard predator-behaviour. Sure, maybe it’s not impossible (?!) that one predator in all the world, while simultaneously opening avenues for investigation of abuse claims in his territory, would act once or twice and never again, without any prior grooming of the victims (which is usually needed to teach them what to do), in a public place at its busiest time of the week, in view of the organist, while fully-clothed. To accept a narrative that is so inconsistent with decades and decades of precedent requires me to suspend the demands of those mental faculties that are normally only satisfied by evidence. The suspension of that demand is otherwise called ‘faith.’ Belief in Pell’s guilt requires an act of faith in a single line of anonymous testimony contradicted by multiple witnesses. Belief in Pell’s innocence does not.
- A postscript: you may remember that the last time Pell was accused of sexual abuse, it was discovered that the complainant had never even met him, and was in fact an intellectually-challenged man who had been psychologically manipulated by two Pell-haters into making the accusation. Obviously, this precedent, in itself, proves nothing about his guilt or innocence at the present time; a man may be innocent of one crime and guilty of another. However, it does mean that for me to wonder, just wonder, whether or not the current accusation is the work of malefactors does not require me to be a desperate conspiracy-theorist. It only requires me to remember that false accusation has happened before. Likewise, to refuse even to entertain the possibility of a malice-driven false accusation requires nothing more than that we forget that this has happened in the past.
It will be argued that I did not sit through the trial and did not hear what the jury heard. This is correct. (Why only non-compelling information has been released to the press if compelling evidence is available is a matter for speculation.) My judgements can be formed only upon what the press has given me, and what has been given me thus far requires me to make seven separate acts of faith in a story that, as far as we know, is contradicted by witness statements, human psychology, the nature and demands of liturgical culture, and the layout of the Cathedral, and which contradictions can currently only be resolved by suppositions we might invent for ourselves. To be found guilty on the basis of evidence is not the same as to be deemed guilty despite the absence of evidence for the prosecution. I find myself unable to howl for a man’s head in the latter case.
None of the above reflections require me to like Pell or even to hold any tenets of his religion. They are all open to real evidence. If you can demonstrate that the witnesses perjured themselves and explain why a mother offered a false report about her son, I will edge that much closer towards belief in Pell’s physical powers and unique predatory style. If you can prove that no such maternal report was ever made, or that it was made under duress, and find a diary entry in which Pell rejoices over fooling the world with his cunning child-protection efforts, then, yes, I will still wonder about the locked door, but I will wonder about it less. And so on. I have been wrong about men before, and, if I am proved wrong again, will happily publish the evidence in another post. However, to believe the story as it stands, I need to believe, not just one of these unlikely things, but all of them, and to do so with nothing more than faith in the existence of evidence which is thus far withheld from the public, while only the information that would appear to exonerate Pell is released. If we have the duty to accept terrible truths once they are proved, we also have the right to object to the expectation of suspended disbelief in lieu of proof. And object I do.