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Why Australians have it so wrong about Cardinal Pell

By Mary Broadsmith - posted Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Australians are always the first to criticise and attack their own. Even more worrying, we tend to soak up every rumour, false report, and accusation against big personalities in our country, as if we are wetting our lips for the delightful news of scandal. We love seeing the downfall of people in powerful positions, and sadly this delight comes at the expense of the truth.

Ok, perhaps this is a harsh generalisation; however it can be a fair assumption when you consider the local reactions to Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, and the one and only representative from Oceania taking part in the Conclave to elect a new pope, beginning Tuesday 12 March 2013.

The truth does not seem to matter when it comes to reporting facts about Pell. Every day we see a new accusation or attempt to discredit Pell's character, leaving a wave of negativity that you can just about feel as you walk through the streets of Sydney. It is mortifying that the intelligent men and women in this great country are soaking up this negativity daily, with very little desire or want to verify information, and a complete disregard for the truth.


Am I exaggerating? Let's look at Barney Zwartz's recent comments in the Sydney Morning Herald , (Tainted Pell out of race after lobbying, 11 March 2013), with the opening line, "Cardinal George Pell, tainted by sex abuse scandals, has no chance of becoming the 266th pope." Quoting Australian commentator Paul Collins, Zwartz reported ''the judge never cleared Pell" of an accusation that at the age of 19, Pell abused a boy while ona church camp. This is simply untrue. In fact on 14 June 2010, Zwartz stated: "Cardinal Pell stood down as Archbishop of Sydney in 2002 after he was accused of abusing a teenager at a church camp in the 1960s, but an independent investigation by a retired non-Catholic judge cleared him."

It is interesting that in the March 2013 article, Zwartz did not bother to mention that Pell was in fact cleared. Whatever one's personal view regarding Cardinal Pell, it is sloppy journalism not to report the simple yet fundamental fact that Pell is an innocent man.

Furthermore, on Wednesday 21 August 2002, Terry O'Gorman, the president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, and someone who openly stated that he was "no supporter of Pell", admitted in an interview on ABC Radio that the reaction to the accusations against Pell went completely against "the principles of presumption of innocence". Knowing what we know now, it is abhorrent that Collins and Zwartz continue to drag up this information, which has been confirmed as false.

Yet what has been even more disappointing is the readiness for members of the Australian public to accept this sloppy reporting without questioning the facts, and without the slightest regard for what the truth may be. After all, Australians love a scandal! And thanks to Zwartz neglecting to clarify the facts, the Twitter-sphere went crazy with statements such as "Cardinal Pell out of Papal Race due to past allegations", "Australia candidate for Pope, Cardinal George Pell, ruled out as tainted by Catholic Church sex abuse scandals", "Cardinal Pell is out of the running to be Pope".

Come on Australia! We are brighter than this. The story was wrong and the allegations were false. If we were not so hungry for scandal and slander, a quick Google search would provide all the information needed to establish this.

The fact is, Cardinal Pell is not only still in the running to be Pope, he actually could be elected. Whether or not you are Catholic, and whether or not you agree with the teachings of the Church, surely this should be a moment for national pride. If we stopped gossiping and spreading rumours, maybe we could take in the significance of having an Australian representative participate in a papal conclave.


Disagreeing with someone's views is not an excuse to accuse them of a hideous crime. I hope that Australia can be an honest nation, where regardless of one's religious affiliation; we can recognise the difference between truth and slander. And if by chance Cardinal Pell is elected to lead the world's 1 billion Catholics, I hope that Australians will not embarrass our intelligent nation by falling into a wave of bitterness and negativity, but rather see it for what it is – a true honour.

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About the Author

Mary Broadsmith is a Sydney writer who works in media and communications. She has studied arts, communications and law at Macquarie University, and has an honours degree in international history.

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