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George Pell and conservatism

By Peter Bowden - posted Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The debate, for and against the guilt of George Pell, has been waged strongly in the media ever since we learned that Pell had been found guilty of abusing two altar boys in the sacristy of their church over 20 years ago. Those who support Pell argue that the evidence can be disputed, and that we should await Pell's appeal.

The debate has been waged by both Catholics, and conservatives. On the Catholic side by Frank Brennan in Eureka Street, the Jesuit blog:;

The jurors must have judged the complainant to be honest and reliable even though many of the details he gave were improbable if not impossible.


He also repeats his defence of Pell in the Catholic Weekly.

James Franklin in Quadrant gives the reasons behind the questioning of the verdict. The most prominent one is the public nature of the sacristy in which the offences took place. This defence is questionable when considering the accusations against the Christian Brothers. The 2016 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat found that 853 children were sexually abused by one nor more Christian Brothers with the average age of 13. 281 Christian Brothers have had abuse complaints substantiated, and the Christian Brothers have paid $37.3 million in compensation. Boys schools are very public places, perhaps more so than sacristies

That debate could end now. The Four Corners program on 4 March 2019 showed that even if Pell gets off on the appeal the justice system will get him a second time on the Ballarat swimming pool charges. Two men, Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan, claimed they were sexually assaulted by Cardinal Pell, then a priest, at Ballarat's Eureka Pool in the late 1970s. A third boy , has filed a civil suit against Pell over the Ballarat incidents. If the Pell appeal wins, it is likely that the Ballarat charges will go ahead.

Pell has been at the centre of accusations of sexual abuse for over twenty years He was accused in 1996 of having had sex with trainee priests. Helen Last, the counsellor hired by the Catholic Church in Melbourne to assist victims of clerical abuse, agonised before reporting them to her superiors. Ms Last says she developed suspicions about Pell very early during her work with the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Ms Last's contract was terminated in May 1997 as a result, she claims, of her defying explicit instructions from archbishop Pell and then vicar-general Denis Hart to stay away from a parish which had suffered six paedophiles in succession as parish priest or assistant priest.

The Catholic defence is perhaps understandable. But a bigger issue to this writer is why are all the conservatives supporting Pell? Conservatism and playing with the genitals of small boys are not linked in any way. Yet Andrew Bolt, Tony Abbott, John Howard, Miranda Devine, James Franklin, all conservatives, support Pell. Why?

Andrew Bolt, a conservative columnist for the Herald Sun, a News Corporation paper, is a supporter of George Pell to the extent of a flat-out denial of the verdict in Pell's trial. He writes Why Pell has been falsely convicted. George Pell is a scapegoat, not a child abuser,


Bolt is a conservative, as is George Pell. Both are against same sex marriage, voted as acceptable to the majority of Australians Pell went even further, in that he treated homosexuals, a small, but legitimate aspect of civilised society, with dogmatic brutality. Both are also climate change deniers, also against majority Australian opinion .

Pell has also been supported by Tony Abbottand John Howard. Miranda Devine, a right wing columnist, also defended Pell in a right wing newspaper: She wrote. "It's devastating because I don't believe that Pell, who I know slightly and admire greatly, could be guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys in a busy cathedral after Sunday mass,"

Perhaps the most vitriolic attack on the Pell verdict is by an American, George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC. The EPPC sees itself as "applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy". It is pro Republican Party, pro Donald Trump, anti-Democratic party, and particularly anti Nancy Pelosi.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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