sabato 10 giugno 2017

George Pell: media witch-hunt ensures cardinal can never get a fair trial

The Australian 
(Angela Shanahan) There are two cases in Australia where prejudice has clouded justice. The first and most famous is the Lindy Chamberlain case, in which emotions, innuendo, sheer fantasy and contaminated evidence ruined the chance of a fair trial. The second is the ongoing saga of Cardinal George Pell.
Pell can never receive a fair trial. The “vibe” has taken over. The year-long pursuit of him by the police, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton’s recent frequent radio interviews and unprecedented commentary on the process, combined with the sustained efforts of the ABC and Fairfax Media, have ensured that any real evidence of wrongdoing has long become a secondary consideration to the vibe.
That vibe was created by the avalanche of media stories and commentary clouded by sheer speculation going back to the cardinal’s last appearance before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, none of which is relevant to a criminal charge of sexual abuse. John Howard has spoken about the “get Pell” mentality: “It seems as if Cardinal Pell is being singled out to take the rap for the misdeeds of a whole lot of people and the evidence is that he was more active in trying to do something about it.”
I do not need to defend Pell’s right to a presumption of innocence. The most recent voices in defence of Pell’s rights are those of respected members of the legal fraternity anxious about the state of justice. The Justice Institute of Victoria has said the “lack of regard” for the cardinal’s rights was “a startling affront” to the cornerstone of the legal system. Noel Pearson, who is neutral about the cardinal except that he is interested in justice, has condemned the silence of “latter-day Robespierres” who won’t stick their heads above the parapet to defend the presumption of innocence.
One of the most powerful ­voices was Amanda Vanstone’s. Calling it like it is, she wrote on May 30 in the Fairfax press: “The media frenzy surrounding Cardinal George Pell is the lowest point in civil discourse in my lifetime … no better than a lynch mob from the dark ages. Throwing out principle, treating Pell as guilty from the start won’t right all the wrongs perpetrated on innocent children. It will simply perpetrate other evils … What we are seeing now is far worse than a simple assessment of guilt. The public arena is being used to trash a reputation and probably prevent a fair trial. Perhaps the rule of law sounds as if it’s too esoteric to worry about.”
Referring to the public prosecutor’s failure to recommend a charge — twice — she asks: “How would you like to throw out your own right to a fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place together with the right to a fair trial if you are charged?” She went on to criticise the contrived theatrics, including the release of Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, before any charge.
Milligan admits the book would have to be withdrawn “in the event of a charge” because it would become prejudicial. So why was it released in the first place?
In a garbled defence of the book’s publication in Fairfax newspapers on June 1, Milligan says the cardinal has had the presumption of innocence several times. She mouths legal presumptions she seems not to understand and appears to believe that the presumption of innocence applies only after a charge, a mere legalism, has been laid.
Simon Longstaff from the Ethics Centre has pinpointed this dangerous fallacy for any person accused of anything criminal, but especially Pell. Last year he wrote: “Cardinal Pell must be accorded the same fundamental rights as claimed by any other Australian citizen. George Pell has not been formally charged with any offence. But even if he had, the fact he is prominent and powerful would not be reason enough to deny him basic justice.” This book has deliberately muddied the waters so that, even if nothing is proved, it will always be a stain on the reputation of a man who claims absolute innocence.
Pearson has been appalled by hounding of Pell: “Clearly a fair trial is prejudiced by the course of action chosen by the author of this book, her publisher and the Australian media that has amplified the author’s allegations. It seems evident that the book is being published and reported upon because a judgment has been made that the cardinal is the least likely citizen to pursue any recourse under the law … Ours is a system of law based on prosecution, not persecution. Those who seek truth and justice for victims of abuse should be alarmed at the way this journalistic vigilantism imperils fair legal process.”
I am hardly alone in being appalled at the star chamber atmosphere of condemnation produced by the relentless build-up to a putative charge. This atmosphere has produced confusion. It has conflated and compounded all the outrage and ignorance around the royal commission. Conspiracy and rumour reign, logic and fact have gone out the window in the case of Pell. The truth that he was appointed by Pope Francis to sort out the Vatican bank’s scandalous finances at a time when archbishops generally retire from their posts has been ignored by the conspiracy theorists. So, too, that he cannot fly the 20 hours to Australia, having had a stent put in recently (which the late child abuse campaigner Anthony Foster knew and acknowledged), hasn’t stopped the “get Pell” mentality.
In all this sound and fury, the cardinal has acted impeccably. He has said nothing except to state his innocence. He waits, prays and gets on with his job. Pity more people didn’t do the same.