George Pell: Reporting on a secret trial about child sex abuse


George Pell leaves Melbourne Magistrates' Court last MayImage copyright
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George Pell is the most senior Catholic cleric to be convicted of such crimes

Reporting on a secret trial can be confronting and confusing.

For several months, journalists like me have been going back and forth to Melbourne’s County Court, unable to broadcast what we’d learnt about George Pell’s crimes.

Now the suppression order on the case has been lifted, those details can finally be made public.

Outside court, there was at times high drama – all the sound and fury of cameramen jostling and campaigners brandishing placards at the cardinal as he arrived.

But after the initial hearings, the crowds and the cameras petered out, and the cardinal no longer needed a police escort to sweep him into the building.

Inside court, things also settled into a predictable routine.

George Pell would sit in the dock with his notebook, listening, writing, but never really betraying any emotion.

He was excused from standing due to a knee injury, and often sat with his legs stretched out.

He wasn’t called to give evidence, and so we didn’t hear a word from him for the majority of the trial.

As the court heard vivid descriptions of how in 1996 he had forced himself upon two victims, pushing his archbishop’s robes to one side in order to expose himself, he didn’t flinch.

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Pell’s case has drawn huge attention around the world

The jury was told how one young boy had pleaded for Pell to let him go – only to be shocked into a silence that would last for decades.

Pell’s defence barrister is one of Australia’s most experienced and expensive lawyers – his speeches focused on areas of doubt.

Robert Richter QC repeated over and over how highly improbable – if not impossible – it would have been for any of the abuse to have occurred.

Instead, he insisted that his client had become a scapegoat for the crimes of other Catholic clerics.

‘Held to account’

At one stage, Mr Richter even referred to Pell as “the Darth Vader of the Catholic Church”, painting him as a bold leader vilified by the media.

Pell certainly has his critics – some came to the court to watch and see him in the dock.

Although the proceedings couldn’t be reported, there was nothing to stop members of the public coming in to listen.

Campaigners and abuse survivors sat mixed in with the media, some sighing as they heard accounts of the abuse.

Some of Pell’s supporters attended too, sending sympathetic smiles in his direction, and exchanging small talk as he went in and out of the court.

After two trials, one hung jury and many months of waiting – the results of this long process are now public.

The pace of justice has felt slow at times, but it has resulted in one of the Catholic Church’s most prominent and powerful figures being held to account.



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