As we await the appeal verdict a campaign in the Catholic media is being waged to undermine the jury verdict against Australia’s most senior prelate. Culture warrior Keith Windschuttle writes in the Catholic Journal Annals Australasia – A Journal of Catholic Culture that Pell could not be guilty and was the victim of conspiracy not solely to bring him down but to bring down the entire Catholic church. Here is a good analysis of the failure of Windschuttle’s arguments in favour of Pell.
There were allegations of offences against 2 boys but only one went to trial. The other boy is dead – addiction and mental health problems. He is the one who told his mother that he was not abused. This is one of the allegations made in defence of Pell, but, of course, there are many reasons why someone with addiction and mental health problems might not tell his mother the truth e.g. He might want to spare her the guilt of having exposed him to abuse, particularly when she might think that the abuse caused his shattered life.
Keith Windschuttle purports to be an historian but, in truth, he is a culture warrior of the right. He possesses strong rhetorical skills and a forensic style.
His arguments appear to be addressed to the faithful and the disengaged. Windschuttle names people (most notably Julia Gillard) to elicit intuitive reactions in support from the faithful which makes them receptive to his arguments. It is unlikely that Windschuttle hopes to persuade anyone who thinks Pell is guilty.
In the July 2019 edition of The Annals, Windschuttle mounts a detailed argument which might have been persuasive if he had stayed with it, but, in the end he over reaches into absurdity.
The persuasive argument is that lawyers with political connections made names for themselves and money in pursuing claims of sexual abuse against Catholic clergy (intuitive response – of course, they are lawyers).
His argument sensibly concedes that a minority of the claims are valid claims. He asserts that the lawyers use their political connections to generate inquiries and Royal commissions into sexual abuse. He suggests that the inquiries are for the purposes of gaining advantage for the claimants and to make it difficult for the church to deny even unmeritorious claims.
Incidentally he says that the politicians ride a political advantage in pushing the issue. He says that the strategy is to claim when the church seeks to defend unmeritorious claims, that the church is covering up and enabling the sexual abuse and in doing so the Church becomes an accomplice. He emphasises the possibility of unmeritorious claims without detail or evidence and ignores the evidence of how paedophiles were moved on and not removed from contact with children. Within the facts he discloses , the conspiracy theory he weaves is plausible .
However, he goes on to weave into his story an argument that there was a conspiracy to “Get Pell” as a means of “destroying the Catholic church” and that the conspiracy is driven by left wing zealots. There is no evidence or logic in this history and it constitutes an overreach which destroys the credibility of his whole argument.
The only part of it which holds water is that a jury may well have been influenced against Pell by the findings of misconduct not only against Catholic clergy but also against the Church for its response preferring its own interests over those of the abused children who were in its care.
Windschuttle is too clever to resort to outright lies in support of his case. However, he is happy to omit relevant facts which he knows will undermine his case. For example, he makes much of the fact that Pell’s conviction relied only on the recorded evidence of an unidentified complainant but implies falsely that the way in which the evidence was given was decided by the Court. However , this process is legislated for the protection of the victims.
Some may share a concern about evidence taken in this way and its fairness to an accused but Windschuttle implies that the Court, in this case made a special ruling when the fact is that process is mandated by legislation.
Reservations about Pell’s conviction remain but Windschuttle’s arguments don’t provide any help for people in doubt.