By Paul Collits
There was a pleasant surprise in the mail a few weeks back, when a new book arrived. It was a book that I had not anticipated, though perhaps I should have. It is The Persecution of George Pell, by Keith Windschuttle (Quadrant Books, 2020).
Windschuttle, the long-time editor of Quadrant magazine, has written the first pro-Pell book since the Cardinal’s exoneration by the High Court of Australia last April and his release from prison. He had been held captive for over 400 days. Against this, the three books about the Pell case already on the shelves remain festering there, all of them written by Pell-hating, leftist feminists, without apology or modification.
One, indeed, was published after the High Court decision. This was the book by The Guardian’s Melissa Davey. Much of it would have been written prior to the High Court case, and no doubt the ending had to be altered, likely through gritted teeth.
Another was written by the (mostly) freelance journalist Lucie Morris Marr, the recipient in February 2016 of the leaked story that VicPol was investigating George Pell for sex abuse. It is simply called Fallen. Morris Marr still refers, rather tortuously and maliciously, to Pell as the “former convicted paedophile”. She just doesn’t want to let go of either the swoon over the Cardinal’s conviction or of her own – at least in her own mind – critical role in the saga.
And the most infamous book of all was the ABC “journalist” Louise Milligan’s Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, originally published in 2017, updated after his conviction yet notably unamended since April.
Milligan’s book has been described, perhaps unkindly, by an American observer as a collection of “semi-literate VicPol talking points”, and by another as simply a book-length character reference for the main Pell complainant.
Two of the three books should, in conscience, be renamed to reflect the Cardinal’s now established innocence of the crimes for which he was unjustly convicted in 2018.
Massively superior to these Pell-loathing potboilers in its thoroughness, depth, breadth, style, rigour, intellectual heft, restraint, level of analysis and reporting of the truth, The Persecution of George Pell will restore much needed balance to the published output on the Pell case.
The likely emergence of other, similar book-length accounts of the case will only strengthen the sense of restored sense and perspective achieved by Windschuttle’s book, which addresses questions that are core to the case yet studiously, indeed malevolently, ignored by his competitors. In fact, to compare Windschuttle’s book to the others would be to make a category error.
The appearance of the book is a further sign of justice belatedly won, of sanity regained, of evil called out for what it is, of an attempted character assassination put to rights. This year has seen not only the Cardinal’s legal vindication by the highest court in the land and his immediate release from prison following the decision, but also his superb and humble performance when interviewed by Andrew Bolt, evidence of his strong support from fellow inmates and warders while incarcerated, his unvanquished homecoming to Rome, his joyful reunion with the Pope, the revelations of possible Vatican complicity in Pell’s Australian persecution, and numerous analyses of the case by legal experts that confirmed just what a farce the whole thing was.
And now this impressive and comprehensive work. A work of both substance and significance.
With Windschuttle’s book, George Pell’s enemies have now been laid bare, and their lies and evil intentions exposed. That they all seem quite unapologetic (if sullen) about it will only further the ultimate disdain, indeed contempt, with which they will forever be regarded by the children of the Light.
Coincidentally, the Windschuttle book appears just as Cardinal Pell’s own prison diary – the first volume, at any rate – is hitting the online bookshelves. Father Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, which is publishing the Cardinal’s prison diaries, has predicted that Pell’s opus is destined to be regarded as a “spiritual classic”. So at the end of a bizarre and mostly depressing year for many in the world, there will be abundant Christmas joy for George Pell’s army of supporters, here and abroad.
Some general points about the Windschuttle book.
First, don’t expect to read or hear much about this book in the mainstream media. The old media are controlled by those with a leftist, secularist agenda, and it is well known that Pell is not on any of the legacy media outlets’ Christmas card lists. It is an old tactic of combative leftists to go silent on stories which oppose or do harm to their beloved narratives. And the Pell-is-guilty, Pell-is-evil meme is near the very top of progressive Holy Writ.
Nor would I expect to find Keith’s book prominently displayed in any of the bookshops, corporate or otherwise. Perhaps with the exceptions of the Central Catholic Bookshop in Melbourne and the Mustard Seed in downtown Sydney. There are three reasons for this, I would suggest. The publishing industry is proudly and loudly anti-Pell, as witnessed by the rush to publish strategic anti-Pell tomes by the three warriors of the sisterhood mentioned above. Then there is the fact that a huge chunk of the non-fiction book-buying market – probably about half – is either still convinced the Cardinal is guilty, or, at any rate, that he covered up the crimes of others and deserved what he got.
As always, views about George Pell are well and truly entrenched, and few readers will be minded to reconsider their positions by looking at things afresh. Few of them will be buying The Persecution of George Pell. Finally, there is probably a certain amount of Pell fatigue among the populace. So, alas, the book probably won’t be a big seller beyond the Pell constituency. This is a shame. It deserves to be.
Second general point.
Windschuttle’s book was written before the Cardinal Becciu bombshell in Rome which suggested, as at least a plausible hypothesis, that Pell’s enemies in the Vatican, no doubt ably supported by the Calabrian mafia, had a hand in the persecution of the Cardinal in Australia. (And by Australia, I mostly mean Victoria, that bastion of non-politicised justice and even-handed law enforcement). The stunning revelation that operatives in Becciu’s Vatican department seemingly had money transferred to unnamed parties in Australia at the time of Pell’s trials made headlines all over the world. It also coincided with George Pell’s triumphant return to the Eternal City and his very warm reception from the Pope and, no doubt, from many others there.
So the book is missing something potentially huge in the ongoing Pell saga that emerged prior to publication. Oddly, the word “Vatican” does not appear in the book’s index, despite the fact that Pell and others were airing the suggestion of Vatican skulduggery long before the recent Becciu revelations. As long ago as 2017, the American writer Rod Dreher, referring to mafia-connected Vatican figures vehemently opposed to Pell’s proposed financial reforms, opined after the Cardinal was charged, “… so that’s how they did it”.
Windschuttle, as an historian with a passion for rigorous analysis and sticking in his research to issues on the public record, might well respond that the Rome connection, at least until recently, has been mere speculation without any real evidence to support it. Moreover, a book already nudging four hundred pages could risk doubling its length if Roman conspiracies worked their way into it. The author might argue, too, that there is more than enough evidence at the Australian end in support of his central proposition of a “get Pell” campaign to keep his story confined to these shores.
Third general point.
The book doesn’t answer every question about the Get Pell sting. Nor should we expect it to. It does a sterling job of getting onto the record a forensic joining of the dots that reinforces the Cardinal’s innocence and that exposes many of the elements of the sting. As a supporter of Pell, authors like Keith Windschuttle are necessarily restricted to what can be discovered from the public record and the known facts of the case, supported by intelligent speculation about plausible hypotheses.
The Persecution of George Pell should be read, if possible, alongside Chris Friel’s voluminous papers on the Pell case published at https://independent.academia.edu/ChrisFriel.
Friel’s indefatigable efforts, borne of a deep interest in the case and a conviction that George Pell was innocent of the charge laid against him, often read like a page-turning thriller. Like Windschuttle, Friel is forensic in his attention to detail. Friel’s focus, though, is almost exclusively on the circumstances of the alleged events in St Patrick’s Cathedral in late 1996 and early 1997, and on the likelihood that they occurred in the way described in the Prosecution’s case, if at all.
Windschuttle is far more interested in the history and trajectory of the vendetta against George Pell prosecuted by those who “made common cause” and an “ideological pact” in their efforts to bring him down. Windschuttle’s book is mostly about the backstory. The book is more history than law, then.
His own and others’ efforts in Quadrant and News Weekly (notably from Peter Westmore) and elsewhere (most prominently from Andrew Bolt and Frank Brennan) have dissected the prosecution case itself more fully than in the current book. To repeat that exercise here in graphic detail would have been both repetitive and distracting.
And Windschuttle draws upon Friel at key points, for example, in his account of Friel’s astonishing revelations about the Lyndsay Farlow Twitter feed and its strategic role as an online meeting place for the network of anti-Pell activists.
Fourth general point.
There is always a strong case for works that set the record straight, in all its detail, on paper, book-length, in one place. Pulling all of the threads together in a coherent and comprehensive way. On this score, Windschuttle’s book delivers in spades.
There will be two types of reader, each of whom should relish this book. First, there are those who are already familiar with the story, some of whom have been following the case very closely. Then there are those who are not so familiar with the detail of the story, yet may have rushed to judgement about the case, and about George Pell’s innocence or guilt.
Potential readers who have followed the Pell persecution closely for years, if not decades, may already be quite familiar with at least some of the facts and arguments contained within it. Certainly, Quadrant readers with an interest in the Pell case will have come across some of the content before, for example the story of the “borrowed narrative” of the complainant and timelines relating to the alleged first incident in the Cathedral. This is neither a criticism of the book, nor of its author. Indeed, the book’s comprehensiveness is a strength.
So, even if you think you know the story and were following Quadrant and other reliable sources as the case progressed, still buy this book, for you will not know the whole of the back story nor the context and significance of the disparate events that occurred.
What of readers less familiar with the case? It is to be hoped, despite what I said above about the publishing industry and booksellers, that the book will achieve cut-through to readers NOT already familiar with the details of the story, and for whom this book will be new ground. Reading it will be a revelation for those who have jumped to their own easy conclusions on the basis of ignorance or prejudice. A refreshing change from the biased, second rate fare offered to date.
Fifth general point.
The book draws on the public record, and relies on published documents such as trial transcripts. Outside some stunning new and previously unforeseen revelation by one or more of those involved in the Pell case, it is difficult to know how it could have been otherwise. But there is much that remains hidden.
There has been, so far, a conspiracy of silence among the prime anti-Pell forces in VicPol following the final collapse of their decades-old campaign. This includes both senior figures like Graham “ringmaster of the circus” Ashton and his sidekick, now (alas) Commissioner Shane Patton, as well as the either now retired or still serving officers of more junior rank who were directly involved in the SANO Task Force and Operation Tethering, the main operational arms of Project Get Pell.
Ironically, in view of the leaky nature of VicPol, there seems not the least likelihood that any of these figures will ever throw further light on their motives, processes and methods. They certainly haven’t apologised for what Windschuttle and others have termed their “witch hunt”. Nor are they likely to. They still deny there was ever such a witch hunt. Brazenly, Ashton has made light of what he claimed to be a ridiculous suggestion that Victoria Police “targets” people. One wonders which planet this man lives on. Or what fools he takes us for.
More likely is the fact that he simply knows that he and his fellow thugs and spivs in VicPol can and do get away with murder under the regime of Daniel Andrews and his predecessors.
That the McMurdo Royal Commission’s final report on Lawyer X (released in November 2020) has so far been merely a forty-eight hour media wonder, a bit of a yawn, is testimony to this reality of life in Victoria.
The report was described by one journalist as a “bombshell”. And in view of Patton’s apparently contrite response to it, one might be forgiven for thinking that things might now change. Yet the silence from VicPol and its acolytes following the High Court’s Pell decision which so humiliated Victoria’s judicial system are redolent of a “digging in” attitude towards its high level critics. It suggests that VicPol’s remorse in the face of McMurdo may not achieve much change in the longer term.
In early December 2020, Patton claimed with a straight face:
Victoria Police has come a long way since the events under examination at this Royal Commission took place.
VicPol’s prosecution of the whole Get Pell campaign, continuing into 2020 and not denied under oath by Operation Tethering’s henchmen at the Pell trial, reveals Patton’s remorseful claim in relation to Lawyer X to be self-serving rubbish. Patton, of course, strangely accompanied his officers to Rome to interview Pell about the Cathedral allegations in October 2016.
So much for VicPol ever addressing the issues raised by its wicked and unlawful pursuit of Cardinal Pell, which trashed due process and compromised Australia’s reputation as a just nation.
Nor is it likely that any of the other Pell antagonists will ever come clean on all of the details of the sting.
Nor should one expect whistle blowing revelations from any of the feminist Pell-bashing authors, their publishers, or the legal practitioners or court officers involved in the case.
I don’t anticipate that Justices Ferguson or Maxwell will be venturing anything further on the Pell case when they come to write their retirement memoirs. Or earlier. The well-deserved eviscerations they copped over their decision to refuse Pell’s appeal, from Judge Mark Weinberg, from all seven judges of the High Court and from a welter of top shelf legal scholars and journalists all over the world – both before and after the High Court’s decision – utterly shredded their judicial reputations in a way that a poor, bomb-throwing scribbler like me could only dream of. No, there will be no further word from them on this matter.
In other words, and barring anything dramatic coming from the Becciu-related investigations of possible Vatican involvement and payments to witnesses, any author attempting to unearth the still hidden elements of the Pell case will forever be restricted to fact-based accounts from the public record and to the inevitable speculation to which these give rise. And as soon as the speculation starts, those with an axe to grind against Pell and those more actively involved in his persecution will instantly scream, very loudly, “conspiracy theory”. I know. It has happened to me.
Very sensibly, Windschuttle has been extremely careful to avoid leaving himself open to this charge, positing as he does a “coincidence” of shared anti-Pell sentiment among allies rather than a well-orchestrated conspiracy. I have myself previously referred to the anti-Pell forces as a “network”, and there is ample evidence in the book and elsewhere that the various players were known to one another and that they networked. The leaks to the media about VicPol’s investigation of Pell, whatever their source(s), demonstrate this. And as the historian Niall Ferguson has pointed out compellingly (in his book The Square and the Tower), networks drive history.
It is noteworthy that the manuscript was read by Cardinal Pell prior to the book’s publication, providing a strong level of endorsement of the project.
As one who has read and written much on the Pell case, here are some of my own key take-outs from Keith’s book, in no particular order:
- The kid gloves are off in relation to the still unnamed complainant, Witness J – he is, on Windschuttle’s reckoning, plainly either a liar or a fantasist;
- Witness J is also shown to be quite the performer in his other life as a sadly unrecognised musical “talent” – in other words, well used to putting on a show;
- The book makes clear the highly significant circumstances of the timing of Witness J’s approach, first to Broken Rites, then to VicPol;
- We are reminded that Witness J was initially reluctant to come forward with his story, and that it was others, like his mother, who egged him on and who was herself involved in the initial push, at which time the name “Pell” was not even mentioned, nor probably even considered by Team J;
- The complainant’s story evolved over time, with considerable discrepancies and shifts. It was not a story whose details were clearly fixed in his memory. In other words, it was a “developing” story, a “work in progress” as the author puts it, some of whose key elements were re-crafted and re-crafted again so as to avoid or better meet “inconvenient truths”;
- Clearly, in the opinion of the author, there was coaching of the star witness by VicPol;
- The book draws our attention to the mind-boggling and total lack of investigation by VicPol of the plainly absurd fabrication that was the alleged “second incident” in the Cathedral. Blind Freddy (but apparently not VicPol) could see that if the second incident was so clearly made up, then what should one make of the first incident?
- The leak to Lucie Morris Marr in early 2016 is likely to have come from one of the law firms associated with sex abuse victimology, and not, as many, including me, assumed, from VicPol. Of course, we will probably never know;
- The “remote causes” of the enmity against George Pell which lay in the sexual liberation movement and culture wars of the 1970s to the 1990s are explored deftly;
- Highlighting the critical role of Bernard “I can get you fifty thousand dollars’ compensation” Barrett of the Broken Rites lobby group for victims is an important element of the book – Barrett’s anti-Pell play goes all the way back to the very first complainant, the career criminal Phil Scott, in 2002;
- A hugely important point is the examination of Graham Ashton’s role in the case and his strategic pillorying (before the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry of 2012-13) of then Archbishop Pell’s “Melbourne Response” to clerical sex abuse from 1996;
- I did not know that a senior Victorian politician, Martin Foley, was (quite inappropriately) present at the launch of Louise Milligan’s book in 2017, a highly significant example of the political class’s hatred of Pell and its willingness to be seen publicly to be joining the cause;
- Nor did I realise that the one-time leader of the noisy and endlessly persistent Ballarat survivors cheer squad, David Ridsdale, is himself a convicted paedophile as well as being a victim of his notorious priest-uncle Gerald Ridsdale’s evil ministrations;
- We are reminded that VicPol’s trawling methodology – revealed in its brazen advertising on Christmas Eve 2015 for victims and witnesses of abuse in St Patrick’s Cathedral Melbourne to come forward – was a direct import from the UK, where it was originally used in equally appalling fashion, and with dire consequences for the accused-but-innocent (I have myself written about this at length);
- We learn that the VicPol officer who took Witness J’s initial statement conveniently lost any record of interview;
- We are reminded of Victorian Labor’s long-term strategy of embedding the #MeTooist, “always believe the victim” ideology in the justice and law enforcement sectors, and of embedding leftist operatives who would faithfully implement the ideology;
- Windschuttle is on the money when he draws attention to VicPol’s own contemptible record of ignoring and, in some cases, covering up shocking priestly paedophilia (see Unholy Trinity by Denis Ryan and Peter Hoysted); indeed, one is tempted to conclude that the campaign commenced by VicPol at the 2012-13 Victorian parliamentary inquiry to cast the Church in an extremely poor light was a clever attempt to draw attention away from its own malfeasance;
- An important debt is correctly highlighted – that owed by Julia Gillard to the fellow Emily’s Lister and one-woman-priest-chasing-industry, Vivian Waller, who was gifted by her old feminazi mate a Royal Commission that was largely unnecessary and instigated simply to get Pell and his Church and to create the legend of Saint Julia;
- Windschuttle’s debt to dissenting Appeal Judge Mark Weinberg, the true hero of the Pell case, is clear and appropriate;
- The author calls out the circular argument of the Appeal Court’s majority Judges, in assuming the truth of the complainant’s charge at the outset rather than duly assessing the evidence to reach a conclusion that was not contained in the premise;
- We are (unfortunately) reminded of the appalling role of “comedian” Tim Minchin in blackening the name of an innocent man with the release of a clearly actionable ditty about the Cardinal around the time of his appearance before the McClellan Royal Commission;
- There is a reluctance noted by the author of most Catholic prelates and clergy to sue media outlets for defamation in the face of unsubstantiated calumnies; mostly but not always true, as Augusto Zimmermann and I have discussed elsewhere in relation to the appalling case of Father John Fleming.
There is so much here to absorb and reflect upon. Far more than I have covered here.
And even though some of the terrain will be familiar to many readers, there is much to recommend the book as a salutary reminder of the fragility of our most precious, though clearly eroding, rights before the law. Those who know the story well would be advised to read this book and to ponder afresh the sorry saga, no, the agony, through which we have lived these past five years. And it does have a happy ending.
All of this leaves the impression of a book of (possibly) random jigsaw pieces being assembled scrupulously and placed, one by one, onto the puzzle board, their significance understood clearly and diligently recorded by the author. They speak to longstanding and vigorous efforts by an informal team driven by malice and strategic intent, and executed in a networked fashion. A conspiracy? Well, Windschuttle never once uses the term (wisely, as I said), but as the T shirt says, “I am not a conspiracy theorist, I simply do my research”.
What is the study of history if not the uncovering of that which was previously hidden, or its significance poorly understood? The historian and chronicler of the culture wars, Keith Windschuttle, has assembled the pieces in their proper order and has understood both the remote and the proximate causes of the destruction of George Pell, white martyr extraordinaire, to a tee. All this has been done in a measured way, without undue anger or hyperbole.
In conclusion, this is a book that is rich in detail and based upon truly massive research, the disparate threads of which have been pulled together methodically by a master historian still at the top of his craft. The supporters of George Pell owe Keith Windschuttle – not a Catholic, nor, to my knowledge, a public Christian – an immeasurable debt.
And not only for this book of record, but for his activist campaign as editor of Quadrant leading a counter-attack on the Melbourne anti-Catholic establishment that was so determined to see Pell incarcerated and his reputation shredded. Keith Windschuttle smelled a rat early, and did something about it. Beyond the call of duty.
In the book’s acknowledgements, Windschuttle kindly referred by name to all those of us who formed part of Quadrant’s Team Pell during the darkest days of his trials and imprisonment when all hope for a just outcome seemed very far away. It was, and is, a just cause. At times it was a lonely crusade.
That the book doesn’t answer every question we all have about the getting of Cardinal Pell leaves further room for prosecuting the case for final justice for the perpetrators of the scam, who, unapologetic, mope silently around the seedy recesses of their embedded prejudices and their insatiable desire to enact revenge.