Australian justice in the dock

George Weigel

Consider this sequence of events, familiar to some but evidently not to others:

March 2013: Prior to any credible reports of misbehavior being made against Cardinal George Pell, police in Australia’s state of Victoria launch “Operation Tethering,” a sting aimed at the former archbishop of Melbourne (who by this time is prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the economy. “Tethering” includes newspaper ads seeking information on previously unreported, untoward goings-on at the Melbourne cathedral in the past.

Early 2017: The office of Public Prosecutions in Melbourne twice returns a brief to those who mounted “Operation Tethering,” criticizing the Victoria Police brief as inadequate for a prosecution.

June 2017: Charges of “historic sexual abuse” from 20 years prior are announced by the Director of Public Prosecutions and Pell is ordered home. The cardinal vehemently denies any misconduct and, despite his Vatican diplomatic immunity, immediately returns to Australia to defend his honor and that of the Church.

May 2018:  At the “committal hearing,” a magistrate dismisses several charges against Pell but sends others to trial, saying that, whatever their arguable plausibility, they should be aired publicly in a criminal court. Meanwhile, a vicious, lynch-mob atmosphere continues to surround Cardinal Pell, in public and in much of the Australian media.

September 2018: At the trial, the prosecution presents no corroborating evidence that the alleged crimes ever took place; the prosecution’s case is the tale told by the complainant, who only appears on videotape. Numerous witnesses for the defense testify that the alleged acts of abuse could not have happened in a secured area of a busy cathedral immediately after Sunday Mass, with then-Archbishop Pell fully vested and surrounded by liturgical ministers, in the time-frame alleged.  After several days of deliberation, the trial judge tells the jury that he will accept an 11-1 verdict, if one juror is blocking unanimity. The jury then returns a hung verdict — 10-2 for acquittal — the jury foreman weeping when announcing the jury’s inability to reach a legal conclusion; other jurors are also reported in tears.

December 2018: At Cardinal Pell’s retrial, his defense team further demolishes the prosecution case, for which, again, no corroborating evidence is presented. The jury then returns a 12-0 verdict of guilty, shocking virtually everyone in attendance at the trial (and, according to some present, the trial judge).

March 2019:  While sentencing the cardinal to six years in prison, the trial judge never indicates that he agrees with the second jury’s verdict, stating only that he is doing what the law requires under the circumstances.

June 2019: At an appeal hearing before a three-member panel of the Victoria Supreme Court, the judges sharply criticize the flimsiness of the prosecution’s case.

August 21, 2019: The appellate panel rejects Cardinal Pell’s appeal by a 2-1 vote. The dissenting judge, Mark Weinberg, is Australia’s most prominent criminal-law jurist; the two judges rejecting the appeal have little or no criminal-law experience. Judge Weinberg’s 202-page dissent eviscerates his colleagues’ position, which raises the gravest questions as to whether “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” remains the standard necessary for conviction in Victoria — not least on a completely uncorroborated charge.

In the wake of last month’s incomprehensible and (as measured by Judge Weinberg’s dissent) dangerous rejection of Cardinal Pell’s appeal, Catholic voices were heard expressing (or demanding) respect for the justice system in Australia. Perhaps the Vatican press spokesman must say such things for diplomatic purposes, although the reason why diplomatic concerns trump truth and justice in the Holy See Press Office is unclear. But as this chronology indicates, there is no reason to respect a process that reeks of system-failure at every point, from the dubious and perhaps corrupt police investigation through the committal hearing, the two trials, and the appeal. There are guilty parties here. But Cardinal George Pell is not one of them.

As this scandalous process approaches the High Court of Australia, friends of Australia, both Down Under and throughout the world, must send a simple message, repeatedly: George Pell is an innocent man who was falsely accused and has been unjustly convicted of crimes he did not commit. It is not George Pell who is in the dock, now, but the administration of justice in Australia. And the only way to restore justice is for Cardinal Pell to be vindicated by the highest court in the land.

Those who cannot bring themselves to say that, in Australia or elsewhere, necessarily share in the ignominy that Australian criminal justice has, thus far, brought upon itself.

Featured image by Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA

COMING UP: As “The League” begins its centennial season….

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

By the Gargantuan standards of the 21st-century National Football League, Gino Marchetti, who died this past April 29, was undersized at 6-foot-4 and a mere 245 pounds. But he was arguably the greatest pass rusher in pro football history. The official record, 22 and a half quarterback “sacks” over sixteen games, was recorded by Michael Strahan in 2001. But a review of a year’s game film by Baltimore Colts’ coaches, before the “sack” stat (tackling a quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before he could throw a pass) was officially kept, once disclosed 43 sacks by Gino in a twelve-game season.

Whatever the record books show, however, Gino Marchetti was a big man in several ways.

His parents were impoverished Italian immigrants who set up a bar in Antioch, California. By his own account, Gino, born in 1926, was “a little wild.” And after a “certain difficulty” with a high school teacher, he made the prudential judgment that enlisting in the Army was preferable to what awaited him at home: “I figured I could either face the Germans or I could face my father.” He made it to Europe in time to fight in the endgame of the Battle of the Bulge and stayed with the 69th Infantry Division until V-E Day.

This XL-size vet with the flowing, jet-back hair then hung around Antioch for a while, riding a Harley in a black leather jacket (“seventeen zippers,” he later recalled) and working as a bartender while playing some junior college football. A smart recruiter then asked whether he wanted to play at the University of San Francisco (then both Catholic and Jesuit), and a legend was born.

The 1951 San Francisco Dons were a great team in an era when college football easily bested the NFL in fan interest. Ten of those Dons went on to pro careers and three are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were unbeaten and untied, but more to the point, they were “uninvited” to a big post-season bowl — not because of a lack of talent but because of an excess of character, much of it embodied by Gino Marchetti.

Three of the big bowls — Orange, Cotton, and Gator — wanted the Dons, but on condition that they leave their two star black players, Ollie Matson and Burt Toler, back in San Francisco. After their last regular-season game, Coach Joe Kuharik told the team, “We can play in a big Southern bowl game or stay home. It’s up to you.” Marchetti, according to legend, said, “[Expletive deleted] the big Southern bowl games.”

Gino later claimed that all he had said was “No,” and that every other white player on the team said the same thing. I prefer the legendary version because it nicely delineates the man’s character: morally unambiguous, brave, and loyal, a “man for others” in the parlance of a later generation of universities in the Jesuit tradition. Those same qualities made Gino one of the two centerpieces, along with the immortal John Unitas, of the great Baltimore Colts teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. That, on December 28, 1958, in frozen Yankee Stadium, the Colts beat the New York Giants in the first sudden-death championship game in NFL history, thereby embedding the NFL in the nation’s sporting consciousness, is well-enough remembered. What’s not so well-remembered, except among Baltimore natives of a certain vintage, is that Gino Marchetti was the reason there was a sudden-death overtime.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Giants were leading when Frank Gifford ran a third-down sweep. Marchetti fought off blockers and stopped Gifford inches short of the first down that would have clinched the game for the New Yorkers. In the pile-up, though, Colts’ tackle “Big Daddy” Lipscomb landed on Gino’s leg and Marchetti’s ankle snapped. “I never hurt so bad in my life,” Gino told a reporter. But the Colts’ captain insisted on staying on the field’s periphery, lying on a stretcher under a blanket, as his team tied the game. Asked years later if he’d cried from the pain, he said, “I would have, except I was Gino Marchetti.”

Those Colts, like baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, experienced their racial tensions. Yet like the Dodgers, they also modeled teamwork based on the content of a man’s character, not his complexion. How did that happen in a segregated city in an era of segregation? What held them together, Hall of Fame halfback Lenny Moore said years later, was “something inside Gino Marchetti.”

R.I.P., Number 89.