The invincible ignorance of some journalists concerning George Pell


Nobody should miss Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog each Friday. An ongoing feature of Media Watch Dog is Gerard’s highlighting of the ABC’s anti-Catholic sectarianism. This favourite expression of the ABC’s poisonous prejudice against anything with the slightest whiff of conservatism is most manifest in their obsession with Cardinal George Pell who for the ABC is the religious equivalent of Tony Abbott. The ABC can take pride in its being at the head of the current revival of anti-Catholic sectarianism, a disease that came to Australia on the First Fleet and was ably promoted by the likes of the flogging parson Samuel Marsden and Presbyterian minister John Dunmore Lang. This is one Tradition the ABC has loyally kept up. The following is Gerard’s most recent exposition of the ABC’s primitive anti-religious bigotry.


The ABC was quite excited on the morning of retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s appearance before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – Tuesday 25 August 2015.

Fr Robinson is a long-time critic of Cardinal George Pell – both before and after Pell became the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney. Some ABC producersdecided to preview Geoffrey Robinson’s appearance before the Royal Commission – focusing on what the retired bishop might say about Cardinal Pell.

On Radio National Breakfast, Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly interviewed Francis Sullivan from the Truth, Justice and Healing Council.  Mr Sullivan is a public critic of George Pell.  Needless to say, it was not long before the Cardinal was introduced into the discussion.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Fran Kelly: Bishop Robinson has said that he will “be telling the commission the story of what I know of the Catholic Church’s response; the good and the bad”. Will this be another uncomfortable day for the Church, do you think, in the Commission?

 Francis Sullivan: Well it’s probably going to be difficult because the truth always hurts. But it’s important that Bishop Robinson, like the other bishops, like the Cardinal, all need to explain themselves and their role in the development of processes and how the Church handled this issue.

 Fran Kelly: So the good and the bad, it’s hard right now thinking about it with everything we’ve heard in the Royal Commission to see what the good is.

 Francis Sullivan: Well one thing’s for sure, that by the late 80’s into the 90’s, the Catholic Church did make a paradigm shift. And Bishop Robinson particularly led that change. Away from a legalistic, institutionally protective strategy, into a more engaged victim first approach. And that become the Towards Healing program.

Ms Kelly soon concluded the interview with a short editorial-style comment:

Fran Kelly: Is it [the Catholic Church] ready to confront some of the biggest obstacles as Geoffrey Robinson has identified them in the first place? Papal infallibility, obligatory celibacy, professional priestly caste, the absence of the feminine throughout the Church? Is it ready for those kind of big discussions?

At around the same time on ABC 1’s News Breakfast program, ABC presenter Kumi Taguci interviewed ABC journalist Philippa McDonald. Needless to say, it was not long before Ms McDonald turned a discussion about what Bishop Robinson might tell the Royal Commissioner into a character assessment of Cardinal Pell.

 Philippa McDonald: He [Robinson] was very critical three years ago of Cardinal Pell. He [Robinson] said that Cardinal Pell – while he might have inner compassion, it wasn’t showing outwardly. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has said that Cardinal Pell does not speak for the broader Catholic Church in Australia, does not speak on behalf of the bishops, has never been a team player, never will, so he’s out of step.

Soon after, Ms McDonald predicted what she believed the retired bishop might tell the Royal Commission:

Philippa McDonald: Now what Bishop Geoffrey Robinson has been saying, over the past decade where he’s been speaking out, is that the Vatican has quite a lot of power when it comes to dealing with cases even in Australia. So he‘ll be talking about discussions he’s had with the Papal Nuncio, a very senior ambassador in Canberra who represents the Pope. And those discussions, they’re never spoken about, there have only been vague references in the Royal Commission and other enquiries so far. I think everyone’s wanting to know, what’s been happening, what discussions have been happening behind closed doors just in the offices of St Mary’s Cathedral. Not far from where I’m standing.

Kumi Taguchi: Philippa McDonald, thanks so much.

Yes, thanks a lot and so on.  The problem was that Fran Kelly and Philippa McDonald readily predicted what Bishop Robinson might tell the Royal Commission – but failed to report subsequently on what he actually did say.

The transcript of Geoffrey Robinson’s day-long appearance before the Royal Commission is available on the Royal Commission’s website. Contrary to the predictions aired on the ABC, this is what did – and did not – happen.

  • Beyond re-stating his well-known hostility toward George Pell, Geoffrey Robinson did not provide one scrap of evidence which even implied that, when Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Pell mishandled cases of child sexual assault committed by priests and brothers.
  • Robinson’s essential criticism of Pell was that, when Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell set up the Melbourne Response (to handle clerical abuse) before Robinson and his colleagues set up Towards Healing (to handle clerical abuse).  Robinson acknowledged that Pell moved ahead of his fellow archbishops and bishops under pressure from (then) Victorian premier Jeff Kennett. Robinson criticised Pell’s pre-emptive action but did not say what he would have done in such a circumstance.
  • Fr. Robinson’s testimony discredited Francis Sullivan’s claim on Radio National Breakfast that “Bishop Robinson led the charge” to deal with clerical child abuse in the Catholic Church.  Pell acted before his colleagues – within a hundred days of being appointed Archbishop of Melbourne. Towards Healing was set up after the commencement of the Melbourne Response.

Geoffrey Robinson did speak to the Royal Commission about infallibility (but he conceded that this was rarely invoked by a Pope), obligatory celibacy and the male- centred nature of the Church but established no causal link between such matters and paedophilia.

This makes sense since the evidence presented before the Royal Commission this week concerning Geelong Grammar School demonstrates that child sexual abuse takes places in institutions where celibacy – obligatory or otherwise – is not a factor and when papal infallibility is of no moment.

  •  The matter of George Pell’s role in the Catholic Church in Australia was not raised in Geoffrey Robinson’s testimony.  Philippa McDonald may be ignorant of this matter – but in Australia George Pell only ever had responsibility for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne (1996-2001) and the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney (2001-2014). George Pell has never claimed to speak on behalf of the Australian Hierarchy.
  •  Contrary to McDonald’s prediction, Geoffrey Robinson had nothing to say about discussions with the Papal Nuncio in Australia concerning clerical child abuse – in Canberra or at St Mary’s Cathedral.  However, Fr Robinson did describe talking about this matter with a senior Vatican official in Rome in 2001 – but did not tell the Royal Commission why he had not disclosed the conversation previously.

Geoffrey Robinson did have some interesting things to say at the Royal Commission.  It’s just that, contrary to the anticipation on the ABC, he did not land any blows on his long-term antagonist George Pell.  Alas, neither Radio National Breakfast nor News Breakfast reported this to ABC listeners/viewers.