Pell-mell and reform paths in Catholic media

Menadue Pell Plenary Council

Title: Pell-mell and reform paths in Catholic media

Author: Peter Donnan

Publisher: John Menadue Pearls and Irritations blog

Date: 04MAY2020

What type of underlying values were revealed by the Australian media, particularly Catholic media, in their reporting of Cardinal Pell’s successful appeal to the High Court? Clearly the case was polarising in Australian cultural life, and has been described in terms of a ‘witch-hunt’, ’scapegoating’, ‘prejudicial’ legally ‘appalling’ and reflecting very poorly on the ABC, Victorian police and aspects of the justice system.

Craig McMurtrie, Editorial Director, defended the ABC’s coverage as legitimate public-interest journalism, quoting Cardinal Pell’s remarks that “You never disbelieve a complaint….the allegations are taken very seriously and examined.” Some anti-ABC Pell supporters concede the value of Louse Milligan’ journalism around sexual abuse issues at St Kevin’s College earlier this year but argue that her investigation of Cardinal Pell was a bridge too far, a ‘witch-hunt’. Louise defended the integrity of her journalism, tweeting that now the ‘appeal’s over, they [victims] desperately want to know what Royal Comm found #Pell knew of awful paedo priest, Ridsdale, who wrecked their childhoods. Had Church acted earlier, their lives radically different.’ Milligan spoke at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in 2017 about her book, Cardinal and conveyed positive memories of a Catholic background with no malice towards the Church. ABC’s Sarah Ferguson’s harrowing interviews in Revelation revealed hard-edged, intrepid journalism.

News Corp commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson, Janet Albrechtsen, Chris Kenny et al., castigated ABC media coverage of Cardinal Pell referring to injustice, trial-by-media, bias and the need for law reform. Retired ACU Vice-Chancellor, Greg Craven, a friend of George Pell, was particularly scathing, accusing the ABC of ‘polluting’ justice elements around the Cardinal’s Victorian trial.

Andrew Bolt’s Sky interview with Cardinal Pell [14April20] was a prominent media event. Cardinal Pell’ s lack of ‘anger or hostility’ towards the accuser emerged, confirming his initial statement which had been dignified and without rancour. Bolt’s characterisation of Pope Francis as being on the left, a climate change believer and a weak leader might have engendered a stronger repudiation by Pell during the interview, and subsequently in broader Catholic circles, although the Cardinal spoke positively of the Pope’s personal support.

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