Punishing Cardinal Pell: Warranted or Witch Hunt?


Punishing Cardinal Pell: Warranted or Witch Hunt?

By Terri Slater


The Investigations into child sexual abuse within the Australian Catholic Church have been a source of heated debate over the past few years, with a large focus on Cardinal George Pell and his involvement. Pell, who works directly for the Vatican in the area of high finance, has been under investigation for a range of allegations, ranging from being part of a ‘cover-up’ in regards to sexual abuse committed by other Priests within his diocese of Ballarat (such as currently incarcerated former priest Gerald Ridsdale), to child sexual abuse allegations against the Cardinal himself. Most recently, Pell has become the subject of severe scrutiny for his refusal to return to Ballarat to testify in court due to health issues, as well as reluctance to admit to any personal failings, leading a range of high-profile Australian journalists to offer their opinions on the issue.


The attention of the Australian media has been focused on the character, values and morals of Cardinal Pell, how he has responded to accusations as well as how he is regarded and perceived by the majority of Australians. While journalists Andrew Bolt and Miranda Divine of the Daily Telegraph consider the backlash against Pell a ‘witch hunt’ and unwarranted ‘punishment’, journalists Susie O’Brien of the Advertiser and Kristina Keneally of the Guardian take a much different approach, essentially insinuating that Pell is at fault, without directly stating that he is guilty- a notion that may be interpreted as walking a fine line in ethical journalism, as Pell has not been formerly charged for any crime.


Cardinal Pell has neither accepted nor acknowledged himself to be at fault in relation to these crimes at any stage within the interrogations. However, his continuous declarations of self-innocence and willingness to ‘shift blame’ to other members of the church have caused many to scrutinise him even more. So is it warranted for high profile Australian journalists to essentially drag his name through the mud even though there is a lack of conviction, or is it in fact a witch-hunt? Pell, ordained in December 1966, is one of the most distinguished and influential members of the Roman Catholic Church, who has served as Archbishop in both Melbourne and Sydney. To make such claims against him not only threatens his legacy as a faithful ‘servant of God’ but also threatens the very integrity of the Australian Catholic Church and demonstrates the institutions’ immorality in regards to dealing with child sexual abuse and paedophiles within the Church.



Andrew Bolt’s article, ‘Cardinal George Pell is the victim of a vicious witch hunt’ seeks to condemn anyone who ‘smears’ the Cardinal, claiming that the accusations against the him come from a ‘joy of hatred’ with ‘no attention to the facts’. Bolt immediately makes his primary claim clear- Pell is an innocent man who has been wrongly accused by the Australian people, who have ignored fact and instead sought a trial by media. This claim is explicitly stated, and immediately appeals to the emotions of the reader in the opening par through the use of highly poignant language, when he states,

“Cardinal George Pell is the victim of one of the most vicious witch hunts to disgrace this country. It is shameful. Disgusting. Frightening”.


Bolt provides support for his central claim by seeking to discredit opposing arguments, demonstrated through his reference to Tim Minchin, who released the song ‘Come Home (Cardinal Pell)’ (Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtHOmforqxk) in order to raise money for the victims of sexual abuse to fly to Rome to be present while Pell gave evidence to the Royal Commission. Bolt explicitly states that Minchin was “falsely portraying him as a defender — even a friend — of Paedophile priests”, and thereby directly implies that Pell is completely innocent of any crime. Bolt characterises Pell as a helpless scapegoat for the crimes of others, who continues to be ‘dehumanised’ and ‘hated’ by the media, although he has always sought to help the victims of child sexual abuse. He refers to Pell’s creation of the ‘Melbourne Response’- an organisation to help protect the victims of sexual abuse, while incorporating his own experience to provide further justification when he says,

I know Pell. “Sociopathic” is a lie”.



Tim Minchin performing “Come Home (Cardinal Pell)’ (The Project)


Bolt continues to discredit opposing arguments, ranging from that of publications such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, to journalist Kristina Keneally who ‘taunted’ Pell. Interestingly enough, Keneally also mentions Bolt in her own article, when she seeks to similarly discredit him by implying that he was unable to condemn Pell, no matter the evidence. Bolt makes many appeals to fact, stating that each accusation brought against Pell stands unproven and lacks sufficient evidence.


Essentially, Bolt seeks to discredit the majority of the Australian media and create a sense of sympathy for Pell, under the assumption that the bulk of his readership holds a negative opinion of the Cardinal. He achieves this through appeals to fact, ethics and self-evaluation, which seek to sway the opinions of the audience and question the information they had previously been exposed to through a hard line, heated approach.


Similarly, Miranda Devine’s article, ‘Pell punished for trying to aid victims’ functions on the primary explicit argument that Pell is an innocent and wrongly accused man, who is being punished for trying to help the victims of child sexual abuse. While Devine takes a less dramatic approach, and focuses more on fact than emotion to support her main argument, she paints the Cardinal in a similar light to Bolt- an honest man of ill-health who is considered ‘fair game’ by the media and the Australian public, who has experienced unjustified cruelty.


Devine also draws a large focus to Pell’s creation of the Melbourne Response, and how his compassion for victims has essentially made him more vulnerable to being unjustly blamed for such crimes. She says,

“This is the profound unfairness of the attacks on Pell. He alone of any church leader in Australia responded to the crisis of child sexual abuse…”


Devine not only blames the public and the media for making Pell a “whipping boy” and a “scapegoat”, but also seeks to discredit the Victorian Police, whose allegations she describes as “vague” and “appalling”, thereby continuing to provide support for her main argument by essentially ripping apart any claims against Pell.


A prominent similarity between Divine and Bolts’ articles is the lack of reference to the victims themselves, and their willingness to dismiss any claims made against Pell as unjustified and lacking evidence. Both opinions have been greatly criticised by the readerships of each respective newspaper due to each authors’ dismissal of victims’ accounts, particularly in relation to allegations against Pell in regards to sexual abuse he may have committed during his time in Ballarat. Both authors exhibit similar persuasive strategies in their dealing with opposing arguments, in that they characterise Pell as an innocent, ethical man who has been wrongfully accused of these crimes with no real evidence.


In sharp contrast to Bolt and Devine, Kristina Keneally of the Guardian seeks to vilify Pell, by claiming that he has essentially shifted blame to anyone but himself in her article, Once again Cardinal Pell has thrown his men to the wolves – it’s everyone’s fault but his’. Keneally’s main claim is more implicit than explicit, due to the fact that she is unable to unambiguously state that Pell is guilty, however it functions on this assumption that her audience is likely to agree with. In the opening par, Keneally makes a direct appeal to authority when she refers to a quote by church historian Father Campion, supporting the metaphor of Pell ‘throwing his men to the wolves’ which thereby acts as key underlying support for Keneally’s claims. She characterises Pell through use of his own words, particularly in regards to Gerald Ridsdale, to which Pell stated that “It was a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me … I had no reason to turn my mind to the evils Ridsdale had perpetrated.” In response, Keneally states,


Let’s set aside that perhaps any priest – indeed, any human with a functioning conscience – might have shown some interest once stories and rumours started to swirl in Ballarat… Pell had more reasons than most to turn his mind to what Ridsdale was perpetrating”


Keneally essentially highlights the claim that Pell did indeed know about the abuse, yet failed to act until he came into power, as to avoid threatening his own career. Pell was Ridsdale’s housemate during the time that he was assaulting young children, and was part of the committee that relocated Ridsdale time and time again. Through incorporating these simple facts, Keneally is able to provide straightforward justification for her argument that Pell is responsible for the crime of covering up such abuse, by allowing the reader to reach their own conclusions. She is effectively asking the reader- how could he not have known? Being so involved with Ridsdale, who has been formerly charged with over 50 accounts of child sexual abuse, surely he would have observed enough to lead him to intervene?



Ridsdale (L) and Pell (R) arriving to court in 1993


Keneally continues to appeal to Pell’s claims against other members of the church to develop her argument, before asserting her secondary claim- that Pell only addressed any issues once he was appointed Archbishop, when he “decided to clean up the problems of which he had previously been unaware” In all, Keneally addresses a factor that both Bolt and Devine had previously ignored- the testimony of Pell himself in regards to being completely uninformed on the crimes going on around him.



Susie O’Brien’s article, ‘Cardinal George Pell should step aside while police investigate child sexual abuse claims’ holds many similarities to Keneally’s article in that it casts serious doubt on the innocence of the Cardinal in response to the allegations made against him. O’Brien’s highly recommendatory argument is that to leave Pell in his position of great power and influence during the investigations critically undermines the church and what it stands for. She states,


“This matter has the potential to not only undermine faith in the cardinal, but in the entire church hierarchy… Members of the public as well as members of the church deserve better from an organisation that’s supposed to stand for compassion and caring for others”


While O’Brien doesn’t explicitly imply that Pell is guilty of said accusations, her tone and style of writing as well as her inclusion of evidence that incriminates Pell demonstrates her underlying opinion of him- clearly, if she believed in Pell’s innocence like Bolt and Devine, she would have completely refrained from calling for him to step down as cardinal. It is interesting to observe how O’Brien characterises Pell, and how her focus shifts from criticising the church to Pell himself as part of the “cycle of abuse and reabuse”, stating that there is “plentiful evidence to justify Cardinal Pell’s appearance at the commission in Ballarat”.


Therefore, Susie O’Brien’s article functions on the assumption that the reader generally agrees that Pell is or may be guilty of the allegations brought against him, a similarity that runs through all four articles, and supported by the general consensus of the media and the Australian public. Like Keneally, O’Brien leaves her argument open to interpretation by providing the facts, yet clearly demonstrates her subjectivity towards the issue, particularly through her description of his being the “third most powerful Catholic on the globe” as an “outrage and disgrace”, using highly emotive language that seeks to elicit a similar opinion from the reader, and demonstrate the immorality of the church. She also refers to two sexual abuse victims who claim to have told the Cardinal about the abuse, claims that have been vehemently denied by Pell. O’Brien thereby was able to mount her argument by appearing initially objective towards Pell, but gradually including evidence that would be more likely to grab the readers’ attention and impact their opinion more effectively.


The four texts thereby demonstrate two principal opposing opinions of Cardinal Pell and the accusations that have been brought against him. While Bolt and Devine are completely in support of Pell and believe that the media has essentially villainised him and tainted his achievements, Keneally and O’Brien both demonstrate a fundamental belief that the evidence brought against Pell is too overwhelming to be cast as false. A key similarity between the texts is that they all seem to function on the assumption that the readers agree with the general consensus of the media and accept that Pell is or may be guilty. This assumption justifies Bolt and Divine’s articles somewhat, as they are forced to employ more severe language and writing style to attempt to sway the existing opinion of the reader, while O’Brien and Keneally simply supply facts that are already known to the majority of Australians, as to increase the impact and persuasiveness of their article, as well as relying on direct quotes to increase the legitimacy of their central claims. In all, it is very difficult to objectively judge whether the negative characterisation of Cardinal Pell is warranted due to a lack of conviction; however, it is clear that the evidence at hand is quite extensive and crucial to this evaluation, which is quickly dismissed by both Bolt and Devine as false.

Word Count: 2230




Article 1- Bolt, Andrew 2016, Pell Is The Victim Of A Vicious Witch Hunt. The Herald Sun, Accessed 2 November 2016. Available at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/andrew-bolt/cardinal-george-pell-is-the-victim-of-a-vicious-witch-hunt/news-story/29e8036f329dfee742adf48949ed8743


Article 2- Devine, Miranda 2016, Pell punished for trying to aid victims. The Daily Telegraph, Accessed 2 November 2016. Available at:



Article 3: Keneally, Kristina 2016, Once again Cardinal Pell has thrown his men to the wolves – it’s everyone’s fault but his. The Guardian, Accessed 2 November 2016. Available at:



Article 4: O’Brien, Susie 2016, Cardinal George Pell should step aside while police investigate child sexual abuse claims. The Advertiser, Accessed 2 November 2016. Available at:



Minchin, Tim 2016. “Come Home (Cardinal Pell) – Tim Minchin”. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtHOmforqxk




















Assignment 4 Proposal- Terri Slater- Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

MDIA2002 Assessment task 4- brief outline

Terri Slater, z5091091


I am choosing to focus on option 1- Institutions and other large-scale entities, focusing on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and more specifically the investigations into the cases at Ballarat. I will be using a combination of news and opinion pieces that hold opposing views, so I can compare and contrast the author’s viewpoint and level of subjectivity/objectivity. As I plan to use a variety of articles, I am yet to find all my sources, however they will likely consist of both newspaper and news broadcast articles. I assume I will reach the conclusion that each author writes with the assumption that the audience generally agrees with their point of view on the highly sensitive and controversial issue. I may specifically look at articles that discuss the reaction of Cardinal George Pell as well as the allegations made against him of cover-ups as well as child sex crimes that he has committed.



The Australian Gold medal deficit: Who is really to blame?

The Australian Gold medal deficit: Who is really to blame?


By Terri Slater


The debate surrounding our national performance at the recent Olympic games in Rio De Janiro, Brazil, is some of the most heated and critical of Australian sport. The question everyone is asking, from the Australian Sports commission (ASC), to the Australian Olympic committee (AOC), to Swimming Australia, and without forgetting the public and the athletes themselves is- where did it all go wrong? The backlash from the games has been quite severe; with some calling for athletes to pay back their training costs like a HECS debt, and others calling for CEO’s of sport to step down. A recent article written by The Australian journalist Nicole Jeffery attributes lack of funding as the key downfall to our national Olympic performance, while an article written by The Herald Sun writer Susie O’Brien asserts our very culture as a nation when it comes to participation versus winning as a key reason for Olympic failure. It is important to note that both pieces are evaluative and somewhat recommendatory arguments, that assess a multitude of angles and propose their own personal opinions toward the debate. While Jeffery’s article encompasses Australian Olympic sport as a whole, O’Brien’s piece focuses on Olympic swimming in particular, however both are extremely relevant to one another due to the emphasis on swimming as our the main source of gold medals for Australia. The articles are fundamentally opposite in nature, with both authors coming to extremely different conclusions in regards to their stance on our national performance and how it could be improved in the future.


Jeffery’s stance on the issue is clear from the lead of her article, Rio Olympics: Lack of funding key to poor Games outcome; she uses analogy to compare the backlash on Australian Olympic sport to a ‘crucifixion’, although “Just who is to be hoisted on the cross is still to be determined”. Thus, she is immediately addressing the theme of blame and ‘finger pointing’ that is present within both articles. She goes on to mention each Olympic entity that has laid blame on another for the poor Olympic outcome, referring to blame shifting as an Olympic sport. Jeffery continues to appeal to the facts- The gold medal hopefuls did not perform when it came down to it, particularly the swimmers, who attained only a ‘mere’ 3 Gold medals, although 8 athletes are ranked first in the world. Jeffery’s stance seems to be somewhat sympathetic towards the athletes, describing the underperformance as a “lot of near misses”, appealing to emotion in a sense, by connecting to the audience and communicating that the athletes themselves should not be blamed for the underwhelming outcome. Jeffery also employs appeals to precedent, referring to the Australian Olympic teams’ performances in London and Athens, to demonstrate that this year’s performance is in fact worse than others. Once she has provided clear background information to her main line of argument, she begins to assess the reasons for this downfall in Australian sport, with funding, or lack thereof, a key focus. Jeffery writes:

“Australian Olympic sport hasn’t had a significant increase in funding for a decade or more, so to some extent Favier’s job was to shift the deckchairs on a slow boat, by finding efficiencies to make Australia more competitive without spending any extra money.

He told the federal government what it wanted to hear, that it was possible to resurrect Australia’s competitiveness in the Olympic arena without spending more money. Governments love to be told they don’t need to spend more money to get a result.

But the reality is that if they want the glory they need to pay for it. Restructuring is not enough”.


Although Jeffery is initially critical of the ‘blame game’, it is interesting to observe how she herself puts some blame on AIS director Matt Favier, the leader of the Winning Edge program, as well as the AOC as an entire corporation-

“The AOC is all care and no responsibility here. It does not produce or develop athletes. It wants to call the shots, and it trumpets the fact that it doesn’t take government money, but it is completely reliant on government funding to the sports to produce the athletes who win the medals (or not). It’s happy to take the glory when the team shines, but it won’t take the blame when it doesn’t”.

Again, Jeffery is addressing the overriding theme of blame, essentially asserting that a combination of the Government’s unwillingness to donate money to the cause and the AOC’s ignorance toward responsibility.


Jeffery’s piece is based on a world-view or value system that cares about the politics of elite sport and is nationalistic by nature, in regards to Australia’s performance in international sporting competition. It is also very ethically- focused, and functions on the argument that Australian athletes, and consequently Australians, are being let down by the Government’s lack of investment in elite sport, and therefore the underlying warrant that this is unethical and needs to be changed. The audience is assumed to be an Australian, mature readership who are invested in the politics of sport, and/or the recent Olympic outcome, and the impact it has on our national sporting culture.

In regards to the article as a recommendatory as well as an evaluative argument, Jeffery affirms that more funding is the key to better Olympic performance, which could be achieved through the use of the lottery as a financial source, as it is in the U.K, who are “outspending Australia two to one in the medal race, which they are winning handsomely”.


In comparison, Susie O’Brien’s article, Rio Olympics 2016: Is an Australian culture of mediocrity behind our medal choke takes a completely different stance on the issue, focussing on the Australian culture of ‘participation is equal to winning’ particularly when it comes to swimming. From the outset of the piece, O’Brien takes a very hard-line and opinion dominated approach to the topic, writing:

“What happens when the choke goes beyond a joke?

Should Australians be paying $40 million to get just three gold medals, four silver and three bronze in the pool?

If each swimmer performed their 2016 best at the Games, we would have won five gold, eight silver and five bronze.

So on any count, a lot of money was spent on a pretty average outcome”.


From this excerpt, it is clear that O’Brien is essentially targeting an Australian tax paying, sport-invested readership, and trying to evoke a strong reaction from the public by directly appealing to an ethical persuasive technique. She supports her central claim that we as taxpayers are essentially funding mediocre athletes through quoting the amount of money going in comparison to the medals coming out of the Australian Olympic swimming campaign. O’Brien also makes an appeal to authority, also known as the veteran swimmer Shane Gould, whose viewpoint appears to be of a similar nature;

“As Gould — who is one of our greatest ever Olympic swimmers — told Radio National this morning, “maybe we need to rethink schools giving out ribbons for fifth place”.

I can see where she is coming from”

By referencing Gould’s interview, O’Brien is providing justification to support her own argument, which is positioned right before her most direct and potentially controversial claim-

“When it comes to the Olympics, all that really counts is the medals. That’s how we measure success.

No one cares how many individuals make their finals, or how many get placed in the top half of the heats, or how many come fifth or better in the semis.

If you don’t get a medal, you’re a loser in Olympic terms”.


Clearly, this series of statements is aimed at evoking a highly emotional response from the reader, either in agreement or disagreement. While the article is aimed at the taxpayer, I don’t believe it is seeking to change minds on the issue (due to lack of strong evidence/justification) but more to induce a debate over whether gold medals really are the only measure of success that matter when it comes to elite sport. O’Brien’s use of analogy between Olympic and school sport is an example of this- clearly Olympians are far more developed in their psychological sense of winning and participating than primary aged children, although perhaps our culture of rewarding children simply for the act of participating has had some long-term effects when it comes to the general Australian sporting culture, as opposed to that of other nations, such as The United States, The United Kingdom and China.


A key distinction between the two articles is the author’s view of the athletes themselves- while Jeffery refers to them quite sympathetically and puts no blame on them for lack of performance, O’Brien directly states “…it’s fair to say some of the members of the swimming team let us down, and let themselves down.

When it really counted they simply weren’t able to perform at their peak”. Again, O’Brien reinforces the huge cost of $40 million in taxpayer’s money, that simply ‘isn’t going to cut it’ with Australians. Essentially, O’Brien’s article is based on the world-view or value system that athletes must produce performances according to the funding they receive, and in this case, it should be Gold or nothing. In determining whether each article is conducted in good faith, and is clear and well rounded, it is evident that Jeffery is far more democratic in her views journalism writing as opposed to O’Brien, who is far more hard-line and direct in expressing her opinions. In a sense, the second article is an informal fallacy, due to its’ lack of strong evidence or justification to support its’ claims, in comparison to the first, which offers a more well-rounded point of view on the issue.


An analysis of both articles subsequently uncovers the view that there are many aspects of blame for our poor performance as a nation at the 2016 Rio Olympics, being a ‘nation of mediocrity’ and having a ‘lack of funding’ being only a few in the grand scheme of Australian sporting organisations. While both articles are highly evaluative and in some ways recommendatory, it is clear they take highly opposing view points in regards to who is really at fault for such a disappointing result. When viewing both articles together, however, it is clear that both pieces function on the underlying assumption that Australia’s underwhelming Olympic performance was due to more than just bad luck, illness or nerves, but some sort of systematic issue that is deep-rooted in our national sporting culture.