The Pell Case: Lessons for Church and State

28 June 2021
Cardinal George Pell. Image: The Vatican.


Cardinal George Pell pleaded not guilty before a jury to child sexual assault charges in 2018.

The public knew little of the proceedings because the trial judge had imposed a suppression order, prohibiting the media from publicising the evidence and court proceedings.

Fr Frank Brennan SJ was asked by the Australian Catholic bishops to follow the proceedings and to offer commentary on the conduct of the proceedings once the suppression orders were lifted. The bishops asked that the commentary be seen, as far as possible, to be clear, objective and impartial.

After the initial conviction and then after the unanimous acquittal by the High Court of Australia, Fr Brennan spoke publicly about the proceedings. He has now published a book Observations on the Pell Proceedings. By correcting the gross failures in the Pell case, we might help to relieve the trauma of institutional child sexual abuse. Fr Brennan will propose lessons for both church and state in this year’s St Thomas More Oration.

As a society we need to do better, and the legal system needs to play its part, as does the Church, if truth, justice and healing are to be a reality for complainants, victims, and anyone wrongly accused.

Fr Frank Brennan SJ is a Distinguished Fellow of the PM Glynn Institute at Australian Catholic University and an Adjunct Professor at the Thomas More Law School at ACU. He is the author of numerous books on human rights having chaired the Australian Government’s 2009 National Human Rights Consultation and having been a member of the Australian Government’s 2018 Religious Freedom Review. Most recently he has served on the Australian Government’s Senior Advisory Group designing a proposed ‘Indigenous Voice’ for the First Nations Peoples in Australia.

Map of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

With thanks to Fr Frank Brennan SJ and Catholic Voice.


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