News Corp columnists Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine led the charge in Wednesday’s papers, characterising the guilty verdict as a wrongful conviction and likening it to when Lindy Chamberlain was wrongfully jailed for murdering her baby Azaria, and describing it as the OJ Simpson case “in reverse”.
“Declaration: I have met Pell perhaps five times in my life and like him,” Bolt wrote. “I am not a Catholic or even a Christian. He is a scapegoat, not a child abuser. In my opinion.”
“In my opinion, this is our own OJ Simpson case, but in reverse. A man was found guilty not on the facts but on prejudice,” Bolt wrote.
“Cardinal George Pell has been falsely convicted of sexually abusing two boys in their early teens. That’s my opinion, based on the overwhelming evidence.”
On his Sky News program Bolt said Pell was a man “who’s been made to pay for the sins made by his church”.
After Morris-Marr left the Herald Sun in 2016, she accused News Corp of not renewing her contract because of a dispute with Bolt over the Pell story. Bolt wrote a column in the same paper calling it a “vicious” smear that formed part of a “sinister” campaign.
In her nationally syndicated column in the Daily Telegraph, Miranda Devine said the victim’s “accusations are implausible” and Pell was innocent.
Devine, a Catholic, has always been a strong supporter of Pell. In 2017 she alleged that his charges were drummed up by Victoria police as a distraction from a supposed crime epidemic.
“Victoria police chief Graham Ashton desperate for a distraction from the crime epidemic he’s incapable of stopping #HuntingCatholics,” she said on Twitter.
On Wednesday Devine said the verdict was devastating and Pell was a big scalp for the “rotten Vatican”.
“It’s devastating because I don’t believe that Pell, who I know slightly and admire greatly, could be guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys in a busy cathedral after Sunday mass when he was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996,” Devine wrote in the Daily Telegraph.”
Murdoch’s national broadsheet, the Australian, took the unusual decision to publish on the front page two critics who argued the victim’s testimony was improbable. The legal academic and vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven, blamed the police and the media, in particular the ABC journalist Louise Milligan, who wrote a Walkley-award winning book on Pell.
“This is where the Pell case has gone terribly wrong,” Craven wrote. “Impartial judge and jury [excepted], parts of the media – notably the ABC and former Fairfax journalists – have spent years attempting to ensure Pell is the most odious figure in Australia.
“They seemed to want him in the dock as an ogre, not a defendant.
“So what we have witnessed is a combined effort by much of the media, including the public broadcaster, and elements of Victoria’s law enforcement agency, to blacken the name of someone before he went to trial.”
Craven was one of 10 people to give character references for Pell before sentencing.
The Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer Frank Brennan, who attended some of the trial, argued the victim’s evidence – given behind closed doors – was “confused” and the jury must have discarded the defence’s compelling arguments.
“The proposition that the offences charged were committed immediately after mass by a fully robed archbishop in the sacristy with an open door and in full view from the corridor seemed incredible to my mind,” Brennan wrote.
A senior journalist, John Ferguson, who did not cover the trial, was also not convinced.
“As unpopular as Pell is in the secular community, indeed among many Catholics, there are valid questions to be asked about whether the jury got it right,” Ferguson wrote in an analysis piece on an inside page. “This task is made difficult by the fact the sole living accuser from the cathedral scandal did not give public evidence.
“Is it believable that Pell would so recklessly and aggressively rape and molest in a cathedral, knowing there was a high risk of being caught? Is it plausible that he committed these crimes while engineering the Melbourne Response to help compensate abuse victims?
“Is it probable beyond reasonable doubt that Pell did this?”