So there we have it. George Pell will indeed spend a chunk of his remaining life in prison. But to those who feel it should have been longer, or that justice was not done, I suggest that we focus on what is truly important.
Never has a verdict witnessed by so many people, seen so little. With the gavel falling on Pell magnified by the chintzy nineties horror of “live television”, we were afforded a solitary static shot of a decision that moved the nation.
So we have it. Pell will be behind bars for six years, with him being eligible for parole in three. Age was a significant factor, as was the volume of his character references, as was the condition of his heart. The words of Kidd, although logical in law, bristles the collective mind. Kidd stated that he was “…confident … you may not live to be released from prison,” but noted that Pell was “effectively reformed”.
Kidd explained the factors in Pell’s favour, such as his old age, must be balanced against just punishment and deterrence. Those factors “loomed large” over the sentencing.
So there we have it. Six years is the measure, and face jail he certainly will.
But as the magnitude of gavel reverberated around the continent, I paused to reflect, riding an acid flashback of what Pell’s trial has enabled in us. Birthed in anger, soundtracked by Tim Minchin, growing to moronic secrecy, as the world discussed the details of the case while our publications could not, and retreated to churning out “someone got charged for something but we can’t talk about it” think pieces, all the way to the final curtain falling in front of a rolling camera. Today built to an almighty crescendo, as we’ve participated in the chorus on a national scale. George Pell spending the evening in jail was a great euphoric moment, both in the realms of justice, but also, as something to latch onto to be proud about, our modern Australia’s primary export is negative headlines, at least with this, we had something to point to.
The discourse has oscillated between “good riddance” to “if he gets off we riot”, our increase in nervousness was apparent, as the paranoia surrounding things we have no knowledge about grew, as we feared the subjective impact money and power will have on the objectivity of justice. We feared the worst but hope for the best, and I don’t blame us. Considering the judgement, and that our anger may have enabled him escaping a longer sentence, I do not blame us. The video, and the conditions of the case, and the saturation of the media saved him, I do not blame us.
The flames leaping off the many bridges Pell has burned has been easy to see. A notable University press fell victim, the ghost who walks in an Australian tracksuit, John Howard, forever tarnished his legacy with a character reference (and since has been shunned in my uber-conservative, uber-Liberal seat), but most of all, it has reopened the wounds, and recalled the horror that victims of sexual assault and rape have endured. Those who have suffered (or were bought into silence), the seismic magnitude of the discourse has pushed them back into the realms of the unwell. The brave silent number who have self-imposed bans on social media or the television, who shunned social engagement, fearing that the Pell topic will arise, they know the truth. Those who have survived know, better than any of us, that Pell represents one thorn on the papal rose, and they know that uprooting the garden and salting the earth is only part of it. A colleague illuminated the meaning of today to me, himself a victim of a long-dead guilty member of the clergy. He said that the judgement day is merely one for those who were not victims to circle on the calendar. A great day of unification to feel anger or redemption or vindication. When it happened to him, he felt “a collective pat on the back”, hinting that everything was balanced and that justice has been served. While it meant something that that person was officially found guilty, it was just validation what we had been saying for years. But, the day after struck him, when the load he carried was still there, but the nation wasn’t. “We had ‘our day in court’, as the saying goes, but nothing was won beyond the general public finally believing that we were telling the truth.”
So, today, if we focus on the triumph/problems of the justice system, or the ills of the Catholic church, or the sentence we coveted and perhaps denied; we do so in error. The rhetoric should and forever belong to the victims. So, I suggest we do not cheer, or rage, manufacture memes or clickbait, but solemnly nod to those affected, knowing that the trauma remains. In the bold words of the man I know, “it is still there – it will always be there”.
At the request of the individual, his identity remains masked.