An American lawyer’s peculiar theory on the Pell trial

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 22, 2018

Jeffrey Anderson, a lawyer who has built up an extremely lucrative business by bringing sex-abuse suits against the Catholic Church, has a unique perspective on the trial of Cardinal George Pell. Australian prosecutors—who still have not offered any details about their case agains the cardinal—recently asked the trial court to ban all news coverage and conduct the entire proceedings in secrecy. Why would the prosecutors want a trial behind closed doors? Anderson’s firm advances a novel theory:

One possible explanation of this rare and extreme request was to preempt Pell’s lawyers who will likely argue that the publicity of Pell’s case will prevent him from receiving a fair trial… Keep the dirty secrets and public scrutiny of the trial far away from the public eye.

Wait. So you’re saying that the prosecutors—who, presumably, want a conviction—are doing the work of the defense, by keeping the public uninformed about the cardinal’s alleged offenses? That makes no sense. If the prosecution wanted to protect the Church’s dirty secrets, they wouldn’t have brought criminal charges in the first place.

The theory about a preemptive move doesn’t hold up, either. The defense will still have ample grounds for arguing that prejudicial publicity has damaged the cardinal’s right to a fair trial; leaked reports, rumors, and speculation about the case have been given blanket coverage in the Australian media for more than a year.

Anderson and his firm invariably see the Catholic Church as the bad guy. But in this case it’s not the cardinal who wants to avoid public scrutiny at a trial. On the contrary, Cardinal Pell has consistently indicated that he wants a chance to clear his name. It’s the prosecution that has asked for a secret trial.

It’s difficult to discern the exact purpose of the prosecution’s request. But let’s put it this way: Ordinarily, the people who want to keep things secret are the people who ask to keep things secret.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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