Many of you will be aware that early this month I wrote an op ed piece about the Pell trial for the Tasmanian Catholic Standardthat led to a decision to ‘pulp’ the paper prior to distribution.
The reason my article was withdrawn was my use of the phrase ‘the wickedness of his accusers’. My intended target was those in the media and public life who reviled Pell for months and years before the trial, making it difficult for a jury to avoid bias, albeit unconsciously. I never meant to refer to the victims of abuse, but I now understand that my piece was open to that interpretation. Then somehow the local press got hold of it, even though it had been withheld for shredding. I issued a written and public apology.
I next received a great number of angry emails. A few were from victims of abuse who had been hurt by my remarks; most were from people evidently driven by an intense loathing of Christianity. The victims, for the most part courteous, wrote with sadness and shamed me fairly for my careless words. The haters, on the other hand, knew how to hate: it is a shock to be told that one should be dead, and to be reviled in such disgusting terms that (even in this liberal age) their words cannot be repeated.
Why such great anger?
In my article I expressed the view that the charges on which Cardinal Pell had been convicted were quite literally incredible. I am still strongly of that opinion and do not apologize for it. This pieceby Ros Burnett gives some useful background on how innocent people can be wrongly accused of abuse.
But there is no easy answer to the question posed above. The processes of logical enquiry, investigation, persuasion, testing of evidence, appear to have been weakened in a world that has lost confidence in the possibility of objective truth. If we can’t know anything for certain (people seem to think, and often even say), do the details matter?
It is emerging that the sole touchstone for the determining of innocence or guilt is the disposition of the Public: to go against the opinion of the majority is risky. Freedom of expression is on the way out and Common Sense fears to show its head above the trenches if it holds an unpopular opinion on any matter of faith or morals or social engineering.