A tale of two septuagenarians: A Queen reigns over the ABC while a Cardinal simmers in his cell

This is a tale of two septuagenarians: one a journalist, the other a Cardinal. You know which one should come first.
It was 1981, and Ita Buttrose was the Murdoch recruit, the new editor-in-chief of the Sydney Daily and Sunday Telegraph, after a sterling career as an editor for Sir Frank Packer for the popular magazines, Cleo and Australian Women’s Weekly.
In that year, she became the first female editor of a major metropolitan newspaper and the first woman on the board of News Limited, a prominent commentator on radio and television (and still is), and even had a song named after her, Ita, recorded by Cold Chisel.
I was the literary editor and TV critic of The Australian and in those days, the networks’ public relations staff would send VHS tapes of shows to TV journalists to write previews. The problem was I didn’t have a VHS recorder at home and the only office that had a VHS machine was, you guessed it, Ita Buttrose’s in Mahogany Row. One of Rupert’s close associates and a mate and mentor, Arnold Earnshaw, suggested I ask Ita if I could use her recorder when she wasn’t in her office.
Well, I doubted that she’d open her office for a new TV critic, but I gave it a go, and Ita Buttrose couldn’t have been nicer. In fact, she said I could come anytime I liked and she’d only ask me to leave if she was with an important client or journalist or had to take a call. She was usually downstairs with the two Telegraphs, so her office was often empty.
Known as Queen Ita, she was Australian of the Year in 2013, inducted into three media halls of fame, has an OBE and OA, received the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement gong at the 2017 Kennedy Awards, and hosted the Studio 10 morning show at the Ten Network from 2013 to 2018. That’s only a small section of her CV. She’s now the new chair of the ABC, but I will always remember her as the editor who let me watch her TV when I had to write a quick critique. She might be known as the Queen, but Ita is a journalist, down to earth with a lovely sense of humour.
And she has always been the perfect contender for the ABC chair and was supported by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Photo above of Ita with the PM. Picture: Hollie Adams, The Australian). This was Ita discussing Fairfax’s problems with their Rivers of Gold with Ellen Fanning on The Observer Effect on SBS in 2013: “ … We were always looking at their classifieds trying to divert it to News Limited. And they never thought that they were vulnerable and so their board, and their leadership, missed the direction they should have been going in and the fault lies there and as long as you continue to appoint people to boards who know nothing about media or what we do for a living, that’s the sort of result you’re going to get and that’s what Fairfax did and you can’t really have people who don’t understand the media, in my opinion, running the media.”
Ita understands the media. I have no doubt she can run the media . . . and the ABC.
Cardinal George Pell is a different story: He understands the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, it’s the old-fashioned church when bishops and priests and brothers took advantage of young boys and girls, sexually abusing them and covering up for the guilty by sending the clergy to other parishes.
Born in Ballarat, Pell was ordained a Catholic priest in 1966, and appointed assistant parish priest at Ballarat East in 1973. In the late 1970s, prosecutors wanted to charge Pell for indecently assaulting two boys at Ballarat’s Eureka pool. The allegations came to nothing. But he did accompany the notorious pedophile priest, Gerald Risdale, to his first child abuse court appearance. Risdale was as guilty as sin. Pell admitted later it was a mistake.
In July 1996, Pell was appointed archbishop of Melbourne and announced a redress scheme for those abused by clergy in the archdiocese. In December 1996 he abused two teenage choirboys in the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. These abuses, including a grope of one of the boy’s genitals against the cathedral wall a month later, were the five guilty verdicts handed down to Cardinal Pell (Pell arriving in Court in Melbourne. AFP Photo below).

Meanwhile Pell continued to rise in the Church’s hierarchy: appointed Archbishop of Sydney in 2001, ironically overseeing the Towards Healing Program, aimed at meeting victims and survivors of sexual abuse in a pastoral relationship as opposed to a legal approach. The intention was to focus first on the person in need. Convictions of guilty clergy seem to work better.
I first met George Pell in 2008 at the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney offices in Liverpool Street, when I was the producer for Sky News presenter, Helen Dalley, who was interviewing the Cardinal for World Youth Day to be broadcast on Easter Sunday. I tried to set up the interview without mentioning the fact that I was a very lapsed Catholic. But I couldn’t help myself and told him I was an altar boy in Philadelphia in the 1950s. To prove it, I recited the Suscipiat in Latin, the server’s reply offering the sacrifice of the priest and the congregation to God. It begins: “Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis …” (“May the Lord accept this sacrifice from thy hands …”) Pell was impressed and said he’d have to get me back in the church. That scared me and I immediately said: “Sorry Your Excellency, I have to set up this shot so we can get back to Sky.” That was a close shave. He seemed like a nice bloke and was a Sydney Swans supporter, but I knew there were allegations that hadn’t been proven. The worst was to come 11 years later on Wednesday, February 27, 2019: George Pell, a solitary man in a solitary cell, convicted of child abuse crimes.
In a powerful Four Corners program on the ABC last Monday, journalist and author Louise Milligan, who’d been following the case for three years, told the inside story of “how a prince of the church was brought to justice.” Did it ever. The family of the first choirboy wanted to tell the story of how their lovely boy was never the same after he was abused by George Pell at the age of 13. Within a year he started using heroin, and he died of an overdose in 2014, at the age of 31. He never told his family about the abuse, but it spurred the other choirboy to relate his awful tale to the victims’ group, Broken Rites. The program focuses on further allegations of abuse by Pell, including allegedly exposing himself to eight to ten-year-old children in the changerooms at the Torquay Life Saving Club in the mid-1980s. Les Tyack told Milligan he saw the incident and said he had no doubt what Pell was up to.
Four Corners showed the Victorian Police interview with George Pell filmed in Rome in October 2016 where Detective Chris Reed told the Cardinal about allegations that he had assaulted the two choirboys and asked one to take off his pants: “And you’ve stepped up to him, knelt down, started to fondle his penis and masturbate yourself at the same time.” George Pell asked: “This is in the sacristy at the cathedral after Sunday mass?” When Detective Reed said yes, Pell replied: “Well, need I say any more? What a load of garbage and falsehood and deranged falsehood.” Methinks he doth protest too much or was his anger real?
Louise Milligan summed up her report: “County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd described Pell’s crimes as ‘…callous, brazen offending… He exploited two vulnerable boys and there was an element of force… There was an element of brutality to this assault. It was an attack.’ George Pell maintains his innocence and is appealing. A 77-year-old man who once cast an enormous shadow over the Australian Church and culture is now in jail, awaiting sentence.”
George Pell won’t have to wait very long to be sentenced. It’s this Wednesday, March 13. Nor will he be in prison long if he wins the appeal, as the court date is set for early June. The victims, the survivors and their families will not be happy if the appeal succeeds.

4 thoughts on “A tale of two septuagenarians: A Queen reigns over the ABC while a Cardinal simmers in his cell

  1. What’s with all the “allegedlys”. He was tried and found guilty. Until and if his appeal is upheld, he is a convicted Paedophile. I have zero sympathy for the man. So he rose to one of the highest offices in the Catholic Church. Big deal. Agent Orange Trump rose to what was once the highest office in the world. Big deal. He’s still a lying, narcissistic, fascistic, perverted.numbskull. And there’s nothing alleged about him. Otherwise, a great blog in a history of great blogs. You know who …

    • Fair comment, James. I was trying to use allegedly in instances where he was not convicted. I probably added a few unnecessary “allegedlys.” It was one of my most difficult blog posts, simply because I was trying to be as objective as possible before the appeal. But you’re right, he’s a convicted Paedophile. Thank you for the kind words about my blog. You know who, too . . .

  2. Tom,
    I recall being taken to St. Charles Seminary for a day of swimming as a reward for being a dedicated altar boy. Now, I wonder if it was a pseudo runway.

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