Why I refuse to be silenced on Pell: Bolt
I KNEW defending Cardinal George Pell could get me lynched. I want to explain to the people now wanting my blood why I did it.
But first, something about this hatred for Pell. It is intense, lavish, unbridled, and at times shamefully self-indulgent. Some haters love hating.
Doubt it? Then see the ugly scenes outside Melbourne's County Court on Wednesday as Pell attended hearings to determine his sentence - certainly jail - after being found guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys two decades ago.
The screaming was incredible: "Monster!" "Rot in Hell!" "Freak!" "Burn!" "Criminal!" "Filth!"
Protesters again clawed at Pell. Journalists jeered.
And there were today's headlines, almost gloating. "Hideous hypocrisy: Pell has reached the nadir of disgrace," shouted The Age, which has demonised Pell for two decades - first for being conservative, then for allegedly shielding paedophiles and finally for allegedly being a paedophile himself. And always for being a Catholic.
Is it remotely possible that this fevered climate of hatred for our most senior Catholic never leached into the jury room?
True, I'd be furious too if I truly thought Pell had done what a jury has now said: forced one choir boy to give him oral sex and molested another.
I would despise Pell as I despise paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.
Now, don't mistake me. Our legal system is fundamentally good and we must accept even the rare decisions we believe are wrong.
So I would think twice - very hard - before disbelieving this verdict. I would, and did, read transcripts of the trial.
I would above all try to imagine whether this sexual assault could have happened as described.
For instance, I would ask: Is it really possible that Pell slipped away from his own processional after Mass, unseen by the priest meant to attend him everywhere, and forced himself on two choir boys he found in the normally busy sacristy, despite knowing the door was open and anyone could come in at any second?
Is it possible he did this when one of the boys, now dead, said he hadn't actually been abused, and the other struggled to explain how Pell exposed himself when he was in fact dressed in a heavy, belted archbishop's alb that reached to his feet?
Could this attack have happened when not a single witness corroborated a single one of the accuser's claims?
I'm sure most reasonable people, studying the evidence, would also wonder how the jury could have thought this likely beyond reasonable doubt.
I am not alone in doubting. Father Frank Brennan, ideologically opposed to Pell, said he was "very surprised by the verdict".
Greg Craven, a former Victorian Crown Counsel and now vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, said he was no longer so sure our justice system was the world's best.
We also know many jurors at the first trial, called off after it was deadlocked, were not sure of Pell's guilt.
I can't think of anyone who knows Pell who truly believes he is a paedophile. Former prime minister John Howard has written Pell a character reference for the sentencing hearing.
What's more, many hundreds of readers have told me that they, too, are not convinced of Pell's guilt.
So to those many critics telling me I should shut up, including a former Victorian attorney-general, I have a question.
If you saw an injustice being done to someone you considered innocent, or at least not guilty beyond reasonable doubt, what would you do?
Speak up? Or say nothing, for fear of the mob, and know for the rest of the life that you were a coward?
Many critics say Pell has been found guilty by a jury. So end of story.
Except it isn't. You can be found guilty but still be innocent.
Remember the jury that convicted Lindy Chamberlain of murdering her baby? Remember the one that acquitted OJ Simpson of murdering his wife?
If judges and juries never made mistakes, why do we have a Court of Appeal?
Pell is now asking that Court to overturn this verdict, but even if it refuses, I won't change my mind until I see evidence that I should.
Lastly, many critics say Pell is guilty of lots of other stuff and must pay. Didn't he hide paedophile priests? (Actually, no.) And didn't his church hide them? (Actually, yes.)
But no innocent man should go to jail because we hate paedophiles generally, or hate his church or hate his reputation.
Truth and evidence must count, or none of us is safe.