Fallen, Lucie Morris-Marr
FALLEN by Lucie Morris-Marr has the sub-heading "The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell". I freely admit to being interested in what happened with the mistrial, the trial that found Pell guilty of five counts of child abuse, the sentencing hearing, the appeal, and what will happen now that his legal team have sought leave to appeal to the High Court, so it was that sub-heading that made me want to read this book. I'm acutely aware that these events, this trial, and the history of the church have massive ramifications, equally I'm aware of comments from some survivors who have questioned Morris-Marr's tactics and intentions.
With all of that in mind, there were some aspects of FALLEN that provided insight, and there were elements that disappointed. Having read CARDINAL by Louise Milligan way back before Pell's charging, I can't help but reflect that, to this reader, that was a book that covered the lead up to charges and the survivors and their stories with compassion and respect. Something that felt like it sometimes went missing in FALLEN. Why it was felt necessary to open with the story of a blatant pursuit of a survivor's story, in the face of what was obviously great reluctance on her part, I've no idea. Even if her story has been part of what's blown the lid off the full extent of crimes and cover-ups, surely, door-stopping her was bad enough. But retelling that encounter in this book felt wrong, manipulative and intrusive, even if it had been intended to show the tactics of Morris-Marr's then employer. Undoubtedly, the author's treatment by the Herald Sun and her coming up against the power of the cardinal-apologist Bolt would have been infuriating and frightening, but it didn't need the potentially identifying outing of the survivor's story all over again.
FALLEN, unlike the many other books I've read that address the ongoing scandal of clerical sexual abuse, left me conflicted. Perhaps it comes back, always to that sub-heading. Maybe if it hadn't started out talking about a woman who clearly did not wish to be outed as a survivor, then it could have come across as slightly less self-serving in places. The inside story of the secret trial and conviction were the most illuminating aspects of the book, and whilst you cannot deny that the steps taken by the church and its apologists to cover up, obfuscate, or make a headline from the personal pain of so many were breathtaking in the brazenness and their viciousness, maybe it's a question of timing or telegraphing your intent. Those stories undoubtedly have some place in a retelling, but here, it ended up feeling intrusive and wrongly skewed.
Having said that, when Morris-Marr sticks to the events in the courtroom she provides some insight into the machinations of the trial, the conduct of the Trial Judge, and the difficulties that the juries obviously experienced in both trials. I must admit I don't share her dismay at not being able to view a transcript of the testimony of the key witness, just as I don't believe the ridiculous viewpoints of "commentators" from outside the system who seem to have in-depth knowledge of testimony that only the court and the jury were privy to. FALLEN does remind us, however, of the importance of the jury system, and the vital part that the courts, and the laws of evidence and procedure play. She provides glimpses into the demeanour of Pell himself, and that of his supporters. She also provides some insight into the ramifications of the charges and trial in the heart of the Vatican itself, and the affect that the trial had on the entire journalist group covering it.
There was an eerie silence in the packed courtroom as everyone looked towards the foreman of the jury. 'Guilty' he pronounced five times.
The third most senior Catholic cleric in the world had been found guilty of sex crimes against children, bringing shame to the Church on a scale never seen before in its history.
Investigative journalist Lucie Morris-Marr was the first to break the story that Cardinal George Pell was being investigated by the police. In this riveting dispatch, she recounts how the cleric was trailed by a cloud of scandal as he rose to the most senior ranks of the church in Australia, all the way to his appointment by Pope Francis to the position of treasurer in the Vatican.
Despite anger and accusations, it seemed nothing could stop George Pell. Yet in 2017 he was charged by detectives, returning to Australia to face trial.
Take a front row seat in court with the author as she reveals the many intriguing developments in the secret legal proceedings which the media could not report at the time. Fallen reveals the full story of the brutal battle waged by the prince of the church as he fought to clear his name, including a ferocious bid to be freed from jail. The author also shares her own compelling personal journey investigating the biggest story of her career and the frequent attacks she endured from powerful Pell supporters. This book also charts how Pell's shocking conviction plunged the Vatican into an unprecedented global crisis after decades of clergy abuse cases.
It is a vitally important story that will fascinate anyone interested in the failure of the Catholic Church to address the canker in its heart.