The very existence of Catholic guilt has been effectively extinguished following a ruling handed down by Australia’s top two judges, Mr Justice Andrew Bolt and Mr Justice Gerard Henderson (main picture).
Legal practitioners and academics are continuing to pore over the pair’s judgement to determine its impact on all past, present, and future criminal cases involving the Catholic Church or any of its staff, followers, or other personnel.
Justice Bolt and Justice Henderson — both members of Australia’s peak judicial body the News Corp Court — yesterday delivered a unanimous decision on the recent high-profile case involving alleged improper behaviour by staff towards teenage students at the all-boys Melbourne private Catholic Church-run St Kevin’s College.
In their ruling Justice Bolt and Justice Henderson exonerated the school, its recently resigned principal, the coach at the centre of the allegations, and any other Catholic associated with the events in question if indeed they ever really occurred.
University of NSW legal academic, Professor Barry Sterr, said the decision had far wider implications.
“It is a true landmark judgement,” Prof Sterr said. “In their unanimous ruling – made as usual without being privy to any evidence – Justices Bolt and Henderson have reinforced their previous separate findings in other cases that no Catholic individual or authority can ever be found guilty of anything no matter how appalling or awful their alleged offences are claimed to be.
“This effectively scuttles the idea of Catholic guilt, not in the personal theological sense, but in the wider legal and institutional sense. Put simply, their findings mean that no Catholic can do any wrong, ever.
“Both senior judges have based their findings on the fact that the allegations against those involved in the St Kevin’s College case were made by the ABC.
“This legal concept has been previously cited by the News Corp Court in a range of its past judgements, but it now sets a strong legal precedent that means any allegations aired by the ABC will automatically be dismissed by the News Corp Court in future.”
Mr Sterr said it was notable that Justice Bolt and Justice Henderson used their decision in the St Kevin’ case to again exonerate former Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, of all the charges laid against him which have previously resulted in his conviction as a child sex offender.
“Pell is not directly linked to the St Kevin’s case and both Justice Bolt and Justice Henderson have previously, in separate decisions by each judge, found Pell not guilty of anything he has ever done or will ever do,” he said.
“The fact they repeated their previous findings of Pell’s total innocence brings into doubt the validity of an expected High Court of Australia hearing of an appeal in the Pell case due to start soon.
“Legal observers like me have for some time believed that the recent rise in importance and standing of the News Corp Court means the High Court is now something of an anachronism.
“It may be that the federal government, keen to achieve its budget surplus, decides to do away with the High Court altogether and rely entirely on the News Corp Court to make decisions in all sensitive or controversial cases,” Mr Sterr said.