An ABC reporter has been accused in court of trying to “poison the public’s mind” in a documentary and book about Cardinal George Pell.
In often heated exchanges, during an explosive committal hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court, journalist Louise Milligan was accused by Cardinal Pell’s lead barrister of omitting information that would question the “credibility” of one of the accusers in the case.
Robert Richter QC said Ms Milligan failed to inform the public that one accuser she interviewed had told her details about alleged abuse by the Cardinal, now 76, which did not appear in his previous police statement.
She was also accused of leaving out the fact that the complainant had suffered mental health problems in the past.
Frequently raising his voice, Mr Richter slammed the ABC 7.30 report which aired allegations about the Cardinal in July 2016 and a subsequent book by the reporter titled Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell.
The reporter won Walkley awards for both the documentary and the book.
“Your honour, this witness went on to try and win prizes with these things,” Mr Richter said.
“She distorted what went to the public and distorted it even more so in her book, so as to poison the public’s mind.”
Ms Milligan responded: “I absolutely reject that.”
Mr Richter later accused Ms Milligan of “trying to pervert the course of justice” and not treating Cardinal Pell as if he were innocent until proven guilty.
At one point magistrate Belinda Wallington stepped in to stop the pair arguing in court, saying: “Respect and dignity come to mind.”
Ms Milligan later told Mr Richter that in a chapter on credibility in her book she describes how accusers of clergy abuse often later turn to drugs and drink and run into trouble with the law.
She told Mr Richter that people often then get “torn apart” by “people like you” because they have a criminal past.
“But evidence from the royal commission showed that people who have a trajectory of drug abuse and alcoholism was precisely because they were abused.”
Mr Richter and Ms Milligan clashed again when he accused her of using “charm” and being flirtatious with an accuser.
“There was a very charming, if not flirtatious, exchange of emails,” Mr Richter said.
“I find that insulting … I think that’s sexist,” she replied.
On several occasions during her evidence, Ms Milligan invoked a law regarding “journalist’s privilege” in regards to questions about her confidential sources.
“I cannot reveal my sources, and I will not reveal my sources,” she said.
Cardinal Pell, who stood aside from his role as Vatican treasurer when he was charged in June last year, strongly denies the multiple allegations of historic sexual abuse against him.
The committal, which is hearing from a total of 50 witnesses including complainants, will finish on Thursday.
The magistrate will then take time to assess submissions from both the defence and the prosecution.
The decision about whether the case will proceed to a higher court for trial is then expected two weeks later, or possibly longer.
Lucie Morris-Marr is an investigative journalist. She has worked as a senior writer at the Herald Sun where she broke the world exclusive about the secret SANO Taskforce investigation into Cardinal George Pell. She is covering Cardinal Pell’s legal proceedings exclusively for The New Daily and CNN.