Twelve Australian media companies pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court of Victoria Monday to contempt of court for breaching a gag order imposed by the County Court of Victoria preventing Cardinal George Pell from being named in the country as a convicted child sex offender until February of 2019.
The guilty pleas are part of a plea deal ending the trial. The media companies charged included The Herald and Weekly Times, News Life Media, Queensland Newspapers, Nationwide News, Advertiser Newspapers, Fairfax Media Publications, Mamamia, Allure Media, General Television Corporation, Radio 2GB Sydney, the Age Company and Geelong Advertiser. Individual journalists and editors who worked at the companies were also charged, but their charges were dropped as part of the plea deal. Sub judice contempt charges against the companies were also dropped. Although none of the companies or individuals named Pell in their coverage before the gag order expired, the prosecution argued that such coverage, which included mention of a “high-profile Australian” being “convicted of a serious crime,” was nonetheless prejudicial to legal proceedings.
In December 2018 Pell was convicted in the County Court of Victoria by a jury and Chief Judge Peter Kidd of “one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 years and four charges of committing an act of indecency with or in the presence of a child under the age of 16 years.” The offending allegedly took place in the St Patrick’s Cathedral, where Pell served as the Archbishop of Melbourne. Pell’s convictions were later quashed by the High Court of Australia in a judgment released in April 2020. Also released in 2020, a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found that Pell knew of child sexual abuse in the 1970s “committed by clergy and Church personnel” but inadequately addressed the abuse.
After Monday’s hearing, Supreme Court of Victoria prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari commented:
The prosecution has resolved. Each corporate respondent has indicated that it will plead guilty in respect of each publication for which they are charged to contempt by breaching the proceeding suppression order. Given the plea and acceptance of responsibility in respect of each publication, and other matters relevant to an assessment of the public interest, the [Director of Public Prosecutions] has determined that it is in the public interest to withdraw the remaining charges.
A plea hearing will take place between February 10 and 11.