Book Review: “Fallen: The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell” by Lucie Morris-Marr

I read this book in three days, which, by my standards is very, very fast. That’s because it is a gripping story, even though, like just about everybody in Australia, I knew the outcome.

This is a scorching condemnation of the Catholic Church hierarchy but also of contemporary Australia where vested interests seek to determine who and what is given publicity, which convicted criminals deserve empathy, and when the law should be respected or undermined.

The most striking aspects of the whole saga, captured well by Lucie Morris-Marr, are:

  1. The way that powerful interests worked to initially suppress the news of the accusations against Pell, and then to discredit those involved, and finally and bizarrely to still sing the praises of the convicted paedophile. Pell was known for his right-wing social attitudes on a range of issues. I doubt the likes of Howard and Abbott would have been supportive of a priest such as Father Rod Bower (Gosford Anglican) if he had been convicted of the same offences.
  2. That News Corporation is a vindictive, biased organisation only interested in stories that support its worldview (but you knew that already, didn’t you).
  3. That the Catholic Church has a long, dark history of sexual abuse and of doing everything in its power to hide the abuse, putting its own reputation above the welfare of children.

Morris-Marr starts at almost the end – the day when the jury’s verdicts on the four charges against Cardinal George Pell, are to be announced.

She then goes back three years to the start of her involvement in the story, when she was working as a freelance reporter for News Corporation. She finds out that there is police task force investigating accusations of sexual assault of minors by Pell, and then that Pell is to be charged with the offences. Initially News Corp are delighted to have such a scoop, and splash it on the front page of the Courier-Mail. However, things quickly turn sour when Pell’s powerful connections, including Andrew Bolt, move to have the story squashed. Morris-Marr finds herself without a job and, by the sound of it, having a nervous breakdown.

However, she finds support from CNN and The New Daily, and is back on the trail of Pell. Despite a suppression order preventing publicity of the trials, she doggedly attends every day of the initial trial, which ended without a verdict, and the retrial. She takes us through Pell’s life from young sporting hero, to seminarian, to his meteoric rise to become the third most powerful person in the Catholic Church. At one stage he was even spoken of as a possible Pope.

Her account of his time in Ballarat, where he shared a residence with notorious paedophile Gerard Ridsdale is most revealing. It seems inconceivable that Pell was unaware of the horrendous activities going on in the same building where he lived. One victim says that while she was being raped by Ridsdale, a man, most likely Pell, walked past the open doorway and did nothing to intervene. There are also accounts of Pell fondling boys at the swimming pool, and of being warned off by a man who witnessed him standing naked in front of small boys.

She also recounts his handling of historical clerical sexual abuse for the Church, establishing the so-called Melbourne Response. Many victims of abuse were deeply dissatisfied with, even traumatised, by the way in which they were treated by the Church under Pell’s management.

But Pell was not on trial for turning a blind eye to abuse, nor for his alleged involvement with boys at a swimming pool. He was on trial for assaulting two choir boys in the priests’ sacristy at Melbourne Cathedral. One of the boys committed suicide as an adult, before the assault came to trial. It is the evidence of the second boy, whose name has been closely guarded, which formed the main case against Pell. This evidence was presented only to the jury and no transcripts were released. There is thus an unavoidable gap in the story.

The picture of Pell presented here is of an ambitious, determined, conservative man with very powerful friends. The book also presents a picture of a legal system within which the wheels of justice grind slowly but relentlessly towards a resolution.

Pedant alert. The book was rushed out in the wake of the guilty verdict. Inevitably there are typos and other grammatical errors (in my ebook edition at least) which hopefully will be fixed in later editions . e.g. “Tony Abbot”, “in other incidences”, “juggling an eggshell”, “the cardinal just put his dead down”, the quotation from Howard’s letter not put in quotation marks.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

TV Mini-Series – Catch-22

It must be 40 years since I read Joseph Heller’s classic. I’m sure that many people younger than me who use / misuse the term “catch-22” have never heard of Heller, let alone read the book. This six-part mini-series, directed by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Ellen Kuras, is a brilliant adaptation of the novel. It’s so long since I read the book, I cannot, however, attest to its faithfulness to the original.

What I can say is that it is in equal parts moving, hilarious, farcical, depressing, cynical and, I suspect, very accurate, in relation to the reality of war. The main role of John Yossarian (‘Yo-Yo’) is a played by Christopher Abbott. Abbott manages to capture Yo-Yo’s endearing combination of intelligence, naiveté, passion, bravery, compassion, humour and sensitivity. His facial expressions in particular are highly skilled and the camera close-ups on his face are a key part of setting the tone of the production. It’s one of those performances which make it hard for anyone else to play the role.

Clooney has a significant part as the eccentric Scheisskopf. Almost stealing the show is Daniel David Stewart as Milo Minderbinder, the fast talking but lovable budding capitalist, who finds the most inventive ways of making money out of war (presaging perhaps the rise of disaster capitalism, Bechtel, Halliburton etc.). Hugh Laurie appears early on, including the central role in one of the funniest scenes in the whole series. Not all of the characters are funny and likeable however, and the cruelty of war is represented, though perhaps not as fully as it might be.

Yossarian finds himself trapped in a paradise island off the coast of Italy, which the U.S. army air force is using as a base to bomb the German forces on the mainland. His life consists of contrasting periods – swimming in pristine waters, boredom awaiting the next mission and the nightmare of being a sitting target in a bomber aircraft flying over Italy. The erosion of his sanity progresses steadily until the last episode, in which the viewer is confronted with the full horror and futility of war and the contorted logic of those in command.

Highly recommended.


copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

Book Review: What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché

What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and ResistanceWhat You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This brilliant book is Carolyn Forché’s memoir, concentrating on the time she spent in war-torn El Salvador in the late 1970s, and how, incredibly, she became involved with that country. Most people who have heard of Forché will have read her brilliant poem “The Colonel”, (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem…). This is not a book of poetry, it is the story of how a poet becomes active in the fight against a brutal military dictatorship, how she became a “poet of witness”.

I was pretty much unaware of the civil war in El Salvador until seeing the moving film Romero thirty years ago – it depicts the life and death of the charismatic Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8G27j…)

Forché was at home in her apartment in southern California, when a complete stranger, accompanied by his two daughters, knocks on her door, having driven from El Salvador specifically to meet her. At the time, Forché was “a one-book poet in her 20s”. The stranger, Leonel Gómez, turns out to be a cousin of a friend of Forché. He proceeds, over three days, to educate her on the history of central America, drawing stick figures and pencil maps on butchers paper on her dining table. Gómez tells her that a war as big as Vietnam is about to erupt in El Salvador, and that he wants her, as a poet, to witness and record the events. Amazingly, Forché agrees to go to El Salvador. This book is the story of what she witnessed.

Even at the end of the book, it is not 100% clear who Leonel Gómez is. He appears to have a foot in both the military and the guerrilla camps, whilst both sides suspect him of being a CIA agent. He deliberately cultivates uncertainty by being seen to spend time with ambassadors, politicians, churchmen, nuns, campesinos (the poor farmers struggling to survive under near starvation conditions) and members of the resistance. In turn, he encourages Forché to cultivate the same air of mystery as a means of discouraging attacks on her by the right wing death squads that roam El Salvador. What she does know is that Gómez is a coffee farmer, and a man determined to open her eyes to what is going on in front of her. Through Gómez she is able to meet officers in the highest levels of the military, to visit sites of massacres, to narrowly avoid being shot on several occasions, to spend time with the nuns, priests and hierarchy in the Catholic Church who are speaking up against the repression of the campesinos. As usual, the role of the U.S.A. in propping up the brutal right wing military regime as a bulwark against supposed communism, is central to the chaotic situation.

This is a gripping and moving memoir for anyone interested in the history of Central America, the terrible disruption caused by U.S.A. foreign policy and the role that poetry can play in bearing witness to awful events.

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Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

TV Review: “A Very English Scandal”

If you lived in the U.K. in the ’70s, you would have been enthralled by the “Jeremy Thorpe Affair”. Thorpe was leader of the Liberal Party, a party which was truly liberal and not hard right-wing like the Australian party of the same name. Thorpe was, I think, generally regarded as a good guy by progressive people. If there was preferential voting in the U.K. I might have voted Labour 1, Liberals 2. He was anti-hanging, pro-immigrant, pro-Europe and critical of oppressive regimes such as South Africa and Rhodesia.

This three-part series starts at the time when Thorpe was doing well, and close to gaining significant power. The scandal that brought him down was his affair with Norman Scott, which developed into a serious relationship, but later turned ugly.

Thorpe is played by Hugh Grant and Scott by Ben Whishaw. It is based on a “true-life novel” by John Preston. I’m no fan of Hugh Grant but he makes a great Thorpe. Grant has an uncanny facial likeness to Thorpe (see below), although at times his English upper-class mannerisms kept reminding me of Hugh Laurie’s Prince George in “Blackadder”.

jeremy-thorpe-and-hugh-grant-d122798

Whishaw also does well as Scott. It’s impossible to know if Scott really was as effeminate as portrayed, and again, at times, the mannerisms were very “Ooh Betty” / “Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em”. Nevertheless, it is a performance of great sensitivity, and I emerged having a great deal of sympathy for both Scott and Thorpe.

This is a gripping series, worth watching as a thriller even if you don’t know the background to the events.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019

Image: https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2019-01-15/the-real-history-behind-a-very-english-scandal-and-the-jeremy-thorpe-affair/

Book Review: “Milkman” by Anna Burns

MilkmanMilkman by Anna Burns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Milkman” was a Christmas present from my sister, who lives in Northern Ireland. It’s a perhaps contentious winner of the 2018 Booker Prize. It’s drawn a mixed critical reception and at least one friend has told me it’s “terrible”. Well, in one sense it is “terrible” in that it ingeniously gets inside the head of a young woman living through terrible times: The Troubles. I think I’m right in saying that no place names, and only one character name (Peggy) are used in the whole the book. We never learn the name of the main character. She is referred to as “third sister”. Other family members are Ma, Da, Wee Sisters, Eldest sister, third brother-in-law, Somebody McSomebody, maybe-boyfriend etc. Her persecutor, “Milkman” is not a real milkman, but there is another character called “real milkman”, also referred to under other names such as “the man who didn’t love anybody”. Belfast is not mentioned, but I’m assuming the action takes place in that city, where Anna Burns’ grew up. Places are referred to obtusely: top-end reservoir, the ten-minute area, most-popular-drinking club, the hutment.

What Burns does brilliantly is to capture the insularity, the suspicion, the distrust, the incestuousness of that city at that time. She shows how people shut down, conform, deny and are prepared to believe the worst of other people. In particular she shows how a woman can be intimidated by a stalker with little effort by the stalker himself. The menacing figure of the Milkman appears only a handful of times in the book, and yet looms over her as an ever-present threat, reinforced by the gossip and mean-spiritedness of the community. A woman who reads a book in public, a man who is interested in cooking, another man who collects pieces of British cars are all regarded with suspicion, as “beyond the pale”. Intimidation by armed men, whether Army or paramilitaries also pervades the community. Violent deaths and suicides are everyday events. Men believe they can bully women into submission. Women are drawn to violent men.

This is not necessarily an easy read, although there is a great deal of humour throughout. Perhaps it requires some knowledge of The Troubles to appreciate the achievement of portraying those times. But I think she has done it brilliantly.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2019




View all my reviews

Parliament House – Cleaning Contractor Report

Parliament House – Cleaning Contractor Report

August 24th 2018

Claim for Additional Payment

 

Our monthly charge for cleaning Parliament House covers the items, areas and services recorded in our contract (CC2018PD345/13). This additional claim is submitted for the extraordinary work of cleaning and refurbishment on the evening of August 24th 2018, identified herewith:

  • Large bloodstained areas around, under and immediately behind the front bench.
  • Deep incisions in the furniture inflicted by several sharp instruments.
  • Blood spatter on walls. More than usual.
  • Several areas of severe soakage, some still warm (urine?), others cold (tears?)
  • Around the opposition benches, also areas of severe soakage (tears of laughter?).
  • Deep indentations on walls and the backs of seats, as if inflicted by members’ foreheads.
  • Extensive deep drag marks in the carpets leading to the exits, as if a body, maybe several bodies had been pulled, heels down, out of the building, to be disposed of.
  • Unusual amounts of rotten tomatoes, banana skins and crumpled ransom notes.
  • Several piles of vomit in the public gallery.
  • Most difficult to deal with are the heaps of excrement. They resemble those found at another of our clients, an abattoir, at the point where animals realise their fate.

We attach our bill for additional payment, in the amount of $22,000, due to the need to call in specialist staff and equipment to deal with the above, and to provide trauma counselling to those staff.

Yours Faithfully,

 

 

 

__________________________

F. Carpenter
Manager, Canberra Corporate Cleaning Pty. Ltd

 

 

 

 


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018

Note to Australian Federal Police - this is a work of fiction
Special thanks to Rachael Mead for the workshop in which this was drafted.

The day I cheered Robert Mugabe

It was around January 1982. I had gone to Zimbabwe in 1981 to help the company I was working for, Memory Ireland, to establish a branch there. Memory was a fast growing Irish computer company. I was a software developer. They had a director who had been raised in Rhodesia. When Rhodesia became Zimbabwe in 1980, Memory thought it would be a good base from which to expand sales into developing African economies. Their intentions were not philanthropic. Memory was an entrepreneurial company in the worst sense of the word.

So I put my hand up for a four-month stint in the recently independent Zimbabwe. In my early days in Zimbabwe, I stayed in various house-shares and house-sits. I recall this particular time doing a house-sit for a bloke called Derek Bardot. I remember the name, of course, because of the beautiful actor of the same surname. I also recall that the house came with a cook and a gardener, whose names, I think, were Stephen and Crispin. Stephen and Crispin lived in breeze-block structures at the bottom of the garden, the other side of the swimming pool. I was curious about everything in this exotic country. I was in my late twenties. I was idealistic. I was socialist. I was vehemently anti-apartheid. I was unsure about having a cook and a gardener dedicated to looking after me. I fraternised with them, which was frowned on by the white “Rhodies”, as the remaining whites in Zimbabwe were called.

One Sunday morning, Stephen and Crispin were dressed in street clothes, as opposed to their uniforms (Stephen usually wore a white cook’s outfit, Crispin a green gardener’s outfit). I asked them what was happening and they informed me they were going to a ZANU-PF rally at nearby Borrowdale, where Mugabe would be speaking. I asked them if I could come and they were unsure, but when I said I’d drive them there, they agreed. First we drove to Borrowdale shopping centre to a cafe and drank Cokes from the old-fashioned curly glass bottles. I remember I played them at table football, which I used to be pretty good at. I won, several times, to the great amusement of the assembled African onlookers. This was a cafe not frequented by Rhodies.

Then we went to Borrowdale, to a “vlei”, an open, grass area  that can turn marshy in the wet, but was dry and flat at this time. A large crowd had already assembled. There might have been a few other whites there but I don’t recall seeing any. The ZANU  Youth arrived, running from one side in a phalanx, with flags flying (picture below). A ZANU  official was rousing the crowd with some oratory in Shona, of which I only understood the odd word, such as “victory”, “people” and “ZANU”.

I don’t remember how Mugabe arrived, but in those days he always travelled in a large black limousine, preceded and followed by armed soldiers and police outriders, sirens blaring. You got off the road in a hurry if you saw one of these motorcades coming. He must have been delivered to the back of the stage directly from his limo.

In the picture above, which I took from within the crowd, Mugabe is seated on the wooden stage. I’ve put an arrow over his head. I’m not sure who the crowd warmer-upper is, but it would have been a senior ZANU official. I recall Mugabe speaking. He was, is an orator. He is a highly educated, intelligent man, an ex-teacher. Like Nelson Mandela, he languished in prison for years as punishment for resisting white oppression. Like Mandela he spent that time furthering his education, burnishing his political ideas, gaining several university degrees by correspondence.

Mugabe knew how to get a crowd going. He spoke only in Shona, so I’ve no idea what he said, but he soon had the crowd shouting “Pamberi, Pamberi” (forward, forward) in unison, fists pumping the air. It was an impressive performance, and I have to admit, that with Crispin and Stephen’s encouragement, I joined in with the fist pumping and slogan-shouting.

This was early in Mugabe’s reign. He was Prime-Minister in those days. Canaan Banana was President (yes, really, it was President Banana). Mugabe had some similarities to Mandela. He said that he wanted to retain white expertise to keep the economy strong. He said he wanted to improve the lot of the masses of poor Zimbabweans. He was strongly committed to improving the education system. Even now, Zimbabwe has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.

In those days, the Zimbabwe dollar was worth about one U.S. dollar or about 75 pence. Now it is a joke currency, which you can’t exchange for anything.  Theoretically you need 363 Zimbabwe dollars to buy US$1, but I’d be surprised if you found any takers.

Mugabe still had a war mindset in those days, was obsessed with the threats from his perceived enemies, especially Joshua Nkomo and the murky, capitalist foreign governments that he was convinced were trying to undermine Zimbabwe. There were signs then of his ruthlessness. I recall nurses going on strike for better wages and conditions. He sent his ZANU  Youth (think Hitler Youth), to round them up on the backs of trucks, take them to remote camps and ‘re-educate’ them.

I don’t think Mugabe ever got out of this liberation war mindset. I doubt if his successor, Mnangagwa, has got out of it either. If you weren’t involved in the great struggle against the whites in the war, if you are not a veteran, then you have not earned a stake in the new Zimbabwe. If you are not for us, you are against us. This constant battle against perceived enemies, internal and external, is prioritised over any concern for developing the economy or providing decent housing and infrastructure for the people. It also comes with a sense of entitlement, which is used to justify diverting millions and millions of dollars into their off-shore bank accounts (allegedly).

My four-month stint eventually turned into four years in Zimbabwe and Malawi. I ended up as General Manager of the Zimbabwe company, but work permits were becoming harder and harder to renew and foreign currency had all but dried up. Memory’s few business ethics were being further eroded. Mugabe was showing his true colours. I got out in 1985 and returned to Ireland, where the economy had nose-dived and Memory was rapidly going bust.

A few years ago, when he was apparently on his death-bed, I wrote a poem about him, “Robert Mugabe’s Last Words“. No doubt he’ll die in some luxurious foreign hospital in one of those countries where deposed dictators go to die. I’m still waiting to hear his last words, but don’t expect them to include “sorry” or “I fucked up didn’t I?”

 

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Copyright Mike Hopkins 2017