Leaked documents show that senior police officials in the Australian state of Victoria discussed by email the way that their 2014 investigation into Cardinal George Pell could deflect public scrutiny from an emerging corruption scandal in the police force.
The Catholic News Agency reports that “in a 2014 email exchange, then-Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton and Charlie Morton, assistant director of media and corporate communications for the Victoria police department, discussed how to respond to a high-profile scandal which would hamper the credibility of Victoria police operations.”
According to the report, an email dated April 1, 2014, Morton advised Ashton not to make a media appearance in response to the “Lawyer X” scandal, because forthcoming announcements about Cardinal Pell could distract media and public attention. The email said“The Pell stuff is coming tomorrow and will knock this way off the front page,” Morton wrote to Ashton. Unless there are some serious appeals from convicted [criminals] which might get up as a result of this, then I can’t see this continuing with the same level of profile.”
The reference to news about Pell being used to deflect negative coverage came just two months after Pope Francis had appointed Pell to reform Vatican financial affairs, placing him in charge of the newly-created Prefecture for the Economy in February, 2014.
The emails emerged earlier this week as Ashton, now Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, gave evidence at a Royal Commission inquiry into the use of police sources and the Lawyer X scandal, in which criminal defense lawyer Nicola Gobbo was recruited to work as an informant against members of the Calabrian mafia, while she was representing several of them as an attorney.
The email exchange between Ashton and Morton came after a news radio host in Melbourne referred on air to the about-to-break story as one of the “biggest law and order scandals in [Victoria state] history” and predicting it could result in “killers walking free.”
In 2017, Pell was charged with sexually abusing two minors. He was convicted in 2018 on the evidence of a single victim-accuser, the second supposed victim died of a heroin overdose on April 8, 2014 – one week after the Victoria police email exchange. That second victim had denied on several occasions that he was sexually abused by Pell.
The cardinal’s conviction was upheld on appeal by the Victoria Supreme Court in August. The Australian High Court will hear Pell’s appeal of that decision in 2020.
Since the court gag order was lifted in 2019, the Lawyer X scandal has tainted successive chiefs of the Victoria police force, all of whom were aware of Gobbo’s role a mob informer and practicing criminal lawyer.