Move FM Australian News

Chorister’s evidence used to combat Pell defence

Feb 11, 2020

In their submission to the High Court the Crown often refer to evidence from the choir members “hostile” to Pell, including Andrew La Greca.i He only received five mentions in the August ruling, including the annexure (which shows that he was the same age as the complainant). His evidence was that Pell would “sometimes … just wait and speak to the congregation. … Other times he might have just kept on walking with us. I can’t recall exactly.” (282) Also, “as the procession approached the metal gate, it became ‘a little less orderly,’ in the sense that the two lines were no longer as straight as they had previously been, and people were talking to each other.” (779)

But the Crown mentions La Greca fifteen times. In their submission we also learn that he had not been to the sacristies which were off limits; that when Pell joined the procession it was more dignified; that he would sometimes go to the Choir Room after Mass; that at times some boys had left the procession; and that when he was late for rehearsals there would be no impediment to his return; indeed, La Greca even remembers that the glass door was sometimes propped up by a doorstop. This was a useful piece of information for the Crown as, in the narrative of the choristers’ return, it was objected that the boys would have to pass through two locked doors. Presumably this makes the solid obstacle a little less solid.

It is, however, a little surprising that, after twenty years, when recalling that excitable time after choir, rushing to get home, one still remembers a doorstop. Surely this is as peculiar as someone bothering to look up such a thing in an online encyclopaedia.ii In itself such too-good-to-be-true recollection raises suspicions, and perhaps calls out for a critical look at La Greca.

La Greca was cross-examined on day 17 of the trial, and we learn that Robert Richter accused him of “changing quite a few things since committal.”iii Later he would take a day off sick. It’s interesting to note that, as Lucie Morris-Marr seems to record, the police took an early interest in the choristers, or at least they were of interest before the altar servers were:

Later, Victoria Police Detective Sergeant Chris Reed took to the stand to be cross-examined by Pell’s barrister Robert Richter.

Asked why altar servers were not initially questioned by police, Mr Reed said: “We were interested in the choirboys initially.”

Mr Reed revealed it wasn’t until June 2017 they started identifying a list of choirboys from the era when the attacks took place.iv

This last paragraph must have a typological mistake and instead I take it to mean:

Mr Reed revealed it wasn’t until June 2017 they started identifying a list of altar servers from the era when the attacks took place.

The reason why the police were not interested in the altar servers at first, surely, was that although they formed part of the procession, originally the police did not even think in terms of a procession the complainant did not mention it prior to October 2016. But it seems probable that the police had tried to contact choristers.

The police put out a call for information in December 2015v when Detective Sergeant Doug Smith was head of Sano. He retired in March (Presumably his last act was to arrange the walk-through on 29 March 2016). It would seem natural for Smith to have drawn up a list, and possibly to have contacted La Greca. However, if he did this makes La Greca more suspicious.

According to Louise Milligan, with her colleague Andy Burns she drew up a list of around thirty choristers in May 2016.vii She says she contacted La Greca (who was not identified in the 2017 edition) and asked about the other boy who had died. So as not to colour his recall, she offered a random choice of names, but after a while La Greca named R. Obviously, if La Greca had already been in touch with Smith such hesitation and gradual recall must be regarded as disingenuous. Moreover, on Twitter we find that La Greca can remember R’s cheeky smile, and even their interactions on the train which was slightly surprising as it seems as though J and R’s parents car-shared. This rather suggests that La Greca was not quite as unfamiliar as Milligan makes out.

Again, when one looks closely, one finds that the person presented by Milligan does not quite match what we learned from the trial. In 2016 the (sole) value of La Greca in 2016 for Milligan is that he gives evidence of R’s sudden decline,viii but it becomes clear that La Greca is a star witness for the ABC journalist as no other chorister is. Later on La Greca appears on TV indeed, alongside Doug Smith, and also Bernard Barrett, the victims’ support advocate to whom J went late in 2014. Barrett gets a brief mention in Milligan’s 2017 edition in relation to Phil Scott, but apart from that nothing.ix Neither does Smith get mentioned in Cardinal: The Inside Story. So we can guess that Smith, Barrett, and La Greca are all closer to Milligan than she would like to let on. For all these reasons, we might wonder whether it was Smith who provided Milligan and Burns with a list of choristers. Milligan tells us herself that she was in contact with Detective David Raex (to whom the complainant, without notes, gave his original police statement), and it does seem a little surprising that the two journalists could do in a month what the police could not do in nine I certainly, have found no easily accessible public source for the information that the pair gathered.

In any case, La Greca does appear to have close links to Smith as La Greca manages to like Smith’s first ever tweet after the trial which is surprising as, to repeat, Smith had apparently retired a couple of months before La Greca came on the scene.xi

The message we get from TV is misleading. For example, La Greca was not “one of the older boys in the choir” he was the same age. Another curious point regards the fact that in the early accounts the crime does not appear to have been situated after Mass nor is there any mention of wine-swigging. Milligan writes that The Kid told R’s mother, “He told me that himself and [my son] used to play in the back of the church in the closed-off rooms,” she says. In the cathedral? I ask her, “In the cathedral, yep. And um, they got sprung by Archbishop Pell and he locked the door and he made them perform oral sex.” The picture here is not of a busy Sunday, but perhaps of a Thursday choir practice. This chimes with La Greca, “It’s a big church, there’s lots of space, anyone can get lost.” But the snag with this story is that Pell did not live near the Cathedral, and so was only on site for events such as Sunday Mass. For this reason the story had to give, and we discover that it was news to Pell when the police met with him in Rome to find the allegations pertained to a Sunday.

In this context La Greca’s remarks are intriguing: “It was just George Pell, the Archbishop. The priest that lives at the church, he came to visit us. We didn’t know if he lived there, lived somewhere else, but we just assume because it’s the Archbishop, he lives at the church and used to be around listening to the choir. Coming passed to say hello, say thank you. We thought of it as a mark of respect that used to take notice of us.”xii La Greca is referring to Pell implausibly just dropping in on the choir (information that is quite absent from Milligan’s reports). But why bother to mention the tacit assumption about where Pell lived? To my mind this reads as a clumsy attempt to cover up for the blunder. At any rate, it cannot be said that La Greca is a disinterested witness he describes Pell as a monster.

What, then, are we to make of that doorstop? It is, of course, quite possible that twenty years ago a doorstop was used besides the glass door to the Knox Centre. Perhaps others can recall it too, though the Crown offers no corroboration. There again, perhaps the defence were justified in thinking that La Greca was just making things up.

The Crown puts La Greca’s evidence forward as part of their “substantial” case the point being that he undermines the solid obstacles. His evidence: reinforces the message that the complainant had direct knowledge of the sacristy that shows he must have been there; gives the lie to the claim that Pell always stayed on the steps; increases the probability that two choirboys could leave the procession; and as we have seen, enables them to return to rehearsals unimpeded. However, taken together these selective memories seem a little too convenient, and make us wonder whether they can be explained by coaching behind the scenes. Insofar as this hypothesis is plausible the same questions can be asked by those of the choir who gave similar evidence. Arguably, then, and taking in the whole of the evidence, the case of La Greca points once again to Pell’s innocence.

Such, of course, are among the questions that the High Court must determine, and perhaps after this, a public inquiry.

i ii

v For police were “appealing for information in relation to allegations of child sexual assault of an unknown number of male victims who were 14 years of age at the time.” supposedly-cleaning-up-its-act-20151223-glubxd.html See also news/2015/dec/23/victoria-police-seek-victims-of-sexual-assault-at-st-patricks-cathedral – “the victims were reportedly 14.” And again, under-police-investigation/news- story/6633cab3e77f51ab891f45ac08955c31?utm_content=SocialFlow&utm_campaign=EditorialSF&utm_sour ce=HeraldSun&utm_medium=Twitter

Note, originally stated that the assault happened in his second and final year, in 1997 aged 14. For a discussion:
vi On Smith, see this early note: Richter had crossed swords with Smith over the Theophanous case, in which Smith had spent hours coaching the “victim.” On the editing of police statements in the Lawyer X case (Nicola Gobbo): gloucester-public-hearings—closing-submission—improper-statement-taking-practices—28-february- 2019.pdf?sfvrsn=adda65ae_2 day-12-transcript-(afternoon)—25-february-2019.pdf?sfvrsn=8b83ab55_2 day-13-transcript-(morning)—26-february.pdf?sfvrsn=c2657853_4
vii Louise Milligan, Cardinal. The rise and fall of George Pell: The Inside Story (Melbourne: University Press, 2017) 348,358. Louise Milligan, Cardinal. The rise and fall of George Pell: new revelations (Melbourne: University Press, 2019) see index under La Greca.
viii After the trial it seems that La Greca is far more substantial in offering damning evidence against Pell, but Milligan never breathes a word of this in her 2017 edition.
ix In many ways the Southwell inquiry is the antecedent to the allegations of 1996. Here see:

x Milligan [2019], 299, 334.

(The writer Doctor Chris Friel taught maths for many years before undertaking, first, a masters in Philosophy, and second, doctoral research on value and credibility in the thought of Bernard Lonergan. In 2018 he investigated at length the “purposely timed hysteria” of the pro-Israel hawks in the UK amidst the antisemitism crisis, and commencing in 2019 has devoted an equally lengthy exploration of the Cardinal George Pell case and its context).

Also by Chris Friel:

The Pell case – “Having reviewed the whole of the evidence…”

Cardinal Pell’s Innocence or Guilt – now a matter for the High Court

Credibility of George Pell accuser under scrutiny

A Critique of Ferguson and Maxwell

How the Interview Changed the Story

Cardinal George Pell learned of charges against him in Rome Interview

Related story: High Court of Appeal in Australia to review conviction of Cardinal

Facebook Comment