The ban was dropped in February, 2019, after prosecutors abandoned the Ballarat charges, admitting there was not enough evidence to go to trial.
Despite the order, several international outlets, including CNA, carried news of the trial and verdict in 2018, in some cases blocking that coverage from appearing online in Australia in order to comply with the court order.
Domestic media in Australia mostly complied with the court order, though some media outlets reported that an unnamed high-profile individual had been convicted on unreportable charges.
The Herald Sun newspaper ran a December 12 cover story under the headline “CENSORED” which said that “the world is reading a very important story that is relevant to Victorians.”
“The Herald Sun is prevented from publishing details of this significant news,” the front page read. “But trust us, it is a story you deserve to read.”
Coverage like that, according to Victoria prosecutors, amounted to offering support to overseas outlets in contempt of court.
At the time of Pell’s conviction, Judge Peter Kidd, who presided over the initial trial, said that “a number of very important people in the media are facing, if found guilty, the prospect of imprisonment and indeed substantial imprisonment, and it may well be that many significant members of the media community are in that potential position,” for violating the gag order.
On April 15, Victoria County Court held a first hearing in an effort by state prosecutors to bring charges against journalists and news outlets, including some of the largest names in Australian media, including The Age newspaper and several News Corp publications.
The next hearing it set for July.
The state of Victoria has faced sustained criticism for the use of suppression orders by the state’s courts.
Despite an Open Courts Act passed in 2013 aimed at improving judicial transparency, Victorian courts issued more than 1500 suppression orders between 2014-2016.
CNA has previously reported that in 2014, senior police in Victoria discussed using an investigation into Cardinal Pell to distract media attention from serious allegations of corruption in the force.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
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.
In 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 Pell stuff is coming tomorrow and will knock this way off the front page,” Morton wrote to Ashton.
In 2013, Victoria Police opened Operation Tethering, an open-ended investigation into possible crimes by Cardinal Pell, although no victims had come forward against him and there had been no criminal complaints made against him at the time. Although they had found no victims or criminal accusations, in 2015 the program was expanded and put on a more formal footing.
Ashton, is now the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police. In 2019 he 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.
Much of Gobbo's work as a lawyer was with Australian members of the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia organization, which has established a deep presence both in Victoria and across the country, with allegations of multi-million dollar bribes to judges and close connections to local Victorian politicians in both political parties.