CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses and references child sexual assault.

Despite my bottomless contempt for Australia’s god-awful conservative establishment, I have to admit even I am surprised by the angle they’ve taken on George Pell’s child sexual abuse conviction. Almost without fail, the ones who aren’t remaining utterly silent have gone all in, defending the disgraced cardinal, openly saying the crimes in question were impossible, and castigating the victims as liars.

Truly fascinating that the vaunted pantheon of right-wing warriors – who consider themselves the lone defenders of morality in the swamp of the modern world – are willing to equivocate when it comes to a jury conviction for child rape.

First there was Andrew Bolt, who despite not actually being the courtroom for the trial, has come to the conclusion that Pell’s abuses were impossible. Oh, and he thinks that Pell is just too inherently good and smart to do something like this:

On top of that, the man I know seems not just incapable of such abuse, but so intelligent and cautious that he would never risk his brilliant career and good name on such a mad assault in such a public place.

Then came Miranda Devine, a long-time defender of both Pell and the Catholic Church’s abysmal handling of its child sexual abuse scandals, who believes the cardinal is innocent and is only being targeted because of his conservatism on Church teachings:

They hate him because he is a conservative Catholic, the implacable enemy who stood in the way of “progress” in the Church. While fellow Catholics crumbled and appeased, he unequivocally defended Church teachings and refused to compromise over gay marriage, euthanasia, abortion, or wedge issues such as communion for divorcees. And now they think they’ve won.

She did make sure to mention that she means no harm to real victims of child sexual abuse when she calls this particular victim a liar. Nice one, Miranda!

I’m very sorry if my defence of Pell upsets victims of child sexual abuse. What has happened to them is monstrous and no punishment is enough for the evil paedophiles who infiltrated the church, masquerading as men of God and preyed on its innocents. But making a martyr of an innocent man won’t right those wrongs. It just compounds the evil.

The Australian has run an op-ed from Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, who sees the conviction of Pell as not just an attack on the Church but also the standards of justice broadly.

It is not whether you like or loathe Pell, or even whether you think he is innocent or guilty. What matters is whether we have a system of justice that is exposed to extraneous pressure whenever some media outlet or social media alliance decides that someone is or is not innocent.

What the last year has shown is that the justice system can be systematically assaulted from the outside in a conscious attempt to make a fair trial impossible. This should terrify every citizen, because every citizen is a potential defendant.

And it should probably come as no surprise that anti-LGBTQ crusader Lyle Shelton is dissembling the verdict in his uniquely slimy way.

What infuriates – especially when it comes to Bolt, Devine and their crew – is that this staggering benefit of the doubt would absolutely never be extended to anyone else in a similar position.

Bolt made his celebrity in Australian media on attacks on Indigenous people, none of whom he would ever defend in pained op-eds about the quality of their character. Can you imagine him being so magnanimous in defending the African gangs he claims have taken over Melbourne? Do you think he would ask for this kind of pause before rattling off a justification for the Northern Territory Intervention? Of course not. But when it comes to an elderly conservative convicted of child sexual assault, all bets are off.

Ditto for Devine, who has never met an elite Catholic she wouldn’t defend to the end of the earth. The truth of the matter is simple and eternal: there’s a different standard of moral conduct permitted when you’re talking about your mates. Many people are liable to think that way on reflex, but few would take it to the level of denying child rape in the newspaper.

It’s pretty clear to see why they’re throwing everything behind Pell. Firstly, the cardinal has appealed his conviction, and they likely think he’ll be vindicated. But there’s a lot more at stake here for these people: the conviction of Australia’s most prominent social conservative clergyman for the most debased of crimes basically invalidates their worldview. It’s hard to keep railing against progressivism when the core of your morality is wrapped up in the conduct of a literal paedophile. So they deny, deny, deny, up until every avenue of appeal is exhausted.

This whole tortured exercise exposes the moral emptiness of Australian conservatives. They don’t have real beliefs. They don’t give a shit. What they have is a white-hot core of resentment, and they’ll keep perpetuating it, even if it means standing on the side of a convicted child abuser.