George Pell sentenced today.., page-2

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    The psychological reason why some can't believe the evidence against George Pell and Michael Jackson
    By Rachael Sharman
    Updated about 2hrs ago

    Supporters have had trouble believing the claims against both George Pell and Michael Jackson. (AAP, Reuters)
    Have you ever experienced disbelief when someone you cared for betrays you?

    Perhaps a long-time, trusted friend sold you a lemon but rather than tarnish this important friendship you tried anything to think your way out of the dilemma: "They must have been misled themselves"; "There is no way they would have done this deliberately"; "They must not have realised…".

    The feeling of pain when something contradicts long-held beliefs is called cognitive dissonance.

    It helps to explain why some people refuse to accept the court's conviction of George Pell for child sex abuse against two choirboys.

    In a very different case this week, we have seen similar backlash to the child grooming and abuse claims against Michael Jackson in the documentary Leaving Neverland.

    Protestors picketed the Leaving Neverland screening at the Sundance Film Festival in January. (AP: Danny Moloshok)
    It's extremely common
    There is unlikely to be a human being on earth who hasn't experienced cognitive dissonance and searched for ways to think their way free of this dissonance, or in other words, to make the bad feelings go away.

    The responses we are seeing from people who simply cannot believe in the possibility of criminal behaviour from well-known people like Pell — who has appealed his conviction and denies that abuse —and Jackson is extremely common.

    Jesus warned against men like Pell

    In so many ways, Cardinal George Pell was the archetypal Pharisee, parroting strict dogmas while luxuriating in his superior sanctity, indifferent to the human toll, writes Robert Gascoigne.

    These reactions can have the unwitting effect of keeping powerful abusers safe.

    This very process can assist paedophiles, in particular, to rack up victims before they are ever suspected, let alone bought to justice.

    Here's how it works.

    You have a mental picture of someone based on your experience with that person who you may have known, respected and even loved for years.

    Suddenly, new information is presented that throws your entire conception of this individual into chaos.

    But here's the real kicker
    If you were so wrong about this person, what does that say about your character assessment of everyone else you know and love? It's a horrifying possibility — and too much for some to bear.

    Worse still, what if you have genuinely supported this individual through similar allegations, claims, or trials: what does that say about you? Have you thus tacitly supported their actions?

    This is where another psychological phenomena takes hold and allows behaviours to actually influence beliefs.

    If you publicly declare a person is innocent, you are more likely to believe it privately.

    Why was Pell's trial held in secret?[/paste:font]

    Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of child sex offences last year, in a courtroom full of journalists. So why is the verdict only being made public now?

    Consider further, the mental chaos it would cause her in reflecting on all of her relationships and character judgements to date. It is emotionally safer to believe the police must have set him up, no matter how absurd this assessment is to a detached onlooker.

    Family divisions that follow one member being outed as a perpetrator are alarmingly common.

    Many victims are shocked to discover that when they put forth their allegations, rather than being met with compassion and care, they find themselves ostracised from the family.

    Families can find it easier to save face by casting the accuser as a liar, insane, or having a hidden agenda, than to oust a more powerful perpetrator — who will likely take with them resources, connections and years of genuinely loving and positive relationships with other family members that they are loathe to lose.

    Accusers are left in no doubt that in disclosing their experience they will bear the full responsibility for "tearing the family apart" and are further guilted into silence to preserve family image/identity and harmony.

    Human response that can cause pain
    When we see powerful individuals defending figures of similar power or status, we are witnessing a fairly standard human response to conflicting and distressing information.

    What is more concerning is the denouncement of victims as "wicked" or crazed/confused or carrying out some ulterior agenda.

    Those who are unable to accept unpalatable evidence should think twice about declaring their cognitive dissonance publicly, and instead keep their psychological pain to themselves. It pales into insignificance next to the pain they are causing to others by airing it.

    Rachael Sharman is a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
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