Nobody in Australia has been more vilified publicly than Cardinal George Pell. Even worse, most of the vilification has come through or aided by great Australian companies or organizations at the head of which has been, and still is, the billion-dollar government funded ABC (The Australian Broadcasting Corporation). The extent of the slander and abuse has baffled overseas people of standing, in the Church and academia, who know the Cardinal or have had dealings with him.
Of course, there are many people in Australia who have high regard for the Cardinal, but they are not often heard from. Others are reluctant to speak publicly because they know the same people who have destroyed the Cardinal will do their best to destroy them. Journalist Tess Livingstone is an exception. She has written two favourable books about Cardinal Pell and a number of articles. Below is one of those articles.
CARDINAL GEORGE PELL
By Tess Livingstone
WHEN HE PRAYS his daily Office — the psalms, scripture and prayers Catholic priests read every day from the Roman breviary — George Pell offers part of it for his accusers, including the man whose testimony was accepted by a jury in December, landing the cardinal into an isolation cell in a Melbourne jail.
“I pray for them. That’s what we’re supposed to do,” he told a friend a few weeks ago.
For all the vitriol hurled at Pell, supporters are outraged, anxious for his safety and distraught over what they are convinced is a gross miscarriage of justice.
This week’s release of his video interview with Victoria police in Rome in October 2016 was a telling development for those close to Pell, as well as for others who do not like him or his views but who recognise why the claims against him are so implausible. The interview was played to the juries in both trials.
Questioned by police about accusations that he abused two choir boys after Mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996, Pell looked and sounded gobsmacked. He rejected the grotesque, sacrilegious claims as “deranged falsehood” and “a load of garbage … in the sacristy after Mass? Need I say more?” The allegations, as he told police, involved “vile and disgusting conduct contrary to the explicit teachings of the Church, which I have spent my life representing”. They were made, he said, knowing he was the first bishop in the Western world to create a Church structure to “recognise, compensate and help heal the wounds inflicted by sexual abuse of children at the hands of some in the Catholic Church”.
Pell’s answers were succinct and clear, prompting his friends and outside observers to believe his defence would have been stronger had he taken the stand in court. In person. Pell is warmer, kinder and more humorous than he has appeared in media interviews in which, conscious of the responsibility of his position, he has measured his words carefully. The gender, softer side of his nature shone through in the character references presented in court.
Pell, who was brought up to keep a stiff upper lip in facing adversity, has been stoic since he arrived back in Australia, voluntarily, in July 2017 to face the music. “It wouldn’t do for me to fall apart. What would that achieve?” he told one friend. “My faith and my innocence” were sustaining him, he said. A few months ago, he said he was “beyond anger”. On occasions, the cardinal has referred to his protracted tribulations as “a small penance”.
A priest who has been close to Pell for 35 years says the cardinal is acutely conscious of the Church’s failings in dealing with child abuse and that his attitude to his personal ordeal is shaped by St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, which spoke of offering personal sufferings for the good of the Church. In the gaps between the committal hearing and the first and second trials. Pell, as always, had been reading extensively and writing. He also helped the Australian Catholic University establish scholarships to give Year 12 Catholic school leavers from Sydney the opportunity to study Western civilisation in Rome and London over summer vacations.
Topics covered include the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire; the first 1000 years of the Papacy; the rise of Islam and the Crusades; the Renaissance, the Reformation and Counter Reformation; the French Revolution; and the modern papacy from the 19th century to Francis.
Out and about in Sydney, he was also struck by the kindness of strangers who greeted him warmly “Many times”, he said, when he went to pay for a cup of coffee, he was touched to find a complete stranger had already done so.
While relatively rare, the imprisonment of a cardinal is not unknown. One of the most prominent Catholic cardinals jailed in the 20th century, coincidentally, was a boyhood hero of the young Pell, who was a history buff from an early age. As archbishop of Melbourne, Pell included Croatian cardinal Aloysius Stepinac (18981960) in the sculpture garden he created outside St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Stepinac who protected Croatian, Jewish, Serb and Slovenian refugees during World War II and openly criticised the Nazi regime, was tried and found guilty of Nazi collaboration at a mock trial staged by communist Yugoslavia in 1946. Stepinac, sentenced to years of hard labour, was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1998. Pell made a pilgrimage to Stepinac’s home in Krasic, near Zagreb, the following year.
Pell, who protests his innocence, now faces the likelihood of not being able to offer Mass in his cell. After celebrating Mass almost every day since his ordination in St Peter s Basilica, Rome, in December 1966 and attending Mass every day as a seminarian from early I960 until his ordination, the lack of daily Mass will be a cross for him to bear, one of his priest friends says. Nor is it clear whether he will be able to receive Holy Communion every day.
A decade ago. Pell’s close friend, the late cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who died of cancer in 2015, predicted hard times for faithful Church leaders in an increasingly aggressive secular Western culture.
“I expect to die in bed; my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square,” he said. “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilisation, as the Church has done so often in human history.”
Like many of his Church heroes. Pell has been a formidable leader, a builder and a teacher. But unlike hero cardinals imprisoned for their faith over the centuries, Pell stands convicted of five grotesque crimes.
Time, and higher courts, will determine whether Church history, the subject in which he excelled at Oxford, will deride him in the long term as an arch hypocrite or rank him among Church heroes persecuted by sinister forces that have run amok.