by Niall Gooch
Wednesday, 11
January 2023
Profile
10:44

George Pell avoided self-pity to the end

The cardinal rose above the accusations levelled against him
by Niall Gooch
Cardinal George Pell. Credit: Getty

Less than two weeks after the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, another prominent senior Catholic has died: Cardinal George Pell, who was 81, died yesterday in Rome following complications from surgery.

Pell’s reputation was that of an enthusiastic pugilist, an old-fashioned plain-speaking Australian who defended the Catholic Church with a verve and wit that is not always in evidence among archbishops. In his youth he played Aussie rules football, an aggressive and fast-paced sport requiring considerable physical presence and courage. During his time as the Archbishop of Sydney (the senior bishop Down Under) he earned many enemies with his confident advocacy for Catholic teaching; the comedian Tim Minchin — a man who combines slavish adherence to every contemporary orthodoxy with a supposed love of freethinking — was a particularly strong critic.


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But there was another side to him. As with Joseph Ratzinger, the public image of an intolerant enforcer was entirely false. Years ago I heard him speak in London, at a special Mass to mark the completion of renovation works at St Patrick’s Soho Square. He gave the impression of being a thoughtful, devout and big-hearted man, with a good line in self-deprecating humour.

Then, of course, there was the remarkable grace and serenity with which he endured his prosecution and imprisonment on false charges of child abuse. The almost inexplicable conviction, bizarrely upheld by the Australian Court of Appeal, was finally overturned by the High Court in 2020, after Pell had already spent more than a year in jail. Nevertheless, the three volumes of prison diaries that he published after his release are free from rancour, self-pity and blame. They show deep spiritual wisdom. This despite many years of what could plausibly be regarded as police harassment; one journalist described the years of investigation that preceded his charges and trial as a “fishing expedition”.

In Catholic circles it was widely speculated that there was a connection between Pell’s prosecution and his previous role in Rome, in charge of sorting out the Vatican’s labyrinthine and often chaotic finances. Allegedly he was beginning to uncover serious corruption and graft, and so his legal troubles were engineered as a way of removing him from the picture. Pell himself never repeated these charges. All the same, he did undoubtedly make significant progress in cleaning up Vatican finances, and that must be considered part of his legacy.

By all accounts, Pell was not the sort of man who would wish for unrealistic and sycophantic tributes. He did have his faults. His interjections into the climate change debate were perhaps unwise, allowing him to be painted as a Right-wing pundit — which he was not. More seriously, while he was certainly not personally guilty of child abuse, like many senior clerics of his generation he had questions to answer about the institutional responses to child sex abuse during his tenure.

And yet, for all that, he was a good man, one who took a firm grip on the Church in Australia and helped it to face up to the challenges of the modern world.

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Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
25 days ago

What the author neglects to mention is that Pell, on becoming Archbishop, immediately set up the “Melbourne Response” which was the first such systematic approach to tackling child abuse within the church by a senior cleric.
It was then endlessly criticised and attacked by his enemies for “not doing enough” – but compared to what? It was doing more than anyone else in comparable institutions, anywhere, and it was a start.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Pell#%22Melbourne_Response%22_protocol_for_abuse_cases

Dominic A
Dominic A
25 days ago

Indeed – similarly, it always frustrates me when people forget how much Jimmy Saville did for the kids.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
25 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Very funny and totally wrong comparison.
Pell was not lionised by the ABC, Australia’s taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, but attacked at every opportunity, unlike the BBC’s promotion and coddling of Savile.

Last edited 25 days ago by Brendan O'Leary
Dominic A
Dominic A
25 days ago

Apologies for the cheek, I know they are different cases – the serious bit is that, often, abusers are ambiguous and complex; ‘right actions’ may not be true indicators of right spirit. Moreover churches and other establishments have a long history of whitewashing tactics on SA and other matters. Pell was a big boy, not shy of giving his opinions on others’ sex lives; though there is perhaps no-one in this world who knows what he did/didn’t do, and certainly no-one on this thread.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
25 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

It’s also the case that predators are attracted to institutions that people have (or had) a lot of trust in such as churches and charities (or the Boy Scouts were notorious in my day) , and that throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s when the majority of historic SA happened, there was fierce resistance from many quarters to the idea that PDOs were lifelong recidivists.
The fact that a senior Catholic may have expressed the views of the Catholic church on sex of the church he represented is hardly grounds for persecution. (yet)

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
25 days ago

And soon predators are going to have more opportunities in the changing rooms and toilets of Scotland – but hey it’ll make 0.2% of the population feel better, so that’s ok.

Dominic A
Dominic A
24 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

…and that’s assuming all of that 0.2% had a problem with the law as it stood. I suspect a mere handful of them were genuinely troubled by the public toilet/changing room question. It’s the activists at play – yesterdays victim is today’s bully.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
25 days ago

Pell’s first instinct was to protect the Church, not the victims. I suspect it would be truer to say that the ‘Melbourne Response’ like the infamous “Ellis defence” was to protect the Catholic Church from being sued into bankruptcy.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
25 days ago

May he rest in peace. First they came for the Cardinal, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Catholic.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
25 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

I was a Catholic, and, like many others, couldn’t stand George Pell. Over the years we saw an awful lot of Pell on the TV ranting about this or that, I wonder if the man ever persuaded anyone of anything. His conservative causes were lost, one after the other. Still, I never thought he was guilty of the crimes he was charged with, so it was annoying to have to eventually sympathise with him!

Were it not for the very large Catholic school system in Australia (subsidised by the taxpayers) the Catholic Church would have nearly disappeared here by now. This is where the leadership of the Church by the Polish Pope, and the likes of Pell, have taken them. Unfortunately, these extreme conservatives have appointed many bishops, so the Church is probably stuffed for a long time to come.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
25 days ago

Perhaps he never did. Today just 44% of Australians identify as Christian and 39% have no religion. One wonders what will give people the moral framework to stand up to government or big business when they come to lock them up, experiment on them, misdirect their children, or otherwise impinge on their rights and undermine society.

Dominic A
Dominic A
25 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Morality comes from within, it is a personal, psychological decision influenced by a very broad range of factors – philosophy, parenting, experience, culture, genetics – of which religion is just one, very varied, seam. If you replaced ‘government or big business’ with ‘religion’ , you quote would be equally valid. Pell very much interfered with and tried to impinge on the rights of individuals – to use condoms, sexuality, personal relationships etc – no doubt expressing his honest position, but I’d sooner take such advice from someone who is (relatively) free from institutional doctrine, who has actually had relationships, sex, and who has not had multiple accusations of down-playing and carrying out molestation levelled against him.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
25 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

I initially read what you’d written as “of which religion is just one, vary varied, scam.”
It wouldn’t be too far off the mark if you’d written it as such.
As for your general point with regard to morality, very well expressed.

Last edited 25 days ago by Steve Murray
Lukas Nel
Lukas Nel
24 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Western morality is 90% Christian. And Christian morality is generally a better and more stable morality than a permissive anything goes secular one since it results in generally much happier people.

Dominic A
Dominic A
23 days ago
Reply to  Lukas Nel

I don’t doubt that good rules make for happiness. If, like me, you see religion as an artefact, then the whole of culture, morality, etc comes from human not deity. Moreover, your dichotomy of Christian morality vs Secular Permissiveness is false, so simplistic as to be meaningless.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
25 days ago

A church that does not stand for anything does not stand for long

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
25 days ago

Had he just gone along with every passing fad of popular opinion, would or his church have fared any better?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
25 days ago

The Catholic school system is “subsidised by the taxpayers” because it was an existing independent system , supported by parents, absorbed into the state system, and still costs less than the totally “subsidised by taxpayers” state system, so it’s not like taxpayers would save if it were abolished. Whatever your opinions on religion, Catholicism remains the biggest single religion in Australia and is boosted by Catholic immigrants.

Ben Scanlon
Ben Scanlon
25 days ago

Also, it is said (admittedly I don’t have data) that the Catholic church would open schools in places the government didn’t want to, because of remoteness, low pupil numbers, cost.
At all events, the government must have gotten a good deal out of Catholic education especially since the schools would accept kids of all faith backgrounds (or none.)

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
25 days ago
Reply to  Ben Scanlon

Similarly with hospital groups such as St John of God and Mercy in Australia – like so many schools, these institutions were built by Catholics before there was ever a national health system.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
25 days ago

I was in a St John of God hospital recently – in fact, the hospital I was born in – and I was very appreciative to get the procedure done since, in the state system, the nurses were on strike. (Well, I was in the new hospital, which replaced the 1960s building, which replaced the original building I was born in. I was able to look out the window to where my old Catholic boys school once was across the street – now luxury apartments. My view of education is that it should be compulsory, free and secular.)

Responding to comments above about what will uphold morality in these post-religious times … I had 12 years of Catholic schooling and, starting with memorising the Catholic Catechism, very little of anything we were taught seemed Christian. The main lesson you learned was the meaning of the word Hypocrisy. While being lectured about sexual purity, you were also aware of the predatory sexual abuser you had to look out for. Everyone knew – everyone knew – about those Brothers, but nothing happened unless a parent complained, and then the Brother was moved along to another school. Same with parish priests.

While George Pell popped up on the TV – angry, judgemental, pompous – to say that divorce was a sin, homosexuality was a sin, abortion was a sin etc. etc. I can’t recall him ever suggesting that God loved those sinners. That’s why the Catholic Church has suffered such a decline. There was never a conversation, or listening, or compassion – because the Church must be, and always have been, right. Nothing should change.

Like many of the Catholic alumni, I’ve never stopped reading about Christianity/religion. My time growing up a Catholic had left me curious about Christianity, I just hadn’t seen much of it in the Church.

Last edited 24 days ago by Russell Hamilton
Gerald Arcuri
Gerald Arcuri
25 days ago

What’s Polishness got to do with anything? And, the “Polish Pope” has a name, which you as a self-described Catholic should use as a sign of respect. Or is that no longer a Catholic virtue?

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
25 days ago
Reply to  Gerald Arcuri

He was Polish, he was a Pope, thus he is called the Polish Pope. I imagine the Poles are quite proud of it.

John Hicks
John Hicks
25 days ago

“Just chatting with his anaesthetist post -hip op!” – him with the heart valve? Some chat! A pretty decent Aussie by truthful accounts. The loss of forthright intelligent leadership that diminishes a Nation. RIP Cardinal Pell.

rob clark
rob clark
25 days ago

God rest is soul, a fine tribute to Cardinal Pell!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
25 days ago

Woke did not like Cardinal Pell
Why this should be, I could not tell
But this I know and know it well
Woke is the very end of bell.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
25 days ago

And yet, for all that, he was a good man, one who took a firm grip on the Church in Australia and helped it to face up to the challenges of the modern world.

No quarrel with that. Yet, for a balanced view of his life, it would have been good with a bit more detail than just

like many senior clerics of his generation he had questions to answer about the institutional responses to child sex abuse during his tenure.

Particularly when you find place for pure speculation about ‘his legal troubles were engineered as a way of removing him from the picture‘.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
25 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You left out “allegedly” which starts that sentence. Admittedly, it could have been made clearer for readers unfamiliar with the saga.
You would have to spend some time in Australia to appreciate the relentless tsunami of smear against Pell from the moment he stuck his head above the parapet. It was beyond belief, as were the allegations.

Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
24 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Rasmus, do you know the Journalist Harnwell? He is based in Rome, and a Catholic, and knows the scene very deeply.

Here are dozens if short videos to chose from on Pell – Harnwell is very much of the conspiracy theory kind – he leans to Pell being framed on the sex charge – in order to get rid of him as his work at tackling corruption was getting too close to the mark.

Try one or two – if you want to get tangled up in palace intrigues of the Vatican… all good stuff – Harnwell is always fun.

https://rumble.com/search/all?q=harnwell

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
24 days ago

A good man doesn’t stand by and ignore his colleagues being nonces. By not calling out the abuse carried out by those underneath him he has ruined the lives of many victims, therefore I’ll raise a glass to his demise