Cardinal Pell


                     by Kenneth Bagnell
      I expect that Cardinal George Pell — the most senior of Cardinals now waiting for his day in court on a charge of sexual abuse of boys — might well look back on what Pope John XXIII said years ago: Consult not your fears but your hopes…”
      It must be a dreadful experience for Pell, waiting and waiting, made worse by recalling his Rome responsibilities: (a) fulfilling the Cardinal post, (b) being key advisor to the Pope and (c) managing the vast finances of the Vatican. The criminal charges — made in Australia - are not all revealed. Not yet. The public only knows that he has to face multiple complainants.  Perhaps the details will find their places when March 5 comes, and the world will be watching for about four weeks.
     Nonetheless, many major papers take the view that the case is most important and indicates serious issues that Australian police judge to be clearly valid, though we have to wait until the trial begins. Its most unfortunate: Pope Francis, almost in tears, begged forgiveness when he was in Chile on January 16. Media organizations, both in Australia and abroad report that the highly tense case is not just putting Cardinal Pell — now 76 years old — in horrible circumstance but, if hes found guilty, the entire Catholic Church will face a frightful future.  It has to be very serious since the trial is to have - get ready — 50 witnesses.  No wonder Pell is said in various publications, to appear frail. A few months ago a Catholic advocate, hoping for the best, told a journalist:  This trial is a very important display that the days of special privilege for high ranking religious officials are finished and gone…”Personally I cant but feel both sorrow and sympathy for the vast millions of Catholics, aged and devout, who already have been humiliated, but this time, with the Popes right hand man on the anvil, the consequences may be dreadful from the Vatican to Vancouver and beyond. On the other side, you have to acknowledge that he is going to court after a two year investigation by the police. Two years!
     The consequences if the jury says guilty will mean certain finality for Pell and his calling. As for Pope Francis, a good and honorable prelate who chose Pell as his right hand man, it will be an absolute heartbreak. As for the global church, it will be leaving millions of devout men and women with broken hearts, massive sadness and among some Catholics, indignation so deep it cant be described.   To me, and I try to be an optimist, the evidence that is drifting around suggests  that the outcome is bound to be dark and dreary, very much so. The man after all, stands accused of multiple sexual intrusions, multiple sexual approaches and theres a vast number of witnesses ready to testify on the mans guilt.  The details of the testimonies to come are understandably not revealed. When Cardinal Pell found himself surrounded by the scandal, he announced hed step aside from his vocation. I fully expect that to be permanent.
     What about the ladies in the pew and the men who serve the communion. Id say it varies. One evening I heard a broadcaster quoting an Australian he had asked about his feelings on the matter. The man said that if he were a boxer, hed end up tangled in the spitting blood.  In Canada I havent run into that level of anger, perhaps because Canadians  Jews, Protestants, Catholics and Muslims  are not that hot tempered; theyre more given to melancholy or indifference. (At least thats a better response than swearing, swinging, drinking, knifing and maybe shooting.) Im particularly interested in the consequences of a guilt finding on Pell. With that will surely come a heartbreak for good faithful Catholics.  Id say that the courts finding — probably devastating for Pell — will lead to a better Australian value custom, than it is now. Take this as an example of why that should happen: an Australian journalist has vividly described the mood of today: The past four years have been horrendous. Endless, horrifying accounts of historical child abuse.
   There are those in Australia, mind you, who have a strong persistent faith in the old fashioned opposition to Catholicism culture. For example, here and there, Ive met either Australian citizens, or indeed Canadians who, for professional purpose, have lived a few years in that country. Some of them sense that in the broad public culture, Catholicism, was not very welcomed.  There are essays Ive read on the countrys recent past, in which articles refer to the bias against newcomers, especially Catholics. One Ive just read is entitled: Australia once banned Catholics from mass and vilified the Irish. We should be better. In the article youll find references like, These days if youre Irish, racial stereotyping skews pretty positively regardless of which side of the island youre from  Australias first priest was a convict transported after the Irish rebellion. Moreover, Irish people arriving in Australia, were met with signs in boarding houses with this reading, No blacks. No Irish. No Dogs…”Well, we can wonder if the current Catholic inquiry is going to have a fair trial.
      Surely thats a fair and rationale ambition, the Catholic interest is fully legitimate and all of us should hope for an insightful and appealing decision and formula for the future. That was my hope in expressing my view for us all. Now that Im about to come to a conclusion, a saying of Franz Kafka, the Jewish European novelist struck me as apt. Some years ago, he spoke with a very compatible attitude, one I hope might appeal, in theological and ethical culture, to all sides: Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable.


  1. Don Gillies
    Feb 6, 2018

    Showing that much sympathy, and that kind of balance, is certainly swimming against the stream, but more power to you. One hopes that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and not simply convicted in the court of public opinion or press spin. Still, the R.C. church cannot be immune from such investigations, nor can the alleged crimes be excused.
    I’ve never been convinced by the argument that none of this would happen if only priests could marry. Really? Since many of them are crimes against minors (of both genders), this is hardly likely. It is also important, I suppose, that we recognize similar events in other churches, including our own. As a personnel minister, I dealt with them on many occasions. The abuse of power knows no denominational boundaries.
    Your final quote from Kafka triggered a memory of Philippians 4 where we are enjoined to practice whatever is “true, and just, and acceptable.” Ironic eh?

  2. Ellen K
    Feb 6, 2018

    Many thanks for your Jan.22 &27 Commentaries, as always I learnt much. They made me realize that there is a need to focus on and cherish the many admirable individuals that also surround us. We are then able to face the future more positively, difficult as that might be. I also have faith in the next generation.

  3. Jim Hickman
    Feb 6, 2018

    Hi, Ken:
    I’m not sure, in the case against George Pell, what would be right rather than what is acceptable. I suspect that, in the past, it was acceptable for the Catholic Church to hide priests’ indiscretions and simply move them to a different parish. Was that right? I also think that two years of police investigation, with 50 witnesses to be called in court, means that prosecution wants to get it right. If Pell is convicted, I won’t be sending a sympathy card.