11 January 2023
There’s no doubt Cardinal George Pell is one of Australia’s most influential and controversial Catholic figures. While some will see his death in Rome due to complications after surgery as not a bad thing there are many more who will mourn the loss of such a forceful, articulate and pious Christian.
Similar to the late Benedict XVI, who died recently, Cardinal Pell was a religious conservative who had little time for absolutist secularism and what is now known as cultural-Left, Woke ideology.
Cardinal Pell was born in 1941 and educated at Loreto Convent and St Patrick’ College, entered Corpus Christi Seminary in 1960 and was ordained as a priest in 1966. Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne (1996-2001), Archbishop of Sydney (2001-2014), and Inaugural Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Vatican City (2014-2019).
From relatively humble beginnings Pell rose to be a Prince of the Church, a staunch defender of the Christian faith and Christ’s teachings, and an administrator chosen by Pope Francis to address the Vatican’s opaque and corrupt financial situation.
While characterised as physically intimidating and brusque by critics, those who met and dealt with the Cardinal saw a person of conviction, good humour, and somebody willing to debate and discuss without rancour.
Those who have read Cardinal Pell’s account of being imprisoned (what he describes as ‘an enforced secular retreat for 404 days as a guest of Her Majesty’) will also appreciate Pell’s deep and unwavering Christian faith and stoicism in the face of unrelenting days and nights of deprivation and humiliation.
Much of the commentary surrounding Cardinal Pell’s untimely death will focus on his role in addressing child abuse within the clergy and the church and his conviction for alleged sexual abuse.
Ignored will be the fact the then Archbishop Pell was one the first church leaders to initiate the Melbourne Response, for all its flaws, that recognised the evil of child abuse and sought to offer recompense to victims.
Proven by the High Court’s unanimous decision there was ‘a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt’ it is also obvious the previous court decisions to convict Pell had no legal basis.
In 2022, I edited an anthology titled Christianity Matters In These Troubled Times in which Cardinal Pell wrote a chapter titled, God: Home Alone In Australia? In his chapter Pell details the unique and special nature of Christianity when he writes:
‘The Church teaches that this one true God is Spirit; merciful, all-powerful and ever faithful. God is infinite, without beginning and without end, the all-powerful lord of history, who will oversee the separation of the good and the bad.’
Like Pope Benedict XVI, who warned about the dangers of neo-Marxist inspired secularism, Cardinal Pell also warns about the rise of ‘cancel culture and Woke activists’. As a result of what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes as men turning their backs on God, Cardinal Pell writes Christians face an ‘agnostic drift across the Western world’.
At the same time Cardinal Pell writes that not all is lost. Christ’s teachings offer a moral, spiritual and ethical foundation, if embraced, that leads to social justice, equality, and freedom for all. God’s grace and love also offers redemption, salvation, and eternal peace.
At the beginning of his chapter in Christianity Matters, Pell quotes Psalm 63 beginning with the lines, ‘God, you are my God, I pine for you; my heart thirsts for you, my body longs for you, as a land parched, dreary and waterless.’ May Cardinal Pell’s soul rest in peace.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior fellow at the ACU’s PM Glynn Institute and editor of Christianity Matters In These Troubled Times.