CARDINAL GEORGE PELL. Where have all the fighters gone?

The future of George Pell is in doubt but his shadow will remain for  many years across the Australian Catholic Church. Through a rigged system he was able to effectively decide who became bishops in the Church. This was critical in appointments to the two most senior archdiocese in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne. Both Archbishop Fisher of Sydney and Archbishop Comensoli of Melbourne  owe their appointments to George Pell. They are his proteges,his proxies. Anthony Fisher  aged 59 has 15 years remaining as Archbishop in Sydney . Peter Comensoli aged 55 has another 20 years to run as the supremo in Melbourne .They are both very much part of the problem in the Catholic Church rather than part of any solution. But both Archbishops are likely to cling to the trappings of office that George Pell secured for them.

See below an address by George Pell eight years ago on the type of church that he was trying to build in Australia. It casts a long and dark shadow.

He gave this  address on ‘Authentic Catholicism vs Cafeteria Catholicism’ at the Catholic Voice Annual Dinner in Cork, Ireland on 29th July 2011. The following is the text of the address (slightly edited) from the current issue of the Catholic Voice newspaper.

John Menadue

 

 

Where Have All the Fighters Gone?

I am not going to talk about the Church in Ireland but I am going to talk about what I am trying to do in Australia, as an archbishop, and you can draw your own conclusions on what might, or what might not, be adaptable to here in Ireland. Despite my English Protestant name (and I am proud of my English heritage) I have plenty of Irish blood, most of it Catholic, and so I think that entitles me to make the first point, and that is that we Irish Australians, and I suspect the Irish, enjoy bad news. It’s like the Englishman whose face will light up when he says, ‘Isn’t the weather terrible?’ This, then, is my question: has all the good Irish blood gone overseas into the colonies? The Irish that I grew up with were fighters: they were people who had convictions and went and battled for them. Has the spirit of Dr. Daniel Mannix — one of the greatest exports of Cork — has his spirit vanished forever from this land? Are you going to sit on your tails and let 1000 years of tradition and faith just slip away? People are saying to me the same things they were saying to me back in 1998; we need this, we need that, nobody is doing anything — well, if nobody else is doing anything then you have to get it started yourself and if help comes, as it might or might not, at least you’re doing things. I realise that your presence here tonight is evidence of your desire and determination to do something BUT things are slipping and, from what I hear, you know you are slipping; so if others won’t act then do something yourselves.

Gospel Christians vs. Radicals

I have found in all my work as archbishop that in order to do anything you first have to know where you are and what you are trying to do. Two things are probably at work here in the same way as in Australia; within all the Christian communities and, certainly the Catholic Church, there is a fundamental tension between the people on one side — who we might call Gospel Christians — who give priority to the New Testament, to Christ and to the Word of God and, what you might call liberal or radical Christians, who give the priority to the contemporary understandings. That tension runs right through all the Christian communities. The second and the more important tension which is present in Australia is the tension between a small and growing secular minority, who are well placed in the media and universities, and the Judeo-Christian majority. The secularists are steadily pushing a political agenda, trying to undermine the traditional Christian foundations, and they are also trying to drive Christian spokesmen out of public life. This also goes for priests and you just have to keep speaking publically. I am determined to continue speaking out: why should I become the only man in Australia not able to exercise his democratic right to free speech? People are quite free to accept or reject what I have to say. We have as much right as anybody else to speak out. Of course we also need lay political figures who can speak out because it is not always productive for the clergy to be speaking, but I am absolutely sure that regular silence from the hierarchy and from the priests is not good at all.

Catholicism in Australia

Australia is 26% Catholic and we are now the largest denomination, having passed the Anglicans. We have a huge network of services: we educate 20% of all Australians in our schools, operate 23% of hospitals, we provide 55% of palliative care and, with the push emerging for euthanasia, we are trying to extend that. There are also a couple of Catholic universities and an immense welfare system, mostly financed by the government. The religious in Australia are disappearing but against that I invited the Nashville Dominicans to come to Sydney and they have been there since 2007. They are all young, attractive and wear the full habit and since arriving, about ten young women have joined them. In Sydney we can now get out the news to encourage young women who might be contemplating a religious vocation. Priestly vocations are up in quite a number of dioceses and I think it is interesting to work out what those dioceses are, to take a look at their churchmanship, their ecclesiology, their style and I think that, almost universally, the vocations are in the dioceses which are thoroughly Catholic. In Sydney we have the highest rate of Church practise — although much lower than the 40% in Ireland — we have about 18% and a lot of the reason for this is that we have many ethnics. The hardest constituency amongst young people is my community — the Anglo-Celts — because there has been a large amount of inter-marriage over the last 150 years. But we are getting many conversions from the Asian groups — the Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese. In fact we are getting many vocations from the Vietnamese, who now proudly announce that they are the new Irish. Of course the Irish founded the Church in Australia and I received the most precious gift in my life, my faith, from my Irish Australian mother. I think therefore we have to pay tribute to the contribution which Ireland has made to the Church in Australia. So as a minority in Australia we have two options: we are either submerged by the majority or we try to resist that and try to spread. In other words, we have to try to Catholicise the country.

The Petrine Ministry

In Australia, as elsewhere, we have to struggle with the conviction that we are part of the Universal Church, led by the Pope, and that means something in everyday life. For example, we had one bishop in Toowoomba who had to be removed after over ten years of dialogue with the Holy See. It was a tragedy and didn’t need to happen but he wouldn’t back down or give any ground and so they were forced to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ So we have to battle against this insipient anti-Roman sentiment. Cardinal George of Chicago has a thesis that in many places the Catholic Church in the USA, in its style, is becoming Protestant — a church of individual judgement, with less concern for the Pope, the hierarchy and Catholic teaching — and there is no doubt that very senior elements in the Democratic Party are working to separate the hierarchy from many of the people in the United States. I am sure that this is happening in other parts of the world also, with some politicians preferring the establishment of what they call ‘national churches’. Of course this has to be resisted.

Renewal: The Australian Experience

Let me now explain what I have tried to do in Australia. First of all I had to deal with the abuse scandal and in this I was given some very good advice from a former Supreme Court Judge. He told me that the scandals would bleed us to death year after year unless we took decisive action. I was also summoned by the Premier at the time who made it clear that if we did not clean the Church up, then he would, and so we made a determined effort to do so. Incidentally, the Premier was a deeply irreligious man who also denounced religious leaders as yesterday’s men; this was back in the 90’s and he has been gone from political life for about a dozen years! So we did clean it up; we set up an independent commission, we set up a panel to provide counselling and a system to pay compensation — and please God the worst of it is behind us.

Religious Education

The second thing I did was to reform religious education, which is of course fundamental to the future, and I was absolutely determined that I would change it no matter what. I called a friend of mine home from Rome, made him the Vicar for Education, and we commenced the immense task of writing a comprehensive Christ-centred Catholic text on faith and morals for the whole thirteen years of school education. This programme is now mandated in the schools. By and large it is working and it is welcomed by the teachers because many of them were not taught the faith themselves and so they welcomed a text-book which is full of content and can give them the answers. The education programme in schools has to be Christ-centred and it has to be totally Catholic. It is remarkable the number of people in Australia who think of the sacraments in a Protestant way; they think only of two, of Baptism and the Eucharist. In fact we are a Church of seven sacraments and one of the most wonderful sacraments is the sacrament of Penance, where there has been a massive drop-off. There is no reason for this, and if a decent preparation programme is in place then the young people will attend and welcome it. This is the experience in Australia, where even the non-Catholic children in our schools will insist on going to confession; of course, we cannot give them the sacramental rite but we can listen to them and offer advice. A lot of the old anti-Catholic prejudice in society has almost disappeared. We had a troop ship going to Timor during the troubles there; of the 200 troops on board around 40% were Catholic, but 140 of them lined up to go to Confession. This would never have happened in the 60’s or 70’s but gradually, through education, we have broken down barriers and misunderstandings — and all this has been helped by the reform of education.

Vocations

The other thing that is essential for the future is to make it absolutely clear that you need priests. There can be no Church without priests and this means you must have a seminary where young people will be prepared to go, and this means you must have an orthodox seminary. It means that you must have a seminary that is not sexually corrupt. Of course, we have experienced sexual corruption in the Australian seminaries. I can tell you of one poor lad who knew me from a previous place. He was a teacher who went on to become a priest. When it was announced that I had been appointed Rector of the Seminary I am told he ran weeping from the presbytery. He was a priest for only a few years when he left to live with his male partner after telling his poor mother that his partner was a Catholic. So I am talking from that sort of experience; the young people today are products of the culture in which we live and so we have to be vigilant. In the seminary they have to be taught to pray; prayer life and spirituality have to be the priority. I should add that when I am entering a diocese I have never thrown all the staff in the diocesan offices but when I became archbishop in Melbourne I instructed that in the Seminary there had to be Mass everyday; they were to have Benediction, Adoration and be able to pray the Rosary together — most people expect this to be a normal part of seminary life. However when I put this to the Seminary staff they said they wouldn’t accept it and en bloc offered to resign — so I accepted their resignations and it was one of the best things that had ever happened in the diocese. In other words when you start making changes you can expect resistance. I recall that when I announced the changes in the Seminary to a meeting of the Melbourne Council of Priests not one of them spoke in support of my plans. I knew there were people who did support it but there was not one who would speak out and support it at the time. I am sure that the reform of the Seminary was the most important thing I did when I was in Melbourne, even more so than the religious education. Melbourne is now regularly turning out good orthodox priests and of course when you get good young men going through then they attract others.

Focus on Youth

There also has to be a focus on youth. One of things I did in Sydney was to set up lay chaplaincy teams in the universities — lay teams because I didn’t have enough priests to do it. That has changed now because vocations are coming from it and, in the ten years this has been running in Sydney, we have had nine vocations to the priesthood and four to the nuns from Sydney University alone. We picked this approach up from the way the Evangelical Anglicans were doing things when they had around 40 volunteers who could come and work in the University. It is so important to establish orthodox faith communities in the universities.

Leadership Role of the Priest

One final thing to highlight is that we have to maintain the morale and the leadership role of the priest. We had a case in South Brisbane where this poor fellow wasn’t sure whether Christ existed and so there was no talk in his sermons on the Divinity of Christ, of the Virgin Birth etc. And he took his concept of divinity from the Hindu scriptures; eventually he went out with his congregation, including many of the leadership team of the Catholic education office! There was also a women’s religious centre connected with a Catholic women’s group and one woman went along and asked, ‘Where is the crucifix?’ She was told there wasn’t one because they did not want to be divisive but she did notice a witch’s broom hanging in the office! So we have to preserve the leadership role of the priest. They should never be reduced to being just chaplains to the parish and they should never have to seek the permission of the Parish Council to carry out their priestly duties. Good pastors will work in a communal way with their people but, in the Catholic tradition, the priests are the leaders; not in a dictatorial way, but, nonetheless, they are the leaders. I recall the story of a poor priest from one of the Low Countries who, before he could take up his appointment, had to go along and be interviewed by the parish council. The parish council said that unless he was prepared to bless homosexual unions they would not let him take up his job. I don’t want that approach and I am sure that you do not either. In Sydney I managed to achieve a situation where all the major appointments have gone to people who are genuinely and deeply committed to the full Catholic programme. This is so important because you do not want people in leadership positions who can undermine what you are doing, for example people in the liturgy office who don’t believe in priests or in the sacrifice of the ministerial priesthood. I also encourage lay people to go into politics; most go into the Conservative Party but we also need strong unions and an active Labour Party with good Catholics in them. We should also make use of the secular media to get our message across and I write a regular column in a weekly newspaper in Sydney. Finally, we also hope to run a Catholics Come Home programme to bring back lapsed Catholics and others on the outside who might want to learn more about the faith.

I hope this gives you an idea of how I am rejecting cafeteria Catholicism and promoting authentic renewal in Australia.

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5 Responses to CARDINAL GEORGE PELL. Where have all the fighters gone?

  1. Peter Bowron says:

    I would probably be categorised by Pell as a liberal Christian. I would certainly categorise myself as such. But I would very strongly categorise myself as a Gospel Christian. Here are a few lessons from the gospels (cut down, you’ll know the full context:) Love god, and love your neighbour as yourself (no exceptions mentioned to this rule.) Who is my neighbour: Your neighbour is someone you might consider as an enemy – say a Jew to a Samaritan. Lord, what should I do to ensure I get to heaven? Sell all you need, give the money to the poor and come and follow me. (Note to bishops Hart and Comensoli – no mention of an extra beach house or country retreat, even if it was with family money.)

    As for Pell’s decisive action – he used lawyers to defend the indefensible, and force non-disclosure on those abused. I will wait for the appeal on his own guilty verdict, but his action in attempting to keep the “good name” of the church by minimising coverage was seen by the Royal Commission as far too little and far to self serving.

    Sadly, I know many good Catholics who no longer attend mass, because the parish priests (particularly in Sydney diocese) spout the drivel that came from Pell and continues to came from Fisher, the man who (in-)famously told the parents of children who had been abused and some who had suicided to “just get over it. Where is the compassion that Christ showed in the Gospels in the words or actions of these men. They have shown themselves to be far more like the Pharisees than the one they claim to serve.

  2. David Hutton says:

    I was the Executive Director of Catholic Education in Brisbane when this speech was made by Pell. The comment that members of the Leadership Team of the Catholic Education Office in Brisbane followed ‘the South Brisbane priest’ when his congregation left St Mary’s Church is totally false and defamatory. This was taken up with Pell at the time, but to no avail. In fact all members of the Leadership Team were faithful and active members of their own parishes, some under challenging circumstances. I was not aware of any staff of the CEO who were active supporters of those who left to join the St Mary’s in Exile community as it is now called.

  3. Jim Kable says:

    Well – this river of drivel certainly puts paid to the idea of Pell as possessing any degree of intelligence. Self-serving anecdotes with no names – no verifiability. Fabulous fiction!

    • Rosemary O'Grady says:

      ‘River of drivel’. As they say in France: ‘C’est exact.’
      But isn’t this exactly, but exactly the type of sermonising that was expended upon us all the days of our growing-up lives?
      Thanks, John, for the timely reminder.

  4. Stephen Saunders says:

    ‘The only kind of friendship [sic] the state has a proper interest in recognising and regulating is heterosexual marriage.’ (Guardian, quoting Fisher, October 2017)

    ‘One of Australia’s most senior Catholics has suggested gay teachers would be more acceptable at religious schools if they lived far away from the school and their relationships were less visible.’ (SMH, citing Comensoli, November 2018)

    ‘I think it’s important that employers have reasonable expectations of their employees, and that they don’t impinge on their areas of private practice and private belief.’ (News Com, quoting Morrison’s tacit support for gay hate, July 2019)

    Is not Pell to be commended for his prescient political appointments, anticipating the robust tenor of the times in modern Australia?

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