Cardinal Pell, White Martyr
It was a deep shock last night to get the news late that Cardinal George Pell had died. Only three weeks ago I was at his apartment, having lunch with him. It's a cliche, I suppose, to say that he was a gentle giant, but it's also true. I had not imagined that he was as tall and as broad-shouldered as he was. Even at 81, and moving slowly, Cardinal Pell was a formidable physical presence. But so kind! It was an honor to be in his presence. We didn't have any deep discussions, but we did quibble in a friendly way about the Benedict Option, which he didn't care for. I tried to explain to him that it's not a "head for the hills" counsel, and I think he got that. His problem was that it seemed too pessimistic to him. I think it's realistic. Our disagreement was friendly, though.
When I posted that photo above to Twitter three weeks ago, I was shocked and disgusted by the swarm of vicious people calling Pell a "pedophile." The cardinal was tried and convicted in Australia of sexually abuse of a minor decades ago. The charges were scandalously thin. Eventually Australian's high court exonerated Pell, and released him from the prison where he had been kept in solitary confinement for over a year, not even allowed to celebrate Mass alone. As much as I loathe sex abusers, I did not credit these allegations against Pell. The crime is so unspeakable that we have to be extremely careful about levying it -- and the allegations against the cardinal dating back to the early 1990s were preposterous. In fact, I had long believed that Pell was framed to get him out of the way by his enemies in Rome. Pope Francis had appointed Pell to lead the investigation into the Vatican Bank. Pell was a bulldog, and scrupulously honest -- and that is a dangerous combination in the Roman Curia.
Someone who worked with Pell back then on that project told me that they had always known that there was a lot of homosexual corruption in the Curia, and that there was a lot of financial corruption too, but had not realized until they started working on this investigation how deeply entwined the two things were. This person also shared my belief that Pell was framed by enemies in Rome who wanted him off the investigation. When I went to Australia back in 2019, I was surprised to learn from Australians that the Calabrian mafia had long infiltrated institutions in the Australian state of Victoria, where Pell was charged. I was not surprised, then, to learn that the head of the Vatican Bank at the time of Pell's investigation was a Calabrian. Obviously that is nothing but circumstantial evidence, and might have been pure coincidence. Still, it's interesting -- especially light of allegations that the Vatican Secretary of State's office transferred $2 million Australian to Oz around the time of Pell's trial. From a Catholic News Agency report:
“We have one basic unanswered question,” Pell told CNA in a phone interview. “We do know — this has been confirmed by Cardinal [Angelo] Becciu — that $2,300,000 [AUD] was sent from the Vatican Secretary of State to Australia.”
Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, a former senior official at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, has said that the funds were sent to the Australian Conference of Bishops for Pell’s expenses during his trial and imprisonment.
The Australian Conference of Bishops, however, disputes this claim, and says it did not receive the money.
“The conference of bishops has said ‘no such money ever arrived, certainly, we didn’t receive it,’” said Pell. “So the unanswered question is: If the money wasn’t sent for something to do with my case, why was it sent?”
Pell said that if “a good reason can be given” for why the funds were sent to Australia, “then we can get on with our life and investigate other directions.”
“But it’s a major unanswered question. And as I said, Cardinal Becciu confirms that the money was sent, and he believes it’s none of my business as to why it was sent.”
The cardinal was unable to explain why Becciu would characterize money purportedly sent for his expenses as “none of [his] business.”
Pell said it would be “very nice to resolve” the matter of the funds being transferred to Australia, and is seeking any answer at all.
“They can just say, ‘Well, it was sent for this, that, and the other thing,’ we'd say ‘very good,’ and we'd get on with our life,” he said.
I was told that Becciu advised Pell that he had told Pope Francis why he wired the money, but that it's a "papal secret." Uh huh. Becciu is on trial now at the Vatican on financial corruption charges. I wonder if we will ever know the truth about that money, and if it was, in fact, a bribe -- and for who?
In any case, Pell was exonerated by Australia's High Court, and returned to the Vatican. It doesn't break any news or confidences to say that he was deeply concerned about the situation in the Church now, especially in the Vatican. He can probably fight more effectively for the truth where he is now than where he was yesterday.
A Catholic priest I know called Pell a "white martyr," meaning that he suffered a bloodless martyrdom for the faith, living in a harsh asceticism as a witness -- this, in reference to his time in prison. Maybe that's the right way to think about him. Part of that martyrdom was having to live with the fact that despite the flimsiness of the abuse charges against him, and despite his exoneration, there would always be people who considered him to be a pedophile. It is true, no doubt, that Pell did not do enough about clerical sex abuse -- but then, none of the bishops did. That does not make him a pedophile. Yet the many enemies he made standing firmly for the truth delight in smearing the man falsely.
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They can't hurt him anymore. RIP.
UPDATE: Strap in and prepare for this blast from Pell, in an article he submitted to the Spectator before he died. The good cardinal was no fan of the Synodal process. Excerpt:
The Catholic Synod of Bishops is now busy constructing what they think of as ‘God’s dream’ of synodality. Unfortunately this divine dream has developed into a toxic nightmare despite the bishops’ professed good intentions.
They have produced a 45-page booklet which presents its account of the discussions of the first stage of ‘listening and discernment’, held in many parts of the world, and it is one of the most incoherent documents ever sent out from Rome.
While we thank God that Catholic numbers around the globe, especially in Africa and Asia are increasing, the picture is radically different in Latin America with losses to the Protestants as well as the secularists.
With no sense of irony, the document is entitled ‘Enlarge the Space of Your Tent’, and the aim of doing so is to accommodate, not the newly baptised —those who have answered the call to repent and believe — but anyone who might be interested enough to listen. Participants are urged to be welcoming and radically inclusive: ‘No one is excluded’.
The document does not urge even the Catholic participants to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), much less to preach the Saviour in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).