Pell Prison Diaries Should Fascinate Friends and Foes Alike
You don’t go to those prison journals for anecdote, though, of course, it’s fascinating – especially given anti-war stances – that this warrior-like Catholic conservative who reverses Churchill’s rhetoric drops ” Bobby was my favorite Kennedy, whom I met on Capitol Hill… full of Irish American charm and respectful of a young Australian priest. When he was shot, my love affair with America was over. He came back, but changed.
David Marr once told me, without resentment, that he thought George Pell had the temperament to be a first-class principal and it’s a little amazing to see a man of such natural authority struggling with his God and his misery.
It was Richter (“who is not theist but a Jew” remembers the cardinal) who told him to read the book of Job, the darkest and most tragic book in the Hebrew Bible. When Pell revisits it, he argues for the superiority of the Christian view of redemption over the Jewish conception of human identity which disappears as a cloud dissolves as it descends into Sheol.
It is the same for the course, as is his description of the book of Ecclesiastes (“vanity of vanities … the silver cord is untied and the golden bowl is broken”) as the most pagan book in the Bible. . This is not incompatible with the tough cleansing of the Vatican’s finances or the inflexible bishop who denied communion to these rainbow-belted gay activists.
What strangely strikes your heart is this sort of thing: “God … give me strength and peace of mind and help my fellow inmates, especially those who are mean, confused, or hopelessly unhappy.”
We expect to bend the George Pell who believes in judgment and damnation and the right and duty of the Church to preach traditional morals, including what should and should not be done in the bedroom. But we don’t expect that kind of prayer or rigor, that implicit compassion.
Each of the daily journal entries of a few thousand words ends with a prayer of Pell’s own composition or a quote from his breviary or a spiritual classic.
So we have Augustine’s desire to look into the eyes of the Most High. “Don’t hide your face from me. Let me see your face even if I die, lest I be dying to see it.
And the prayer of Thomas More: “Think about my most enemies, my best friends; for Joseph’s brothers could never have done him so much good by their love and their favor as by their wickedness and their hatred.
The emphasis is constantly on mercy and forgiveness, even though these journals are the work of a naturally energetic man who is both politically and religiously conservative. He says, quite eloquently, “God will forgive all crime” and adds, not without conviction: “If Christianity continues to decline, society will be less forgiving.”
He sometimes tends to sound like a high and powerful Catholic version of Israel Folau (“An honest man of simple Christian faith, an old Protestant type”) and admits to “starting the Christian defense of free speech and freedom. religion with Folau is not ideal. ”But he wants to assert that the promiscuity of sexual liberation is not on the agenda.
For some of his co-religionists – including those masters of worldly manners, the Jesuits – Pell probably represents the difficult paradox of how to tolerate the intolerant.
He thinks Donald Trump is “a barbarian” but he is “our barbarian”: although Trump’s election makes him opposed to the direct election of an Australian president as he was back at the Constitutional Convention in 1998 when he was a Republican of the Minimalist Variety Turnbull / Keating.
On the other hand, he does not see much to rejoice in theoretically Catholic politicians. “The selective and superficial Catholicism of politicians like Daniel Andrews and Malcolm Turnbull, to some extent, even helps them realize their non-Christian ambitions. The Trudeaus also come to mind.
Pell is nothing but militant in his moralism and he is also a fan of Bob Santamaria and Robert Menzies, although he loved Bob Hawke as a politician with “a Labor heart” and “a liberal leader” and admits that we owe our current prosperity to Hawke and Paul Keating. He also says of Hawke that he loved Australia and that he is forgiven a lot because he loved Australia a lot.
It is all pale compared to the horror of losing its appeal to Victoria. “I was amazed and very upset,” he writes.
It is fascinating to learn that his appellate lawyer, Bret Walker SC, asked for his permission to show the draft appeal to Tom Hughes, and that Hughes, brother-in-law of Robert the art critic and beau -father of Malcolm Turnbull, had offered to appear for Pell, although the man who was John Gorton’s attorney general must have been 95 at the time.
Fascinating, too, that Marr told Frank Brennan on the Victorian appeal that the prosecution case presentation was “a f — ing train wreck.”
These journals have a thousand facets. The cardinal and his close associates take a grim view of progressive German bishops with their liberal attitudes to faith and morals, in the news earlier this year for starting a two-year series of talks about what The Wall Street Journal described as “rethinking the teaching and practice of the Church on subjects such as homosexuality, priestly celibacy and the ordination of women”.
And the Australian prince of the Brexit-backed Church has the darkest possible view of the Vatican’s financial corruption, which he has done everything in his power to clean up.
The dreaded interviews of the Pope
At the end of volume two of The Prison Diaries, there is an implicit criticism of Pope Francis: “The Holy Father once again granted an interview on his flight home from Japan. Journalists love these encounters (they told me) but I and many others dread them.
If he sometimes sounds in his newspapers half-inclined to justify the burning of heretics, this is part of his general optimism.
These journals are notable for how a vigorous administrative figure, born to rule, not only keeps himself sane in prison by watching Australian rules and cricket and all possible varieties of church services, including American evangelicals, but also by reading War and peace (which he thinks is the greatest novel he has read) and praying fiercely for the insulted and injured.
He responds to letters from fellow inmates, including James Gargasoulas, who walked through a crowd in the Bourke Street Mall, and calmly speaks of Muslim shouts and cries and chants.
He is often funny. He writes to an English friend that he feels more ashamed of Australia’s loss of cricket to England than of being in jail. He tolerates strip searches and gets spit on. He is hard as they come, but he believes in the good and the quality of mercy.
How strange of God to choose George Pell as the medium for this portrait of a good priest. Should that be a good enough priest? Hard to imagine he would claim more.
Prison Journals Volume II: State Court dismisses appeal is published by Freedom Publishing on April 19.