Prison Journal: vol. 2 The State Court Rejects the Appeal by George Pell (Ignatius Press, £14.50 / $19.95)
The context in which this journal (one of three) was written is a sobering morality tale.
Cardinal George Pell was born in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, on June 8, 1941. He was educated at the Loreto convent school and St Patrick’s College. After attending Corpus Christi Seminary, he was ordained on December 16, 1966. Following his ordination he spent study periods in the Pontifical Urban University in Rome and in Oxford University in the UK. He was first a curate and subsequently parish priest in Ballarat from 1971 to 1984, as well as director of the education programmes in the diocese of Ballarat.
Pell preached the Christian message and championed Christian values in season and out of season”
Pell was appointed as an auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987. Then he was given responsibility for the two most important episcopal appointments in Australia; he was archbishop of Melbourne from 1991 to 2001, and archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2020. He received the Red Hat from Pope John Paul II in 2003 and was appointed in 2014 the first prefect of the newly created Secretariat of the Economy, where he was responsible for the annual budget of the Holy See and the Vatican. A committed evangelist, Pell preached the Christian message and championed Christian values in season and out of season. Moreover, he never flinched from robustly responding to what he considered to be unfair attacks on the Catholic Church and its teachings. For this he incurred the hostility of elements of the Australian media, some of whom set out to demonise him.
His outspoken denial of climate change was a view driven more by his social views than any understanding of the sciences involved. It left him exposed to antagonistic criticism in a matter of a distinguished churchman stepping out of his area of special authority to take part in a controversy that was beyond his role. It earned him little credit in Australia or around the world, and affected attitudes to him when he came to his legal trials.
The Australian police charged Pell with historical sexual assault charges in 2017. He denied the charges. In the shadow of a campaign of vilification directed at him, he was arraigned before two courts in 2018. The first trial ended in a hung jury. At the retrial he was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison.
His outspoken denial of climate change was a view driven more by his social views than any understanding of the sciences involved”
Pell appealed to the Supreme Court of the province of Victoria. The appeal was rejected on a vote of 2 to 1. In the glare of publicity Pell was led handcuffed from the court to begin his sentence in prison. Finally, to spare the blushes of the Australian legal system at the egregious miscarriage of justice, the Australian Supreme Court voted 7 to 0 to quash the original convictions. In the meantime, however, Pell had to spend more than a year in prison, most of it in solitary confinement.
When the Pope confers the Red Hat there is the implicit assumption that the recipient is expected to defend the Catholic Faith even to the extent of becoming a martyr to that end, hence the colour of the hat! It was presumably in that spirit that Pell accepted his public humiliation, the contumely heaped on him by the media and the rank injustice of the various legal proceedings. Bearing no ill will towards his accusers, judges, prison guards, journalists and those harbouring and expressing hatred for him, Pell availed of his sojourn in prison to deepen his spiritual life and used his time as a kind of ‘extended retreat’. He filled the pages of his diary with spiritual insights, prison experiences, prayerful reflections, comments on current events inside and outside the Church, and moving prayers.
“In the glare of publicity Pell was led handcuffed from the court to begin his sentence in prison”
And there is a further silver lining to his otherwise sorry episode. It provided Pell with the opportunity to display true Australian grit in the face of the most challenging and adverse of circumstances.
The narrative of the cardinal’s experiences is complete by Prison Journal 1: The Cardinal Makes his Appeal and Prison Journal 3: The High Court Frees an Innocent Man (both from Ignatius Press).