Monday, December 02, 2002

How many mentors should a person have? Is there such a thing as “mentor promiscuity” – the state of having more than one mentor on the go at one time – or has the modern mentor/mentee relationship been informalised and/or casualised, like so much else today?

I raise these questions not out of arcane wallowing on a slow news day (not that there’s anything wrong with being proud of coming up with the big zero, when searching for a coined phrase on Google), but because of today’s quick stand-and-scan read at the local bookshop, of a new biography on Archbishop Dr George Pell, which gave me a sense of the déjà vu’s.

Sure enough, researching George Pell for “mentor”, sans “promiscuity”, reveals at least three people who have been, or could be called this, albeit one indirectly only.

Somewhat curiously, the clear front-runner among the three, the man who sponsored Pell for eight years of European learning and living in the sixties, and with whom Pell lived with at the end of his life – Bishop James Patrick O’Collins (1892-1983) – retired from the limelight (on 1 May 1971) just as the golden boy Pell was heading back to Australia. Was this an act of (i) abandonment (of Pell), (ii) emancipation (of a now-fledged Pell), (iii) Machiavellian cunning (by all who were in on it), or (iv) mere coincidence?

My vote is on (iii), although biographer Tess Livingstone, who ignores the twin-ness of the twin happenings at this crucial time in Pell’s life, presumably favours (iv). If it was (i), I would have long-since expected some public emotional fall-out, however minor, and if (ii), a familiar anecdote, as told by Pell, to have emerged at countless dinner table, if not Sunday sermons, with the mentor role conjuring up a character like Alec Guinness playing Obi Wan Kenobe.

Supporting my inkling, of a strange re-arrangement of power as part of the return of the Euro-suave Pell, is the lack of a bond, of any ordinary description, between Pell and his primo-mentor’s successor as Pell’s boss – Bishop Ronald Mulkearns (b. 1931, Bishop of Ballarat, 1 May 1971 to 1997). The new boss, it appears, was only a titular mentor, if even that. Certainly, Pell’s first on-the-job boss comes across as a strangely opaque and distant figure in Tess Livingstone’s book. Hence, my déjà vu’s were at least partially premature – and so I now revise the number of Pell’s known mentors to two.

The other mentor is the notorious anti-communist campaigner, B.A. Santamaria (d. 1998). As I take it that one could simply not be a conservative Catholic in the fifties, sixties and seventies, and NOT have B.A. Santamaria as a mentor-like influence, I take this one as a given.

So, back to my original point about mentor promiscuity, with two mentors definitely on the go at once in the sixties and seventies, can George Pell be termed a mentor slut? Or can a man have one (and only one) additional and simultaneous mentor “on the side”, as it were? If so, was it for reasons of propriety that Pell left Ronald Mulkearns out of the mentor-mentee loop of love, from May 1971 on? I think not.

As the winter of 1971 set in, a strange conjunction, one that would last the rest of that year, was well under way. At St Alipius primary school, “a disturbing number of the school's male personnel” (actually the entire male teaching staff of four) were paedophiles*. In tandem, in place and time, was another strange conjunction within the Ballarat diocese hierarchy – its three top men, two of whom are today alive and kicking – saw nothing, heard nothing, did nothing, vis a vis St Alipius. In such a frenzy of (outward) nothingness, it is fair to assume that much shuffling was going on behind the scenes, as the three men circled each other. What deal was done?


· Bishop Ronald Mulkearns (b. 1931), “Dr Pell's superior and close associate at the time [the early seventies]”
“Pell's man helped pedophile priests” By Fia Cumming, Sun Herald (Sydney) 2 June 2002

· Bishop James Patrick O’Collins (1892-1983) – Pell’s “mentor”, according to biographer Tess Livingstone

· B.A. Santamaria (d. 1998) has also been described as “Pell's mentor”.
Sydney Star Observer Issue 639, March 2001

* “Ballarat's good men of the cloth” By Peter Ellingsen, The Age 14 June 2002 (long article, but highly recommended) 06/13/1023864324376.html

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