Thursday, October 02, 2003

George Pell – one Cardinal Sin retires as another is inaugurated at 62

At first I was going to start by saying “Apologies to non-Catholics for the cryptic headline”, but then I realised that even this little ex-altar boy had gone in too deep – thus committing the cardinal sin of punning well beyond the pale. My point here is that "cardinal sin" is well-enough known in secular use, but its technical/theological definition escapes me – it rings a bell (but no more) from high school; it’s not in my Shorter Oxford; and googling { "cardinal sin" theology commit } only results in one theologically relevant hit in the top ten. (Go there if you need reassurance that masturbation is not a cardinal sin, but be warned, it also contains hilariously specific advice about the degrees of sin committed by a man who masturbates “with a picture of” (i) his wife, (ii) another woman, or (iii) another man “in his mind's eye”. Only 15 y.o. straight boys who use the K-Mart underwear’n’pyjama catalogue for the job are left out of this neat little degree-of-sin ranking schema, but I’m prepared to go out on a theological limb, to fill in this particular blank – if your “mind's eye” has got her in pink flannelette, boys, then I'm so sorry, but you’re going absolutely, 100% straight to hell.)

Anyway, on to George Pell. Often criticised for not moving with the times, this is certainly not true of Pell’s penchant for PR-meisters and their ilk. Last year saw Tess Livingstone pen what is possibly the shallowest biography of a divisive public figure ever published in Australia – a see-no-evilness, more recently turned up a notch to become bare-faced lying, with Livingstone crediting Pell “for being one of the first prelates to get serious about clerical sexual abuse”.

Late last year, after writing this about what I saw as the inadequacies of her biographical research into Pell’s homecoming to Ballarat in May 1971 at a time when the incidence of sexual abuse within the diocese was at fever-pitch, I emailed Livingstone. She did not reply, and her comments above indicate that she was, or at least has since become, deeply complicit with keeping a lid on what the young Pell knew about sexual abuse in the Ballarat diocese in the early 1970s.

Livingstone’s unctuous praise for Pell is hardly exceptional among journalists, of course; her above vox pop was contained in an Age article full of the same stuff (and with at least one glaring factual inconsistency – the article places Pell as having become principal of the Institute of Catholic Education (Ballarat) in both 1973 and 1981).

One useful bit of info in The Age article, though, was the revelation that George Pell, who I had already sized up as a mentor slut, has another apparent mentor in his closet: Eric D’Arcy (b 1924), a Melbourne University philosopher (1962-1981), Bishop of Sale (1981-1988) and Archbishop of Hobart (1988-1999). Now, D’Arcy’s middling career in church and academe – together with the fact that its length and breadth seems unusually untainted by any proximity to clerical sexual abuse – may suggest that he is a curious mentor for an eminence such as Pell; a mere “mentor minor”, if you like. Sure enough, it turns out that D’Arcy was more of a mentor procurer for Pell; influencing him to "hitch his star" to B.A. Santamaria (previously accounted for as one of Pell’s capital-M mentors). Just so it’s completely clear, then – Eric D’Arcy and George Pell shared the great figure of B.A. Santamaria as mentor, with the older D’Arcy getting in there first, and then bringing Pell into the fold as agent only, not as mentor in his own right.

Finally, there is considering the connections between cardinal sin and mentoring. The first has gone from an “Oh-my-God-I-can-smell-the-brimstone-for-real!” moral boundary to a lazy journalistic cliché in only a generation; over which same time mentoring has expanded in leaps and bounds, out of select bishop’s palace rooms and into every corporate training guru’s textbook. Might there be a connection here? The more mentored, the more demented the individual? When sin can supposedly be calibrated according to a masturbatorial “mind’s eye”, surely it’s time for some back-to-basics theology. And I suggest that mentor monogamy would be a good start here, George.

Update 3 October 2003

Poor Frank Devine! Although his “tell it like it is” writing style usually gets at least my grudging admiration, his Oz column today in defence of Pell has him (Devine) paddling well out of his depth.

Frank starts going horribly wrong very early, by using the ole “cardinal sin” pun in his Op Ed’s headline. Earth to Frank: the use of gratuitous puns can be forgiven, but due atonement must be made in the body of the same article. As it stands, Frank grievously mistakes getting-in an early pun as giving him a plenary licence to breeze.

And oh does such jocularity ill-suit the object of his sentiment. Pell is as breezy as a south wind atop Hobart’s Mt Wellington – his knack and persona is to amplify what is otherwise an innocent sensation into a full-fledged, merciless vortex. Thus, when Frank innocently suggests:

The new cardinal networks brilliantly. The Prime Minister is a friend.

he nails Pell – the crawling-est Church sycophant since every-dictator’s-favourite-nun Mother Theresa – exactly, if inadvertently.

Even better for me, is this handy bit of info:

Several journalists rode hobbyhorses into [the news of Pell being made Cardinal] – notably Chris McGillion who once again reported in The Sydney Morning Herald that in 1996 Pell "broke ranks" with the other Catholic bishops and undermined their efforts to construct a national system for dealing with sexual abuse by priests, putting his own system into the Melbourne archdiocese. In fact, within weeks of Pell's becoming Archbishop, Victoria's premier Jeff Kennett took him aside at a social gathering and told him: "You blokes have to do something about this situation, or I will." Pell acted quickly.

You little beauty! Yesterday, when I called Tess Livingstone a liar for crediting Pell “for being one of the first prelates to get serious about clerical sexual abuse”, I must admit I was winging it somewhat. In Australia, calling someone a liar is the surest way of attracting a defamation writ, and Australia’s pro-plaintiff defamation laws make things particularly hard for a defendant to such a case, who has to prove the truth of his/her statement by establishing the falseness of the converse; i.e. I would have to prove that Pell was an outright laggard when it came to getting serious about clerical sexual abuse. But this is all sweet now, thanks to Frank and his little nugget about Jeff Kennett’s 1996 ultimatum to Pell, which has established precisely that fact.

Finally, there is this Devine bottler:

I think Pell has the good fortune of being a man whose time has come . . . "You don't find many 'progressive' Catholics under 50," Pell observed recently.

Errr, quite. I think you may find, Frank, that this has something to do with Gen X (raised as) Catholics being the young meat of preference (and/or availability) for pedophile priests. And to turn a blind eye, and stick with an organisation when oneself, or one’s peers, have been so abused does not ordinarily suggest a “progressive” state of mind. Further, such fuck-ups have to be mentally of the far Right, in order for them to lap up the vague blaming of clerical sexual abuse on the “liberal society (of the time)”, rather than pursuing the $50,000* hush money (or the box) question.

Here, there is much that still needs to be answered – in a nutshell, never mind the boxes of tissues and spare change that is “Towards Healing”, just answer this – what was the Catholic Church hierarchy (and that includes you, George Pell) doing about pedophile priests in the 1970s and 1980s?

Perhaps Frank Devine could provide some insight here, once his current round of cork-popping is finished, of course. “Inspiring speaker” Pell has been consistently and conspicuously silent on the topic, other that for occasional moments of terse and blanket denial.

* Not simply a derisory amount, it is also a capped maximum

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?