The Cardinal Pell: Slouching towards Bethlehem

22 May

Cardinal George Pell Two


In my experience one of the more dangerous types of human is the man or woman with an intense and unshakeable conviction that he or she is a “good” person, doing the “right” thing.

The danger is that such a person will see everything they think, say and do through the prism of perceived good and rightness, and this vision inevitably blinds them to the damage they are, like every other human being, capable of inflicting. Because they are unable to see they are incapable of taking responsibility, let alone making atonement or working towards change. So they continue on their blundering path, leaving havoc in their wake, entirely unable to acknowledge they’ve had any part in its production.

Or as Yeats puts it:  The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

(Actually, that poem, The Second Coming, is worth a read: it seems eerily appropriate for these times. Decades before Jacques Derrida’s Structure, Sign and Play…,  Irish poet William Butler Yeats noted that “the centre cannot hold.” I find this strangely reassuring. That the poets got to it before the post structuralists, I mean. But I digress…)

The Cardinal George Pell is one such human. Indeed, the most powerful conviction I can see in Pell is his conviction that he is always innocent, always good, and always right, and he clings to these self-perceptions with all the passionate intensity of a man clinging to the lid of an esky in a turbulent sea into which he has been unceremoniously pitched from a sinking vessel. The Catholic church is not holding its centre: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned…

Serious allegations of bribery and cover-up have yet again been made against George Pell at the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse. The Cardinal, strategically parachuted into a leading role in the Vatican’s finance department when things got a little hot for him here in Australia, responded with a written denial, fully supported by his good friend and failed priest Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott, who has a moral point of view on everything, is strangely reluctant to offer one on this matter, saying only that it is up to Pell whether or not he returns to face the Commission’s questioning.

I cannot recall a conversation I had forty years ago, declared the Cardinal, however, for those who were traumatised by such conversations they remain unforgettable. The Cardinal has the luxury of forgetting what continues to haunt and torment victims to this day. For this alone one would expect him to express some gratitude.

It is difficult to imagine that a conversation in a swimming pool change room in which Royal Commission witness Timothy Green informed the then Father Pell that boys were being sexually molested by pedophile Brother Dowlan could have been invented by Mr Green forty years later, in an effort to further discredit George Pell.

It would perhaps be fitting for Pell to emulate the crucified Christ, who died in agony for the sins of the world even though according to the mythology he committed very few if any of them himself. Of course I’m not suggesting a literal crucifixion for the Cardinal, rather a metaphorical sacrifice of self on the altar of the Royal Commission. A written statement from his luxury accommodations in Rome does not, contrary to Prime Minister Abbott’s view, seem nearly sufficient. George Pell needs to front up, and not simply for himself, but for the victims and for the Catholic church, if he wishes that institution to retain any last shred of credibility.

The extent of the sexual abuse of children in institutions, and in the family, is almost beyond comprehension. The frequency with which it is and was committed, and is and was covered up by people who consider themselves “good,” reveals an epidemic of psycho-sexual dysfunction that has been repressed and suppressed to a degree that is also incomprehensible. This denial has occurred at the centre: the centre of institutions, the centre of families, the very centre of our culture and our society.  The reality of the margins is confronting the fantasy of the centre, and the centre is no longer holding.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

18 Responses to “The Cardinal Pell: Slouching towards Bethlehem”

  1. Michaela Tschudi May 22, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    The centre gave way a long time ago. (BTW that Yeats poem is one of my favourites).

    Pell should be forced to return to Australia. He must be held to account, along with the Catholic Church.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. goodrumo May 22, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    Reblogged this on iheariseeilearn.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James Fitzgerald May 22, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Ahhh, Yeats! Fantastic use of his work. Your superiority, in all areas, is blatant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 22, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

      That is high praise, thank you.


      • Anonymous May 23, 2015 at 10:40 am #

        Love this Jennifer,.was brilliant for me… thank-you…..confronting & challenging,..& ultimately (hopefully) enlightening. Bought up in a fanatical , violent & insane, (literally), Greek Orthodox family. 3rd youngest of 9. The long & winding journey (that ends so soon), to recover & detoxify & understand one’s psyche & find the centre that is home. Why arne’t you writing for The Guardian….(probably not mainstream enough for them) to hear you speak @ The Wheeler Centre down here in Melb.your writing/insights really needs to be right out there. If there is topic you’d like to talk on/debate/etc. pls let me know & i’ll put it to them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson May 23, 2015 at 11:06 am #

          Thank you, I will think about your suggestion. I’m very glad this post was useful, and that you told me so. 🙂


  4. hudsongodfrey May 22, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    That’s interesting. Another case of Tony Abbott getting things wrong as usual. I say we just nominate Tony to the office of Cautionary Tale in Chief and do the opposite of whatever he says in all matters.

    Perplexingly I just finished listening to a a priest on LNL saying that Pell should return.

    Knowing the mind of George Pell seems to me to involve reaching for insight across a Rubicon no sane person dare risk. At best we can look at the exceptions churchmen seem to think they’re entitled to, and what it means to think you’re always right and why.

    Part of it will inevitably be simple hubris supporting a sense of entitlement to favourable treatment in the light of their “life of pastoral service.” You know the sort of thing that might allow you to overlook an indulgent bad habit, like smoking perhaps. Only these guys as we know are overlooking far worse than that. When does overlooking become covering up and then aiding and abetting, we may well ask.

    The really scary part about thinking you’re always right is when you base that belief upon an ineffable deity and vicarious redeemer whose earthly forgiveness is boundless while judgement is conveniently reserved for whatever spurious version of an afterlife you choose to invent. The means always justifies the end that the solipsist defines for himself.

    By now we all know this tawdry apologetic when we see it and should begin to treat it with the contempt it deserves. And yet in some quarters, Abbott included, it still enjoys undeserved reverence.

    This was an issue not unknown to a fair proportion of society for some considerable time. It is perhaps only now becoming clear through the revelations about how far the abuse went that the whitewashing of it was also both more extensive and effective than we’d imagined. When they talk about all the priests in one school being abusers, while one other notorious offender abused every child in an entire school it is no longer a question of whether his former superior ought to respond. It has become an absolute imperative.

    Spokesmen for the church in Australia have pre-empted Pell’s cooperation. If and when it does come it will be up to the commissioners and all of us not the accept the same tired and lame excuses Abbott seems to have.


    • Jennifer Wilson May 22, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

      “And whatever harm the world calumniators may do, the harm the good do is the most harmful harm…”


      • hudsongodfrey May 22, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

        Nietzsche was right of course if you limit the definition of harm either to well intentioned deeds gone astray or duplicity on the part of hypocrites maintaining the mere appearance of being good.

        I think Pell may fit into the later category….

        I suppose the obvious companion quotes are the hackneyed Edmund Burke or Steven Weinberg ones.

        On some occasions though it does seem to be the case that one man’s justice is another man’s harm when good people are required to step up and put things right. That’s one kind of more harmful harm I could live with in Pell’s case.

        That’s been the problem with this for so long. People are given to believe anyone as righteous sounding as the bloke in the clerical collar must be on the side of good. Hence there was far too little oversight of the whole system.

        For all the efforts to prioritise the state education system over religious institutions that have fallen on deaf ears this may be the straw to break the camel’s back. Who after this would entrust their kid to a religious institution?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson May 24, 2015 at 7:11 am #

          I was approached by Salvation Army people asking for donations a while ago. My reaction to what these people represented was visceral. There are years of hard work ahead of these institutions if they want to survive.


          • hudsongodfrey May 24, 2015 at 11:31 am #

            I know what you mean. There’s distaste there. I don’t know that I’d say revulsion for a particular individual I’m meeting for the first time in connection with their church or charity. As Doug mentioned elsewhere it may only be 2% who offend, but it’s the 100% willingness to look the other way that doesn’t set so well.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. doug quixote May 23, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

    Very fine, Jennifer. Pell has fled upstairs to Rome, and I’m sure he intends to stay there. Tony Abbott is his little mate, and if he can protect him or divert attention from the issues then he surely will.

    Tony Abbott would love to be able to stop or at least divert the Royal Commission, if only he could. But thankfully he cannot. The best he can do is run interference with some antics; and eventually, to bury the findings of the Royal Commission if we are so unfortunate as to still have him as Prime Minister at that time. Avert.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson May 24, 2015 at 7:12 am #

      I think this Royal Commission is Gillard’s finest legacy, that no one will stop, divert or bury.

      Liked by 1 person

      • hudsongodfrey May 24, 2015 at 11:36 am #

        Granted she acted on it, but when you had Catherine Deveny and Father Bob joining to mount the same petition based more or less on the revelations of an ex Newcastle policeman turned whistle blower…. Man the writing was on the wall for this!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson May 24, 2015 at 11:38 am #

          Yes, but I suspect an Abbott government would have reacted very differently.

          Liked by 1 person

          • hudsongodfrey May 24, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

            Obviously I’d go further than that even and say they have reacted differently.

            If history is kind governments going back several decades at least will be described as mistaken or ill informed in relation to the abuses that occurred on their watch.

            The very minimum requirement in my view has been what Gillard did given how strong the case for an enquiry had become.

            Abbott however does have the information from the RC and is either living in the past or consciously working in an ill motivated way to deny and frustrate an enquiry that for the good of all involved needs to run its course. In many ways this is a new low, even for him.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Fiona May 24, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

    Jennifer, thank you for yet another fine analysis of the man and the institution(s).

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Slouching Towards Bethlehem | THE PUB - May 24, 2015

    […] I read Jennifer Wilson’s exceptionally fine piece at No Place for Sheep on Friday evening, I decided to republish it at The Pub because her analysis of George Pell is one […]


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