|Pic courtesy The Australian|
George Pell died yesterday in Rome after complications post surgery.
I won't make any comment on his successful appeal to the High Court, and the legal journey that led to that.
I wasn't there, I don't know what happened. Only Pell and his Maker hold that truth.
I can, however, reflect on my minor personal experience with him, and his position in the church in Australia.
I wrote to cardinal Pell protesting Morris' dismissal, and after an interval of six months received a fairly brusque letter from his private secretary. It thanked me for my concern, but claimed that I had been misguided by the publicity surrounding the history. None of the questions I had put to Pell were answered, and the message was clear - mind your own business.
The fact that I was a member of the diocese and that William Morris was my pastor was apparently irrelevant.
Fast forward to the 2018 conviction, the successful appeal to the High Court in 2020, and Pell's transfer to Rome.
"We are satisfied that Cardinal Pell's evidence as to the reasons that the CEO deceived him was implausible. We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise."
There are a couple of facts of history that will remain relevant to Pell's stewardship and pastoral activity.
First, he was the head of the Catholic Church in Australia during a period when there were literally thousands of cases of clerical abuse of children.
Secondly, he developed an institutional response that initially capped compensation to victims to $75000. The level of compensation was increased during the process to a ceiling of $150000.
Third, he was resistant to any effort to reform the clericalism that was a very significant element of the problem. I learned as a special school principal, that sexual abuse of vulnerable children is a problem of untrammelled power, rather that sexual dysfunction, and whilst that power remains, so does the abuse.
Clericalism in the church has always been about power and control. Fortunately, under the current Pope, there is a slow transformation towards a more pastoral culture, and the power is leaching, at least at parish level, to the laity. There is a long way to go.
Most significant to me was my experience of the required institutional response, in the state education system, that reporting any suspected episode of abuse is compulsory. Failing to report is a criminal offence.The establishment of Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) teams at regional and district level reflects that.
Criticism of the Melbourne Response has always been that it was designed to protect the institutional church, as much as support the victims.
Pell was probably as much a victim of the perpetrators as the children, in that he was unable, given his attitude towards clerical hierarchy, to escape the consequences. His efforts were stymied by the structures he sought to preserve.
However you regard the history, he will be remembered for the positive influence he apparently engineered in sorting the Vatican's finances. His reputation in his own country is much more complicated.
Luke 4:24 writes that no man is a prophet in his own land.
I wonder if Pell ever had a chance to reflect on that.