Who’s out to get George Pell? It looks as though someone is. Just when it seemed that the media’s obsession with Pell had run out of steam, along comes the ABC with another of its fearless investigative exposés of the Cardinal’s alleged misdemeanours, all sepulchral emotion-choked “victim” voices and sympathetic interlocutory concern. Some of the programme was a rehash of what we’ve been told a thousand times but there were with several new dramatis personae thrown in, and the allegations against Pell were direct rather than by association. For the media, Pell is the gift that keeps on giving. Is anyone orchestrating this ongoing pursuit?
Once, say 100 years ago, a possible answer would have been international anticlerical Freemasonry. But the Craft is not what it was and seems unlikely these days to have the resources or motives for masterminding an anti-Catholic conspiracy.
The police? Probably not, at least on their own initiative. In persisting with its investigation into Pell, secretly until someone leaked it, Victoria Police is in part demonstrating that a lot of thick coppers have signed up to the prevailing orthodoxy that Catholic priests must have some guilty sexual secret because celibacy, so out of tune with the mores of our age, denies them a “normal” outlet for their physical desires. (The same orthodoxy decrees that householders should not band together to protect their homes from marauding gangs, and that anyone sought in connection with an offence must not have his racial appearance included in the description unless he is unequivocally white.)
Anyway, in the Pell case the police are not the organ grinder but the monkey. The officers investigating Pell belong to a department enquiring into allegations referred to them from the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse. Is it then the Royal Commission, Julia Gillard’s parting bequest to the nation, the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce de nos jours, that is still hoping to get something on the Cardinal?
Again, highly unlikely. The Commission did the best it could to nail him in four days of interrogation by video link from Rome (with the addition of some direct questioning by “survivors” on a crowd-funded trip to the Eternal City). Nothing has come of this in terms of further action against Pell and it’s hard to see how it could. Presumably, when the Commission’s various functionaries eventually decide that their accumulated remuneration has reached a satisfactory level – sorry, that their investigation is complete and it’s time to shut up shop, a report will be placed before Parliament in which, inter alia, Pell’s evidence will be platitudinously assessed (“hard to credit that such a senior cleric was not better informed”, “unfortunate that the time lapse has rendered fuller confirmation of victims’ testimony impossible” etc.). But one suspects that if there were to be charges we would have had them by now (and wouldn’t the media have been ecstatic? They’d have thought all their Christmases, or perhaps one should say ‘holidays’, had come at once).
How about Pell’s enemies in the Vatican? He has put some noses out of joint there, with his commission to “clean up” the Holy See’s finances. The Vatican bureaucracy is a series of little empires, some less than thrilled at having the clear light of day shed on their bookkeeping, especially when personal expense accounts are involved. If Pell were charged with child abuse the Pope would have no alternative but to sack him. But it seems improbable that even in the noble cause of ridding themselves of this intrusively troublesome priest the monsignori could somehow manipulate the Australian media 16,000 kilometres away into continuing its anti-Pell campaign.
Did the ABC act on its own then in launching new accusations of abuse against Pell, small-time though they are compared with what Ballarat’s proven abusers are known to have got up to? In a sense probably yes. But here we must say a word about the climate in which the national broadcaster operates.
Anti-Catholic sentiment has long been present in Australia, mainly because of old, unhappy, far-off things in the British Isles, but anti-Catholicism has changed. It is no longer the fierce sectarianism, the Protestant complaints about Catholics colonising the public service or getting all the best sites for their churches, that it was up until the 1950s. The Protestant-Catholic stand-off of that era has died away, largely because the descendants of all those Scotch Presbyterians and low church English Anglicans who couldn’t abide Roman Catholics have given up on their religion. Traditional Protestantism in Australia is close to being a spent force, as will be underlined when the census results are published.
On the other hand, though starting a little later in time, Catholics have given up on their own faith. This falling away began in the 1970s when, under the influence of the Second Vatican Council’s “engagement with the world” and “child-centred” secular educational theories, Catholic schools stopped teaching Catholic doctrine and replaced it with woolly benevolence. Whether the students preferred this or not is neither here nor there. Once out of the classroom, they gave it all away.
But where lapsed Protestants simply lost interest in religion, large numbers of young lapsed Catholics became actively anti-religious. They have given up on Catholicism but for some reason (suppressed guilt at apostasising?) they are angry with it. Just look at the Catholic-sounding names in any pressure group that opposes the teachings of the Catholic Church – all those Carmels and Brigids and Damiens and Pauls, all part of the new PC establishment, all firmly integrated into the secularist zeitgeist of contemporary Western society. This is a generalisation but anyone with the time to look up a few websites on “safe schools” or gay marriage or abortion will see it is not an exaggeration.
And they still enter the public service, those young and hostile lapsed Catholics, and one of its branches they go into is the ABC. How many practising Catholics are there in the ABC? Probably quite a few among the tea ladies, but in news and current affairs?
It’s this zeitgeist that’s out to get Pell, not an individual but lots of individuals, of whom a not insignificant component are lapsed Catholics or liberal, still-practising but so-called “dissenting” Catholics – the kind of Catholics acceptable on ABC panels, the sort who loathed the previous Pope (they like the present one but are beginning to suspect that behind the shrugging “who am I to judge?” routine is an old-fashioned, believing-in-the Devil type of Catholic) and can be relied on to take a Leftish line on any social issue. Indeed, the older members of this group have been gunning for Pell for years. The first waves of the anti-Pell movement came not from secularists but from among his fellow Catholics, who dubbed him “Pell Pot” for his alleged authoritarianism when he was appointed rector of the Catholic seminary in Melbourne and dismissed a phalanx of openly or covertly dissenting lecturers. The secularists were not slow to follow in taking up this jibe.
Pell represents just about everything the modern left-liberal establishment dislikes. Can you imagine this witch hunt being waged against Bill Morris, the Catholic bishop in Queensland the Vatican sacked in 2011 for being too liberal? The ABC and the rest of the Left rose to his defence as with one voice in a hymn of secular canonisation. Yet long before the paedophilia saga got into its stride those same voices that petitioned the Vatican to reinstate progressive Bishop Morris were petitioning the Vatican not to make the conservative Pell Archbishop of Melbourne. It was even more horrifying for them when he went on to Sydney, traditionally the top job for Australian Catholic prelates.
Pell is a thorn in the side of the leftish-minded within and without the Roman Catholic Church. I have heard people who wouldn’t know what a cardinal was sounding off against him. He is an orthodox Catholic who is not fuzzy or wishy-washy in expounding his faith. He has the additional stigma of being sceptical about man’s role in climate change. All in all, he’s out of step with the prevailing ethos of moral relativism. He has to be brought down.
Christopher Akehurst is a periodic contributor to Quadrant, the Spectator Australia and the Melbourne Catholic, for which he writes on architecture. He is editor of Organ Australia.