The Journey Inside


“I have not felt on the edge of an abyss, though I do slump a bit.” So writes George Cardinal Pell, in the thirty-fourth week of solitary confinement for crimes that, after a further twenty weeks or more in his cell, seven High Court judges would unanimously overturn. We read the journal knowing of the overturning, but we are accompanying George Pell through the highs and “slumps” of what was, but a brief time before, an unimaginable incarceration. But as the chronology laid out in the opening pages reminds the reader, the shadow cast over Pell began long before, when on June 29, 2017, he was charged with multiple historical sexual assault offences.

The significance of that particular day will pass most readers by, but for George Pell, as to every bishop who stands in the apostolic succession, it is charged with a deep meaning, for it is the day set aside to honour the martyred saints, Peter and Paul, flawed yet chosen first leaders of the Church. I found myself wondering if, before the police pounced, the Cardinal had had the opportunity to keep the Feast at the Altar, the sacred and daily action at the heart of his priesthood he would soon learn to live without.

Volume Two has the same format as Volume One, with the helpful explanatory notes on each page delivering the reader, especially the non-Australian reader, from endless hunting through appendices. This is a trilogy for publishing purposes, and to understand not only the important legal journey, but what is to my mind the more interesting inner journey of this enigmatic man who has been judged and judged and continues to be judged, it is necessary to start with Volume One. If the presentation style is consistent, this second volume has a different feel, and the clue to that difference is reflected in the ominous subtitle, The State Court Rejects the Appeal.

In his entry for August 18, three days before the Appeal Court decision, Pell begins with the cautious optimism reflected in the first hundred or so pages of the volume: “I am hoping this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time is my last Sunday in jail.” This optimism is born not simply of his innocence and his trust in the judicial system, but also in the confidence that his lawyers have presented a strong case that the evidence presented to the second jury did not warrant a guilty verdict. In dramatic contrast, the entry for the Wednesday after the court found against him begins, “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord make haste to help me,” and ends with the short heartfelt plea, “Jesus mercy. Mary help.”

That day with its moving entry marks a turning point in the saga, and while the Cardinal’s ability to “forge ahead” (the chapter title for the following week) becomes evident, for a season the tone of the journal changes.

This review appears in a recent Quadrant.
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One subtle example. It has been his custom to conclude most entries with a pertinent quote. Wisdom from the Fathers of the Church, found in his beloved breviary, his chief companion on this solitary journey, and from the impressive storehouse of his own memory garnered over many years of study and prayer, both feature strongly. There are prayers shared from the Divine Office and there are words of simple wisdom or encouragement from the constant stream of supportive letters he receives. The change of mood as he struggles to come to terms with dashed hopes for freedom and the possibility of a further three years inside, the wondering about the worthwhileness of an appeal to the High Court; the impact on his own and the Church’s reputation, and the making sense and the making fruitful of the injustice and suffering (an important theme throughout), is reflected in a marked increase in his use of the Psalms.

The Psalms of David are at the heart of the rhythmic prayer of Jews and Christians as they make their journey “through the changes and chances of this fleeting world”. They tell of every human emotion: sometimes raw, calling on God for his pity from the depths of despair; sometimes daring to question the wisdom of God; sometimes wonderfully celebrating God’s majesty; sometimes exultant with praise; and sometimes describing the heaviness of soul that can overtake the believer, calling on that soul to trust.

Through the journal we get a daily glimpse of prison life with its routines, small kindnesses and petty inconveniences, interwoven with Pell’s reflections on faith and on life in church and state beyond the prison. In his calling on the Psalms we get a clue to the inner life and spiritual struggle of the man locked in his cell, a man who in ordinary times does not easily wear his heart on his sleeve, and who over the years has learned the necessary detachment of the celibate heart.

Readers who attend deeply to the text will perhaps be surprised to discover a gentle as well as an impressively strong human being with a resilience born less of hardness of heart than of discipline and trust in Divine providence. Don’t expect to sense his tears on every page or hear him raging. I can only remember one reference to his being angry, when he was spat upon by a nameless fellow prisoner. Anger was soon dissipated by prayer. There is scant evidence of self-pity or resentment, though one wry and rueful comment is revealing. In one of his reflections on the financial scandals in the Vatican which feature quite considerably in the second half of this volume, he doubts a lurid press report that a dodgy Cardinal in Rome might be thrown under the bus: “I shall believe that when I see it. Cardinals are not like laypeople, except in Australia.”

After almost forty years in England it was only when I returned to Melbourne five years ago that I began to realise the division, passion, vehemence and even hatred that the name “Pell” elicits among otherwise reasonable Australians. Even as I was reading this volume during a plane journey, a steward passed by, announcing that she was collecting last bits of rubbish. Noticing what I was reading, she thought it entirely appropriate and acceptable to say, “That’s rubbish. I’ll take that away.” Pell’s is an unwanted household name, the antithesis of a “national treasure”. Many would like to bury him, whatever the High Court might have decided.

To my shame I said nothing rather than challenge her, my silence reflecting that of most bishops, none of whom I suspect, like me, has ever been left alone in any church, let alone a busy cathedral, for six minutes, the claim at the heart of the prosecution case. The silence of us Anglican bishops on this matter, and on the general disdain for the Cardinal in the public sphere and in Anglican circles, should be a rebuke to us. Reading of the encouragement his postbag became in his isolation, and as one who had intended to write, but never did, I was heartened to read that he had at least received a letter from the retired Anglican Archbishop of Sydney.

Pell’s conservative views, his loyalty to the Church and her teaching, and his fearlessness in speaking out on the moral questions which so many Australians now regard as matters of personal choice, made him a hero to some and a public enemy to others long before the terrible realities of child abuse hit the headlines, sending the churches and their leaders into a time of defensiveness, shame and self-doubt, from which they are struggling to recover. This is especially so in his home state of Victoria, where a version of secularism has all but removed the religious worldview from the table of discussion about how society is to be ordered, and the contributions of the Church to social cohesion go unnoticed and undervalued, a trend that was in evidence long before the awful revelations that emerged from Pell’s home diocese of Ballarat.

The apparent disdain of Victoria’s Premier towards the High Court decision was shocking for its lack of statesmanship. More worrying still is the danger of such a view undermining the judicial system. Further, it encourages the idea that whatever the High Court might say, Pell was guilty, and even if he wasn’t, we owed it to victims of abuse that someone in high places be punished for the crimes and failures of the Catholic Church; that the Cardinal should indeed “be thrown under the bus”.

An understandable, even necessary bias towards vulnerable complainants can create a blindness to the paucity and inconsistency of evidence, and to the dismissal of evidence in support of the defendant as inherently unreliable. A right and proper assurance that complainants will be listened to with the same attention as defendants, however high or mighty the latter might be, has been replaced with the mantra “We will believe you”, with the inevitable concomitant that an accused will not be believed. Reflection about this and the toing and froing of lawyers for consultation about progress become central as the journal continues and the Cardinal and his team prepare to go to the High Court. The next volume will see that journey through.

The diminishment of imprisonment is a great leveller, and one is reminded of this as Cardinal Pell admits he is writing as much for personal therapy as with the thought of publication; as he delights in the arrival of a lukewarm pie and in the saving of his chocolate bullets until later; as he expresses disappointment in not receiving a phone call or being able to make one; as he rejoices in the little triumphs of throwing four goals through the basketball ring in the gym and his “excellent” form reaching 250 shots on his forehand in ping-pong; as he sings hymns in his cell to help deal with distractions in prayer; and as he spends more time watching television than at any other time in his life. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions and gentle critique of Sunday morning worship services beginning with Catholic Mass for You at Home through to evangelical preachers and the generally reviving Songs of Praise.

He becomes as dependent as any ordinary churchgoer on someone else’s faithfulness to bring him Holy Communion. Sister Mary, who has walked the corridors of Her Majesty’s prisons for over twenty-five years, is one of the background heroes in the journal, as are the writers of those several thousand letters, an unprecedented postbag in the history of the prison service.

Through those letters, wrought by his diminishment, grace is discovered. Which ordinary Christian would in normal circumstances have the courage to write their little snippets of advice and assurance of prayers to a Prince of the Church, to one generally used to being the initiator and silencer of conversations, the giver of advice, and the bestower of sacramental grace? Which Prince would warmly receive them? His waiting for and counting of letters reminded me of a child receiving and counting lollies. They are wonderfully important, whether they bring news of friends or developments in his case, or of the progress or otherwise in dealing with the shenanigans of the Vatican, or the simple heartfelt prayer of a Christian on the other side of the world.

Open-minded readers whose opinions have been formed by what often appeared to be Pell’s unsatisfactory detachment in media interviews following all those appalling revelations, or by the works of investigative journalists, may be surprised as they warm to the author and discover in these pages so much more of this down-to-earth yet perplexing prelate.

But in truth, I doubt my air steward will read it, and neither will the Premier of Victoria. Nor, sad to say, will many of my Anglican colleagues. And that is surely something of a pity.

Prison Journal, Volume Two: The State Court Rejects the Appeal
by George Cardinal Pell

Ignatius Press and Freedom Publishing, 2021, 319 pages, $39.95

Lindsay Urwin OGS is an Anglican bishop. Born in Australia, he was the area Bishop of Horsham in the Diocese of Chichester, in southern England, from 1993 to 2009, and was Administrator of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham from 2009 to 2015. He was appointed Vicar of Christ Church, Brunswick, in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, in 2015 and is bishop to the Anglican schools in the diocese.

6 thoughts on “The Journey Inside

  • ChrisPer says:

    Interesting! Because I will probably never read the book, I welcome your observations and insights.
    The discipline Cardinal Pell displays in responding to the evils done him is lovely to see.

    Having read the many articles of the late Richard Webster (still there at on Police trawling, the Shieldfield affair, the alleged Jersey childrens home scandal and a dozen other failures of the media and justice system meant I was better prepared than most Australians to look at the assertions of the media and Police.
    We cannot trust justice on subjects where emotions get too high before investigations get under way, and our media profit by whipping emotions up.

  • Daffy says:

    Trust and the Victoria police is not a normal coupling of concepts.
    And the stewardess! I’m schooled in responses to such comments: they consist of two words, one of which is copulative. Not fit for this journal, so I’ll leave it at that.

  • thwaytes says:

    Richard Caesar-Thwaytes – 30 August 2021

    I absolutely and in every respect agreed with Bishop Urwin’s comments on the first two of three Volumes of Cardinal Pell’s Prison Journal. I did read the two Volumes, with great sympathy for Cardinal Pell, and great admiration for the high quality of the books. I have ordered the Third Volume, due out in November. Bishop Urwin has identified all the more significant aspects of the nature of these two excellent books and provided commentary which hits the nail on the head in every aspect. I was also glad to read the article because the writer comes from near Chichester. My home was in a village five miles South of Chichester. Although I can understand why Cardinal Pell was disapproved of, or even hated, by many sorts of people, even in my Roman Catholic Parish of St Gregory’s, Queanbeyan, we had some sort of general meeting a decade ago, in various groups of about a dozen people. Someone in my group started to sling off about Cardinal Pell. A silence followed. I said: “I have never heard any report of what Cardinal Pell said, which I disagreed with.”

    In regard to the accusations against Cardinal Pell in the Melbourne Cathedral in 1996, when I first heard of them, I said to myself: “What a ‘Cock-and-Bull Story! What reasonable person is ever going to believe this!” I formed this opinion, not because the Accused was a Cardinal, but because the accusations, by their nature and context were not merely very unlikely, but bloody ridiculous. All human beings (other than Christ in his human nature) are capable of great wickedness, including Cardinals and Popes.) But the accusations were believed by the Victoria Police. Let me not neglect this opportunity to express publicly my complete contempt for the conduct of the Victoria Police, and most of the Victorian Legal System in the Pell Case. I say this without any general disapproval of Police. I was, after several years service as a Regular officer of the British Army, Special Constable Number 126, of the West Sussex Constabulary, in the early 1960’s. We were individually sworn in by a Magistrate and issued with a Warrant Card, having legally normal Police powers of arrest. With very little training, and only occasional Duty, I was quite useless as a policeman. My finest hour was a duty or two at the (medieval) Cross in the centre of Chichester, where I stopped the traffic and waved on the green Southdown buses. But I was enthusiastic to support the regular Police in upholding the Rule of Law, and supporting the admirable English Police system with its unarmed tradition of defending the public, in justice and fairness,

  • pbw says:

    “An understandable, even necessary bias towards vulnerable complainants…”

    Exodus 23:2,3

    You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.

    Leviticus 19:15

    You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour.

    Deuteronomy 1:16,17

    And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s.

    Romans 2:9-11

    There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

    Ephesians 6:5-9

    Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,…knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them…knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

    Colossians 3:25

    For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

    1 Timothy 5:21

    In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.

    James 2:9-10

    But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

    “To my shame I said nothing rather than challenge her…”

    I would speculate that the sources of your inhibition in challenging the stewardess are the same as those which lead you, a bishop, to accept and even promote “understandable, even necessary bias” in the courts. We are all intimidated by the incessantly proclaimed “prevailing opinion.”

  • Sydgal says:

    Thank you for these observations on Volume 2 of Cardinal Pell’s Prison Journal. Regarding social media posts following the HCA decision, it was interesting that the Vic A-G and several MPs retweeted the Premier’s statement. Like yourself, I would have been shocked if the flight steward incident had happened to me. I think I would have sent a letter of complaint to the airline CEO and enclosed a copy of Keith Windschuttle’s book The Persecution of George Pell, with post-it notes marking out Chapter 8 The Mysteries of the Priests’ Sacristy and Chapter 14 The High Court v the Baying Mob, as well as a link to the HCA 12 March 2020 video – Pell v The Queen.

  • whitelaughter says:

    thanks, well worth reading

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