Did Cardinal Pell simply come along at the wrong time, and decidedly in the wrong place (Victoria), and so suffered the perfect anti-Catholic storm which has delivered him his unspeakable legal nightmare?
First, there are the seething, post-royal commission atmospherics. Anyone dragged into court following this five-year Church-bashing jamboree will have those baying for blood salivating at their prospects of getting it. First, get the criminal conviction. Then proceed to the civil cases with demands for compensation from the convicted and their institutions.
Second, there is the general progressive-green leftism with which Victoria is awash, Mordor south of the border. With one’s absorption over many years of daily news and views from the hostile, indeed vituperative Fairfax media on the one hand, and the “shocked” jockery of 3AW’s Neil Mitchell and the ABC’s Jon Faine on the other, denizens south of the Murray who are somehow able to find their way past the rising siren song of footy’s imminent season have found themselves ears- and eyes-deep in anti-Church bilge.
Then there is Victoria’s Gen Y. Streaming out of the halls of academe, whether from that original home of the Safe Schools program, aka La Trobe University, or from other, equally well credentialed sources of post-modernist dogma such as RMIT, young Melburnian graduates sidle into the employ of government agencies, the legal profession, NGOs e, the virtue-signalling corporations, or worst of all, the education system, bringing their woke culture to the workplace. The march of the politically correct millennials into the institutions of the private sector has been chillingly documented of late by Toby Young in The Spectator, and by Ross Douthat in The New York Times, among others.
Then we have a Victorian Government, amazingly re-elected afresh, led by a Premier who regards anyone who opposes La Trobean-style ideology and suchlike as “bigoted quacks”. Whether Victoria Police, initiator of Operation “Get Pell” Tethering some years ago (see Keith Windschuttle’s “George Pell and the Jury“) and well in advance of any charges or even accusations against the Cardinal, form a solid anti-Catholic block for whatever reason, or their officers simply mirror the biases of the broader Victorian community is a matter for another day.
Third, there is the drifting, general stench of the Church sex abuse scandals from overseas, especially but not restricted to the US, wherein two damning, even if themselves sensationalist and biased, state reports over a decade apart (Boston and Pennsylvania) have exposed the breadth, as well as the awfulness, of illegal and immoral priests’ behaviour towards minors.
On top of that, the coverups. These ranged from the bungling incompetence of Church middle managers to confusion over what to do, to misplaced psychological guidance about the possibilities of “curing” paedophiles, to the sheer dreadfulness of the now-defrocked Edgar McCarrick-style lavender mafia. That most of this behaviour is indeed a homosexuality problem and not a paedophilia problem, that other institutions outside the church(es) are similarly flawed and have been exposed as such, and that the biggest problem in relation to child abuse occurs in family homes, especially broken family homes, means little to an Australian community fed on the story that the Church is a “nest of paedos” and willing to believe this line.
Fourth, the dramatic rise in the “nones”, as identified in successive Australian censuses. The country now has far fewer believers , with many of the “nones” the most Catholic-hating group of all — lapsed and bitter ex-Catholics. These folks are especially wont to believe all they hear of the (mainly) past misdeeds of the Church. Those of us educated by the Christian Brothers or the nuns will have our stories of cruelty and Dickensian bleakness from the 1950s and 1960s, and some will have had suspicions about particular men. (Barry Oakley has written poignantly and autobiographically about his own experiences with the Brothers, maintaining a soft spot, interestingly, for all those men who gave their lives to the Lord and led, by most standards, existences of tedium and service).
The “nones” will have a range of views about the sins of the Church. The ex’s will probably be angry and vengeful. The ever growing number of “post-Pill generation” ex-Catholics bring their own particular brand of disdain/hatred to the table. The “never weres” will probably just find religion odd, and its practitioners to be treated with caution, or worse.
Fifth, there is the homosexualisation movement – ironically part of this anti-Pell perfect storm, given the nature of the homosexual subculture which has indulged down the ages, from ancient Greece to Rome to Taylor Square, in routine pederasty. It loathes the Church and sees it as a barrier to the final steps of complete normalisation and significant expansion. That the very same cleric who once denied Holy Communion to the rainbow sashers has been pinged for homosexual acts must provide exquisite pleasure for his gay detractors.
The homosexualist attack on the Church comes from without and within. There are those who see conspiracies related to homosexual (and communist) infiltration of the Church at high levels, especially in Rome. Communists infiltrated everything else – why not the Church? And there is a shared cultural Marxist philosophy among communists and radical homosexualists that is fighting to first scandalise, then marginalise the Church.
So, for the Cardinal, decidedly this was the wrong time and the wrong place to be facing these kinds of charges. Throw in the now-rife #MeToo approach to evidentiary dispositions, and you have a potent, compelling context for both accusations that stick and verdicts.
Lamenting Pell’s luck, appalling though it has been, is sadly only a part of the picture. As a number of fellow commentators have noted, Pell’s great friend, the late Cardinal Francis George, he of the windy city (Chicago, not Wellington), once stated that while he would probably die in his bed, his successors’ fate would not likely be so kind. To get the quote just right:
Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring,” writes the Cardinal. “I was responding to a question and I never wrote down what I said, but the words were captured on somebody’s smart phone and have now gone viral on Wikipedia and elsewhere in the electronic communications world. I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.
What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: ‘His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.’ What I said is not ‘prophetic’ but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.
Little could Cardinal George then know that his great friend, sentenced this very day, may well (pending his appeal) suffer the fate he had predicted for one generation hence. Pell’s six-year prison sentence, with three years and eight months to be served before parole becomes a possibility, simply brings forward the schedule. What will put believers in jail? Pell’s case is instructive.
Removing Catholic voices from the public square, especially those voices clear and compelling about Catholic principles, do not baulk at the hard bits, do not roll over in the face of progressive opponents, and prosecute their case with vigour (as been the case with Pell), is a prime aim and a high level strategy of the secularist, progressive archipelago.
The members of the tribe, like the members of the climate alarmist brigade, form a loose confederacy, with some nodes connected and others apart. There are a range of motives and methods, dissembling and misdirection among them. If the Left’s real enemy was child sex abuse, then the Catholic Church would be one of the last places to forensically dissect. You would start with step-families. Or remote Aboriginal communities. Or the Northern Sydney Beaches and the education departments of the 1980s. Or those groups, some religious, that are sympathetic to child brides. Pick your own nest of predators. No, it is the Church itself that is the target. Sexual abuse crises are merely the occasion for the attack, the fuel used to drive the vehicle.
Three examples will suffice to demonstrate the next phase of the Pell Wars that we have now entered, the “get the Pell’s supporters” offensive. It’s a foray to stake out positions for the next front in the ongoing campaign. First, there were Howard and Abbott. They made the mistake of engaging in the entirely legal and appropriate activity of providing written references and comfort to a friend in grave need of support. I would like this sort of support if faced with mortal danger. In a Victorian prison for the crimes with which he was charged and is now convicted, Pell is indeed in mortal danger. Ask Carl Williams or Tony Mokbel, the latter likely to figure prominently in the upcoming royal commission examining how Victoria Police goes about its business. Just recently, a front-page story, presumably leaked from official sources, attested that Mokbel was the lord and master of his new prison home. The next day he was stabbed and very nearly killed. No doubt Pell is saying his prayers. He needs to.
The attacks on Abbott and Howard were bizarre, deranged even. Normally sane people, like the Queensland journalist Dennis Atkins, went into bat for the latest Milligan-led Four Corners hit job on Pell and the cardinal’s supporters. By the way, Atkins was on the panel that awarded Milligan one of her journalism gongs for Cardinal, the book rushed into print to beat sub judice restrictions and which did so much to pre-convict Pell in the all-important court of public opinion. The titans of Melbourne morning talkback joined in, as did the soicial media trolls and character assassins. Two for the price of one: take out Pell and skittle Abbott too.
Second, there is the “get Bolt” push. Silencing Andrew Bolt is an old game played by many seasoned pros who see in the columnist and commentator the ultimate “far right” warrior, to be hacked down for being relentless and effective. The very same game is now in play in the US, with a push to get rid of Fox’s Tucker Carlson from the Fox airwaves. Hilariously, the Left thought it had scored a great victory when it engineered the destruction of Bill O’Reilly. What they didn’t realise was that Tucker Carlson would be ten times deadlier, and would apply telling force in the belittling, even the destruction, of their ideology.
Carlson is a champion of the silently infuriated and of the under-the-radar victims of what Victor Davis Hanson has termed a 360-degree assault of political correctness, the so-called “progressive synopticon”. Like one of my local supporters in the battle for the NSW seat of Lismore, who has told me how many of her colleagues and friends are utterly sick of being brow beaten and bullied into sullen silence at work under the yoke of leftist ideological conformism. This is Trump territory with a nasal Australian accent, but no one in Australian politics is willing to platform it.
Getting rid of Bolt is always a plan for the Left. This time, throw in Bolt’s game advocacy of Pell’s innocence and it’s on again with a vengeance. The woke corporates, to which I have already referred, surrender to threats of boycott and the renewed vendetta has traction. As Janet Albrechtsen reports in The Australian, just a few tweeters and some app-driven signatures are enough to see sponsors pull their Sky News ads. Thinking of buying a car? Bear in mind when drawing up a list of which dealerships to visit that Hyundai folded without so much as a whimper.
Third, there is the “get Greg Craven push”, led by none other than the ABC’s Louise Milligan, the Pell warrior par excellence and author of the book whose very title — Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell — nailed him before he was, well, nailed. She is more responsible than most for crucifying Pell, this girl with the Irish surname raised as a “devoted Catholic” who, along with VicPol, went victim-hunting. Now Milligan is breathlessly tweeting about the vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. Not only did he dispute the soundness of the Pell jury’s (mark two) verdict but, also mentioned apropos of nothing in particular, he is Australia’s second-highest paid V-C! Oh, and he hasn’t taken down Pell signs around the campus.
The Pell warriors can hardly wait to go hunting for plaques, signs, statues, buildings, in the final push to rid the world of any memory of the man, of any lingering tribute to him – for his priceless, fearless, loving, God-ordained work of saving souls these past fifty or so years.
Pell may or may not die in prison. His successor, Archbishop Anthony Fisher may suffer a similar fate. Fisher’s successor, whose arrival is still, hopefully, a long way off, may be killed for his beliefs, as Francis George darkly predicted. Does all this bode well for our precious freedoms? To think, believe and say what we will within the safety net of a civil society and a civil community?
First they came for the falsely accused cardinals …