They Don’t Get the ABC in Heaven

This week past there has been pretty much only one story in the news. It is, of course, the passing of George Cardinal Pell, Australia’s globally known and mostly respected titan of the Rome Church.  Perhaps appropriately, he died in the Eternal City, (I suspect) his favourite place.

A couple of personal experiences since Pell’s death provide a little flavour of the nature and intensity of the reactions his death occasioned.  The first was the sister of a friend, who, out of nowhere in the middle of a conversation, randomly offered – “Oh, isn’t it great that that Pell is dead!”  The second is the wife of another friend, who, when she asked me if I thought Pell had “done it”, and when I said “God no”, she simply stared at me in almost speechless disbelief until, “Why would someone the complainant go through all that if it weren’t true?” 

Funny how these two vignettes just about sum up all the bile visited upon the Cardinal since that dismal day in 2017 when VicPol, after leaking slanders for months, finally and formally announced Pell was being charged with the heinous offences with which, by now, every Australian must be familiar.

Even, or perhaps especially, in death, George Pell still seems destined to ignite white hot emotions.  I had always hoped he would lead a longish, post-prison life of peace, freedom, quiet reflection and robust scholarship, if only to put some space between the peak years of active Pell hatred and his final passing.  This might, just might, have silenced his enemies who had mercifully gone silent since the timely analysis of Justice Mark Weinberg and then the wisdom of the seven High Court judges who freed an innocent man.

It is not to be. The Pell Wars have resumed.

Tony Abbott, not unexpectedly and irrepressibly, has described the late Cardinal as “a saint for our times” in an encomium that will only cement Abbott’s reputation as Australia’s second-most-hated man.  But perhaps there is another category of Christian sainthood that George Pell might equally fit.  One question raised by his life of being hated for his faith: is George Pell Australia’s primary candidate for “white martyrdom”?  What is a white martyr?  According to Faith magazine:

While we may never be asked to undergo torture and death for the sake of our Christian faith, we can still be martyrs.

When the early church persecutions waned in the fourth century, some Christians began to find other ways to live out the spirit of martyrdom. They called it “white martyrdom” – in contrast to bloody martyrdom – and they embraced the ascetical practices of fasting, praying and almsgiving, as well as more rigorous and unusual forms of penance.

Some lived on pillars and stayed until their deaths. Their austerity was in contrast to the decadence of the culture surrounding them. Most of us have a hard time imagining or even understanding this kind of practice.

Another definition of “white martyr” (from Mr Wiki) goes like this:

A believer was bestowed the title of red martyr due to either torture or violent death by religious persecution. The term ‘white martyrdom’ was used by the Church Father Jerome, ‘for those such as desert hermits who aspired to the condition of martyrdom through strict asceticism’.

White martyrdom is typically defined as being persecuted for the faith, but never with the shedding of blood. It consists of living a life boldly for Christ, yet never being asked to die for it.

The fit seems very tight.  Like two famous red martyrs with whom George Pell might best be compared, Jesus Christ himself and Thomas More, the Cardinal spoke truth to power, challenged inconvenient propaganda, corrected error and confounded the expectation that he would roll over and bow before the secular state.

Whether or not George Pell knew what was coming when he eschewed a promising football career with the Richmond Football Club for the Son of God, he placed himself in the line of fire, as fearless truth-tellers do.  And didn’t the fire come!  He wasn’t entirely ascetic, of course.  He enjoyed the regular benefits of a good red and a social life of plenty, having, as he did, a gift for friendship, despite his undeserved reputation for prickliness. 

But for God he did humbly offer up any chance at popularity, as serious Christians in the public square now seemingly must.  The Cardinal somehow incited public and official hatred without remotely trying to.  He ended up giving his reputation, his freedom – infamously, for more than 400 days – his health and possibly his life, to his God.  He constantly ran the gauntlet of confrontation with his opponents by speaking truth to earthly powers and dominions. He attracted more vicious enemies and denunciations than just about anyone who isn’t a serial killer or a Nazi anti-vaxxing conspiracy theorist.

When considering the life of George Pell it sometimes seems that two different people are being spoken of.  I cannot think of anyone else in my lifetime about whom this could be so easily said.  Reading the Catholic and (thankfully) the Murdoch media, we find dispassionate accounts of a great Australian, a holy man of God, a man of conviction who stood up for his beliefs, one who acted on his core beliefs with firmness and resolve, a plain-speaking man, a towering Churchman, a highly intelligent and widely published scholar/writer, a mover-and-shaker (a player), a man with the common touch whose personal warmth and charity were apparent to all who knew him. It is telling that those cheering most loudly at his release from prison were fellow inmates.

Reading and hearing from the leftist media and politicians, we are presented with a child molester and  protector of priest-paedophiles.  The Saturday Paper, for instance, marked the Cardinal’s death with a rehash of the “crimes” for which he wasn’t tried.  Written, inevitably, by Pell-hater-in-chief Louise Milligan, who has no doubt been itching to get the last word against a man who now is beyond his capacity to retort. Such contorted, spittle-flecked, embittered ex-Catholic anger! (I haven’t bothered to consult The Age, SMH, ABC or the twitterverse). 

The now all-powerful Premier of MelDanistan pointedly refused a state funeral without being asked for one.  Ahead of the curve. 

There is, though, a third category of observers of George Pell.  These people are the saddest of all.  They are the insipid fence-sitters who care about the reputations they have with their enemies.  See under Archbishop Tim Costelloe of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

Mostly, the Australian Catholic hierarchy, or at least its bureaucratic-managerial arm, has a long history of Pell scepticism.  Some, no doubt, are paid-up Pell deniers.  Much of it may be entirely personal and borne of jealousy, I suspect.  How did this guy get to be the successor of Daniel Mannix as Australia’s premier churchman? They are getting on with their Francis-man positioning while continuing with obsequious genuflections before the secular powers with whom they endlessly hope to court favour.  They pursue their ludicrous and neo-Marxist “synods on synodality”, about which George still had things to say, seemingly from beyond the grave

Perhaps, in the shadow of his evisceration of Pope Francis, written under the pseudonym ‘Demos’, or in The Spectator under his own name, the Cardinal was called home by One who had an interest in drawing maximum attention to the wrongs now going on in His Church, and to what Pell termed a “catastrophic” pontificate.  Like all good detectives, God doesn’t do coincidences.

Those who still doubt Pell’s innocence and essential goodness might profit from his Prison Diaries, as many souls already have. There is no way that those convinced of his evil values and deeds will ever do so, especially those whose day jobs require a fixated Pell hatred.  The Cardinal’s goodness, guilt or innocence is not an issue of priority for those to whom he will always remain the evil gift that keeps on giving, even after his passing.

A white martyr of almost textbook proportions has gone to his eternal reward.  It caught us all by surprise, and we will mourn his passing, despite knowing – to the extent that we can know these things – that he has gone to a far, far better place.  They don’t get the ABC in Heaven.


UPDATE: The Fourth Estate’s War on a Dead Cardinal

I have previously identified three categories of Pell-observers.  The first are those who, like (say) Tony Abbott, see a “saint for our times”, a holy man of God, a vigorous defender of the truth.  The next are the rabid, obsessed bordering on derangement, Team-Get-Pell types for whom every opportunity to stiCk in the knife is taken with relish.  Think Louise Milligan – the queen of the castle – David Marr, Daniel Andrews, Ray Hadley and all the rest.  The third category are the fence-sitting Catholic prelates who only ever mention the victims of sex abuse whenever Pell is in the news and they are asked to comment.  Archbishop Tim Costelloe seems to be the current flag-bearer.

I should now add a fourth, following the publication of an article by Terry Barnes in The Spectator Australia.

Here are the two paragraph that give rise to position four:

As a parish priest, diocesan bishop, archbishop and head of the Catholic Church in Australia, Pell’s moral failure to lead, to act swiftly and decisively to ensure paedophile clergy were tried and punished rather than moved and covered up, and its failure to purge those parts of the Church under his care of their evil stain, cannot be quashed. (written in 2020)

The issue here isn’t that Andrews, like his NSW counterpart Dominic Perrottet, has declined to offer Pell a state funeral. That’s understandable, given Pell presided over a Catholic Church that too long turned blind eyes to abuse by clergy, and in too many cases harboured them by moving them from parish to parish. Given what I wrote three years ago, it would be hypocritical to suggest otherwise (emphasis added).

(To all these might be added as a fifth category of Pell observers, namely Greg Craven’s liberal Catholics who were internal political opponents of the cardinal’s conservative position on various matters of doctrine and Church governance, and who did not necessarily see him either as a child molester or a protector of child molesters. They just didn’t like Pell’s version of the Church.  Think Geraldine Doogue, Frank Brennan – a staunch defender of the Cardinal in relation to his trials and the accusers behind them – and Kristina Keneally, as three exemplars).

But here we will focus on what might be termed “the fourth estate” of Pell haters.  (Or if “hater” is too strong, leave it at critics). 

The fourth group, typified by Barnes, have opposed Pell with vigour if not venom, on the basis of his alleged sins of omission in relation to not doing enough to stamp out sex abuse in the Church.  This was also the position of the Royal Commission in its absurd and harsh findings in relation to the Cardinal (delivered in May 2020).  In a nutshell, this amounted to “well, he should have known”.  Members of this group of Pell critics, possibly wilfully, misrepresent the powers of individual bishops and archbishops in relation to issues such as clerical abuse.

Writing since the death of the Cardinal, Gerard Henderson simply notes in relation to the Royal Commission’s verdict on Pell:

The cardinal has been condemned by findings that would not stand up in court.

In the case of the Royal Commission, there should have been no excuse for misrepresenting the capacity of a particular prelate to stamp out sex abuse. 

As Henderson has also written:

The Royal Commission declared that its findings would be consistent with the precedent laid down by the High Court in the Briginshaw Case – that is, the “reasonable satisfaction” test.  This entails that the more serious the allegation – the higher level of proof required before a finding amounting to “reasonable satisfaction” of an event having taken place is made.

The Royal Commission did not apply this standard with respect to Cardinal Pell – in spite of the enormously serious allegations he faced, namely covering-up child sexual abuse. Yet “reasonable satisfaction” with respect to such serious allegations requires a high level of proof.

As I document in my book, there was no verbal or written evidence against Pell.  None whatsoever. That’s why the Royal Commission found that it was, variously, “inconceivable”, “implausible”, “untenable” and “unlikely” that he did not know about clerical child sexual abuse. This is not proof of any standard – including the Briginshaw Test. Such vague words are frequently weaponised to cover-up a lack of evidence.


While critics like Terry Barnes are perfectly entitled to have their views on Pell the churchman and on sex abuse within the Church, they are not entitled to have their own facts.  And their error is not a minor one, nor without consequences.  Because this is a widely held and continuing misconception, and the source of great misunderstanding, perpetuating the error continues a grave injustice.

Barnes claims that Pell “presided over” the Catholic Church in Australia.  He did not.  Barnes and his ilk seem not to understand the authority structure in the Church and the nature of the episcopacy.  Archbishops only preside over archdioceses, and (Ordinary) Bishops over dioceses.  Not the whole Church.  But wasn’t he a “cardinal”, I hear some ask?  True but irrelevant.  The functions of cardinals relate to Rome and their power rests only in Rome.  They are papal appointments and papal advisers.  They need not even be bishops.  Pell was Australia’s most prominent Catholic cleric, but not its leader or powerbroker.  Just ask the other Bishops.

Getting to the heart of Barnes’ quote, there was and is no evidence that Pell ever moved abuser priests from parish to parish, and if he knew or suspected it was going on elsewhere, he was never in a position of authority to do anything about it.  Moreover, while Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell introduced the Australian Church’s first-ever process to achieve justice for victims of sex abuse (the so-called Melbourne Response).  He sacked dozens of accused priests the moment he was able to.  He and his appointees collaborated willingly with VicPol until they turned on him.  Barnes never mentioned Pell’s exemplary record on this issue or acknowledge its power in driving reform in other parts of the Australian Church.  He should have.  “Moral failure” on the Cardinal’s part?  I think not.

Continuing with the fiction that Pell ran the church in Australia and can therefore be held accountable for all of its crimes has led directly to the persistent fallacy that is still embraced in ignorance by a large chunk of the population.  And which will unjustly continue to dog the Cardinal in death. 

Saying that Pell did have the power to stop sex abuse of minor by priests and religious in Australia, or that he “should have known”, intentionally or unintentionally allows the demonisation of George Pell to continue apace.  It provides cover for the Get Pell brigade, shown by the events of the last week to have simply been having a sabbatical since 2020.  The Barnes argument should be nipped in the bud, or at least exposed for what it is.  You could almost say that those who, whether from ignorance or simple virtue signalling, maintain the fictions that Pell “should have known” or that he should have “done something”, might best be described as useful idiots, or, indeed, controlled opposition working in the service of the real Pell haters.

16 thoughts on “They Don’t Get the ABC in Heaven

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Hear hear Paul.

  • Daffy says:

    In a way I’m glad Pell will not have a state funeral. It would sully the profile of a wonderful and faithful man. Far better that his funeral is celebrated (if it has not already) in the bosom of the church and in the company of his fellow believers. Forget the state. States come and go.

  • Sydgal says:

    Thank you for this article, Paul. I have had similar experiences with friends and acquaintances following the HCA judgment and then more recently following the passing of Cardinal Pell. My sense is that people are just repeating what they’ve heard on the ABC or read in The Guardian or seen on Twitter. No one has read the detail.

    There have been numerous stories about Cardinal Pell in recent days but they do not seem to accurately reflect the HCA judgment (docs and videos on the website) or the material that was available to the RC. In the case of the RC, some important documents were not cited in reports, and a number of key witnesses did not appear for various reasons.

    However, there has been recent commentary on some of the news stories –

    In response to L Milligan’s article in The Saturday Paper, Prof J Gans has included in a tweet: “it’s a recurrent problem with Milligan’s journalism. If there are facts that don’t help her argument, she doesn’t tell her readers. She just leaves them out…I’ve never seen how Milligan explains the timing argument. Does she think the High Court misunderstood the evidence? Or that the law that requires the DPP to challenge contrary witnesses is a bad law? Or does she just not want to discuss this issue?”

    A QLD barrister has responded to the 2020 QUT article on “legal technicality” which has resurfaced in the last few days. He said: “The QUT article driving the ‘technicality’ contention on SM is misconceived and wrong. The prosecution could not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and we must not imprison an innocent person..”

    Articles in the Guardian by David Marr. Christopher Knaus and Benita Kovolos have appeared daily. Knaus focuses on the Principal in the Fr Searson/Doveton Parish case study but fails to mention the complex relationship between the men, as evidenced in the exhibits, which culminated in the Principal threatening to “re-arrange’ Searson’s face. Searson denied abuse of a young girl. As several commenters on twitter have pointed out, if the Principal suspected CSA, why didn’t he go to Police? Searson also responded to concerns at the time about his presence in the boys’ toilets – he said he had been cleaning graffiti. The Principal is now suing the Church for $3M.

    Kovolos’ story references the Ballarat suicides: “Survivor groups estimate more than 50 suicides in the town are linked to historic sexual abuse by priests” however did not include the report of VicPol’s Operation Plangere. This was reported in The Australian in 2015: “Rather than scores of people committing suicide due to church-related sex abuse, Operation Plangere could substantiate only one firm case. Operation Plangere found that there were several suicide cases of people who might have suffered Catholic abuse, but these could not be verified by police reports, and several cases where the suicides were not abuse-related”. Unfortunately the findings of Operation Plangere did not seem to be publicised by the Royal Commission.

    The “whistleblower” retired detective Peter Fox from the Newcastle/Maitland case study has a long twitter thread about Cardinal Pell which includes: … there’s the unresolved allegations against Pell at the Ballarat & Torquay swimming pools & David Ridsdale’s evidence of how Pell allegedly ask what it would take to buy his silence about his uncle’s offending?” The RC did not accept the allegation made by David Ridsdale about the bribe so that statement is misleading. Fox and others also reference the photo of Cardinal Pell with Ridsdale but in Ridsdale’s oral hearing he said it was a lawyer who asked Cardinal Pell to walk with him.

    Shine Lawyers, the firm representing the father of the deceased choirboy in his civil claim, also have errors in their most recent statement. This was issued less than 2 hours after Cardinal Pell’s death became public. The Chief Legal Officer said they would continue the claim against the Church and “whatever estate Pell has left behind”. However, she referred to the son as an “altar boy” and stated that he had alleged abuse. The deceased son had denied abuse when asked by his mother and father.

    The most recent piece is by Chrissie Foster in The Guardian. She focuses on secret files and moving priests between parishes. However, I am not quite sure if the RC discussed secret files. The minutes of Consultor meetings were provided and there could be a number of reasons priests were re-located – health/age/language/alcohol or substance abuse/financial/relationship/personality clashes etc – which may not have been documented in detail. Could it have been the case that some priests were homosexual and some senior clergy did not want to disclose this?
    The Guardian also advised that C Foster and Paul Kennedy from the ABC have an upcoming book to be published in May 2023 – Still Standing: A Mother’s Fight to Bring the Catholic Church to Justice.

    Unfortunately there has not been much coverage of Cardinal Pell’s statement to the RC in May 2015. This needs to be remembered: https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/CTJH.9999.087.0004.pdf

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “They Don’t Get the ABC in Heaven.”
    Does that mean that the angels are all confined to Sky News and other Murdoch organs (non-anatomic of course.)???
    No wonder they’ve been known to get rebellious at times.! As well, having to all sit round forever singing praises to God could well have tipped a fair number of them right over the edge. It would also qualify God as the greatest egotist ever, and severely lacking in insight into Himself.
    The theological implications of this are truly enormous. Monty Python could well have been right on the money. !

    • john mac says:

      Ian – have you not read the Adelaide “Advertiser”? to call it leftish would be true , but redundant . It is a braindead rag , almost all articles , and LttE push the lgbtq/Voice?Me Too narrative ! This knee-jerk anti-Murdoch drivel rolls off the tongues of so many , it’s taken as a given ! Surely you are better than that (apparently not). “The Australian ” , which backed KRudd BTW, should now be considered a centrist publication , the leftward trend continuing apace . Do you have a problem with Albrechtsen ? Kenny? Sloan? To me , the women writing in the Oz could well run the country – If I put my “Feminism has ruined the western world” argument aside . The wall to wall hegemony of the MSM /ABC/SBS/10/9/7 Guardian/Age/ all big tech/Education/Pharma, even your dreaded fossil fuel companies – and govt’s of all stripes and levels are not enough for you to to accept a little push back from QOL ? Why even visit here except to irk other readers or climb that extension ladder to your horse ?

  • Brian Boru says:

    My observations of George Pell changed over the years.
    Earlier, whilst I never did believe he was a child molester, I did not like his manner.
    I did like however the well prepared way he handled Richard Dawkins in the Q and A debate. (One of the last of that I watched before I relegated that program as a waste of time.)
    Gradually though, as George’s tribulations increased, so did my esteem of him. I saw him admirably handle a situation that would crush an ordinary person.
    My opinion of Ferguson and Maxwell could not be put into words suitable for Quadrant. Indeed, I don’t think the English language (or our vernacular) has expressions harsh enough. That also goes to those QUT authors that wrote the “technicality” piece of !*?. A fundamental principle of our justice system was nearly trashed to the peril of us all.
    Finally I have to agree with Daffy, leave the State funerals for those who take money from bookmakers so that State premiers can strut their populist insincere acts.

  • lroyjh says:

    ” The first was the sister of a friend,….The second is the wife of another friend” yes but perhaps now acquaintances?

  • Phillip says:

    It is a sad disgrace that Milligan continues to plagiarise as a Goon. To pursue her in defamation is a waste of time, because I, like the silent majority, don’t care for her vacuous opinion or existence.
    Cardinal Pell will be sadly missed and both society at large and the traditional Catholic Church are now the worse for the loss.

  • MaxQMcGraw says:

    Sometimes death colours our opinions. In the 70s, Fraser and Gough and their underlings gushed over Mao in the Parliament’s Condolence Motion, only for old Billy Wentworth to get up and tell the truth, that the old dictator was a savage and a butcher and that our leaders should just shut up.
    Although Pell’s death has clearly not coloured the opinions of Adams, Andrews or Milligan, it might have solidified the views of some about them. Perhaps before this, some only suspected they were pond scum. Now they know.

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    An all round good sport giving a loving honest days work.


    “A couple of personal experiences since Pell’s death…..” Dear Paul, It won’t be of any consolation that some people, even family, friends, acquaintances or co-workers are like budgies. They simply parrot what they hear on the ABC and other legacy media.

  • Jack Brown says:

    In many ways Cardinal Pell and Margaret Thatcher were cut from the same cloth with each most probably “on the spectrum” i.e. had Asperger’s Syndrome and the reaction to Pell’s death is quite similar to the “ding dong the witch is dead” celebration of Thatcher’s death. Each had backers and detractors coming out as polar opposites as is common with such people.
    Just as families hit by Thatcher’s policies still resent her and when her statue was unvelied a year ago was immediately egged. So too will those survivors of clerical abuse gaslighted by the hierarchy of the RCC and personally by Pell (in his Aspie way whereby they see other people as NPCs) will hang onto their resentments.
    It was sad that in his interview with Bolt that when Pell discussed the church’s failings and how it always believed the victims were lying he spoke in the passive voice and could not find a way to personally apologise for any of his own displays of disinterest in the experience of victims when they approached him for help, the point being to invite victims to adopt a frame of forgiveness rather than resentment. Aspies never apologise because that is a about repairing relationships whereas they are transactional. Besides authority figures, Aspie or NT, always prioritise the organisation’s interests in such circumstances and move to get rid of their problem, which is not the abuse but the complaint. That was so disappointing that he could not do that, something Jesus innocent of any crime did by his sacrifice that Pell could not do.

  • Petronius says:

    I am at the point now where I refuse to enter into debate about the Pell issue. It is a bit like playing whac-a-mole — if you hit down one claim another pops up. Even if you come down to expatiating on the absurdity of the time, situation and context of the events no cognitive light shines through. Your interlocutors are desperate to hate him and desperate to win. What you take away is the stupidity of your fellow humans. Pell wasn’t perfect and he made mistakes, but what is apparent is his quality as a intellect and churchman.

Leave a Reply