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A tale of two Georges

The acceleration of Cardinal George’s prediction of cardinals-in-jail should give pause to those who blame the abuse crisis on “clericalism.”

Australian Cardinal George Pell is pictured at the Vatican in this Oct. 6, 2014, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) The late Cardinal Francis E. George in a 2007 photo. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

When a pope is elected, the cardinals who have just chosen him make their way to the Hall of Benedictions atop the narthex of St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s a challenging journey for some: In 2005, the frail, 79-year old Cardinal William Baum was carried out of the Sistine Chapel, through the basilica, and up to the Hall of Benedictions by his conclavist-secretary, Msgr. Bart Smith, doing a fair imitation of Aeneas toting Anchises out of Troy as sculpted by Gianlorenzo Bernini.

As the new pontiff is presented, the cardinals appear at the windows flanking the central loggia of the basilica; there, they receive the first papal blessing with the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. On March 13, 2013, two cardinals remained behind for a few moments, alone in a window after Pope Francis retired for the night. They seemed pensive, these experienced, thoughtful, and prayerful men, both of whom had worked hard to reform troubled dioceses. The Church had just experienced an unprecedented form of papal abdication; the conclave had resolved itself quickly in favor of a candidate unfamiliar to many electors; what was coming next?

One of those men was the archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, who died in 2015. The other was his friend and ally, Cardinal George Pell, then the archbishop of Sydney, later the Vatican’s chief financial officer. Some years before, Cardinal George had shocked the priests of Chicago by suggesting, almost offhandedly, that while he would die in his bed, his successor would die in jail and that man’s successor would be executed in the public square – after which the martyr’s successor would, as the Church had done so often in the past, help pick up the fragments of a broken civilization and start again. It seems unlikely that, on the night of March 13, 2013, Cardinal George imagined that his hypothetical scenario would be dramatically accelerated, the only difference being that the friend beside him would be the one in jail. And Cardinal Pell would be in prison, not for the defense of life or religious freedom, but because of a wickedly perverse conviction on uncorroborated charges of sexual abuse that a jury had been shown could not possibly have happened.

There are, as sociologist Peter Rossi used to say, many ironies in the fire.

We may hope and we should pray – intensely – that Cardinal Pell’s conviction is reversed on appeal. If it is not, the innocent cardinal will become a prison evangelist and a witness to Christ behind bars. Australian justice, on the other hand will have suffered a devastating blow from which it will take a long time to recover. And reasonable people will wonder whether it is safe to do business or travel in a country where a fever-swamp media and secularist bigots have the capacity to distort the legal process into a grotesque parody of democratic maturity.

But even if the appeal is successful – as it should be on any rational grounds, and if the words “beyond a reasonable doubt” mean anything in Australian courts – the assault on the Church and its leaders will continue. The issue of clerical sexual abuse has been weaponized. And that weapon is being used, not to deal with abominable sins and crimes that cry out to heaven, but to settle all sorts of other scores, ecclesiastical, political, and, in Pell’s case, financial, given the corrupt practices the cardinal was exposing.

The acceleration of Cardinal George’s prediction of cardinals-in-jail should also give pause to those who blame the abuse crisis on “clericalism.” Clericalism – the evil misuse of the respect those in Holy Orders rightly enjoy because of their sacred office – facilitates abuse; it doesn’t cause it. Like the charge of abuse, the “clericalism” trope has been weaponized by the Church’s enemies, to the point where it is becoming difficult for any Catholic cleric charged with misconduct to receive a fair hearing or a fair trial. The vicious public atmosphere on display in Australia whenever the words “George Pell” are spoken is not improved by senior churchmen, in Rome and elsewhere, blaming abuse on “clericalism.”

From his present station in the Communion of Saints, I have no doubt that Francis George is interceding for George Pell, and for the vindication of justice by the judges who will hear the Australian cardinal’s appeal – even as the American cardinal regrets how prescient he was.


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About George Weigel 218 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). He is the recipient of nineteen honorary doctorates in fields including divinity, philosophy, law, and social science.

10 Comments

  1. Satan has been working tirelessly 24/7/365, since Jesus’ ascension, to destroy the one true church on earth. He created the conditions for the carnage we are seeing today. It is only by prayer, fasting and asking for the Blessed Mother to intercede can we hope to get through this latest crisis. This of course is not the first time Satan has triggered attacks, nor will it be the last. But in the end God wins.

    • i believe George Weigel is right on the mark…

      The charges against Cardinal Pell are bogus – I have read the entire briefings .. and the incident could not have happened.
      This entire thing – so many of us believe – was to have the Cardinal removed
      asap from the Vatican as he was getting ‘to close to the financial heart of what was going one’.
      .. How is it possible that he starts to ‘open the books’ and ‘promises honesty’ and a short time later – charges appears about what 30+ years??
      No way!
      rigged – without a doubt .. the truth will come out….

      The Australian Catholics need to fight for Cardinal Pell… yes fight..
      the way evil men and women fight to destroy


      The Australian court is a disgrace, an utter disgrace..May the Cardinal be strengthened by those of us who believe him and pray .. with and for him….

      • opm
        The following is a copy of a letter sent to a priest requesting “A Mass for Cardinal Pell”
        A MASS FOR MY HERO CARDINAL GEORGE PELL.
        Like many Catholics, I have been thinking a great deal about the incarceration of Cardinal Pell. I found such injustice inexplicable until I remembered What Caiaphas the High Priest had said (under inspiration by the Holy Spirit), concerning Christ namely, “You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people. John II;50” Almighty God has been so offended by the abandonment of His laws in Australia. He needs to cleanse His Church.

        Let me give you one example: I am not aware of anywhere in the entire world, where Christ’s admonition; recorded in Matthew 7 :6 was so blatantly disobeyed.. Do you recall He said “ Do not give dogs what is holy and do not throw pearls before swine” In September 2013, The Age newspaper published a story that Holy Communion was given by a layman at a dissident Mass to his dog during the distribution of Holy Communion. I understand he broke the host and gave a piece to his “well trained German shepherd”.

        The majority of the hierarchy in Australia. were pacifists. They were quitters. They wanted a quiet life.They capitulated and submitted the Church to the demands of the Secular State. They followed the law of the land and not the law of God. One man stood out, Cardinal Pell for which he was hated by one and all (including the Vatican) for being an Apostle of Christ. There are countless examples where the Aussie clergy became extremely liberal, and as a result, these shepherds sewed darnel in conjunction with good seed. The Church has collapsed in Australia.

        The Australian court refused to permit 20 witnesses to speak for the Cardinal. They relied on the words of two claimants, one of whom had died, after informing his mother that Cardinal Pell was innocent. No one listened. The chances are that he may fail to win his subsequent appeal because of the Legal system in Victoria.

        Why do I wish that Holy Mass be celebrated for my hero?

        He has always defended the faith. I won’t go on. However, his faithfulness has in some way merited special graces. Someone special needs to pay the price for so many sacrileges. Our Heavenly Father in His wisdom has decreed that His chosen soul, Cardinal George Pell, be His instrument to make the necessary sacrifice to placate His Divine Justice..

        Pell reminds me of Cardinal József Mindszenty, Archbishop of the Diocese of Esztergom in Hungary. The communists could not break him without the use of drugs. He was tortured and given a life sentence in a show trial.

        Who can miss the similarities between Cardinal Pell and St Thomas More. He too was jailed in the Tower. Both prisoners were placed in solitary confinement without any books. Cardinal Pell is not even permitted to read his breviary, all prisoners are permitted to only have a bible. This
        outdoor man is locked up for 23 hours each day. He must be truly suffering and many people hope the jailer will throw away the key.

        So, Father, would you be so kind as to arrange for Holy Mass to be celebrated for the wellbeing of this modern day martyr.

        George Pell is just like you and me and would love to know that many souls around the world are praying for him.

        It is a salutary thought, if he dies in prison, he will go to heaven bearing these wounds inflicted upon him for his love of Christ.

  2. I’m afraid it’s impossible for Cd Pell to “become a prison evangelist and a witness to Christ behind bars.” except in a silent, purely spiritual sense. He is kept in solitary confinement, locked in a cell 23 hours a day and for one hour in a tiny yard surrounded by concrete walls, as if he were a dangerous wild animal. The civil authorities have even, in an unbelievably callous and bloody-minded act of vindictiveness, prevented him from even celebrating Mass alone, on the specious grounds that the teaspoonful of wine required is prohibited in gaol. (Whilst they do little to combat the illcit drugs common in Australian gaols.) As if he was going to use it to run a sly-grog shop to the other prisoners whom he never has any contact with.

  3. Australia’s judiciary seems to have absorbed the concept of Stalin’s Article 58. May it please God that the Australian people, long honored for their love of freedom, stand again against oppression.

  4. 21 03 2019 JMJ
    Yes it is common practice in Austrian prisons.
    Rules are rules no alcohol no drugs.
    Being a secular Society with little room or regard for The Supernatural.
    It has happened before, in Geraldton prison I think? (Can’t recall who the priest was involved) No wine, no Mass.
    As for drugs! Well… some prisoners seem better on drugs. Easier to handle. It is said?
    Recall a father of a drug addicted son ringing into the ABC radio programmer. They were interviewing a past Commissioner of Police (Mr Bull I think) and lamenting how his son was still getting drugs in a Perth goal.
    The interviewer cut him short and asked him to stay on the line.
    Who gives prisoners drug, has never been revealed.
    As for Cardinal Pell’s 23 hours in the cell? Well! Could well be for his own safety.
    You may have heard or seen when Cardinal Pell was running the media gauntlet, when a voice, or sign said.
    Quote: “Rock Spiders don’t live long in Goal”. That translated into English means pedophiles are murdered in prison.
    Just imagine the egg on face of authorities if Cardinal was brutally murdered in custody.
    So lets keep praying for Cardinal Pell; and… what always comes to my mind, all the victims of pedophilia. For there are so many.
    Cardinal being innocent must be in absolute bliss.
    Imagine being falsely convicted knowing you are actually innocent?
    What a great comfort that must be?
    Reminds me of someone 2000 years ago?
    God save the Queen and Australia too.
    Terrence McDonnell WA

  5. Clericalism is an evil that is used by evil people against the innocent. So, I do believe that there is plenty of clericalism in the Church where the vain are allowed to use their ecclesiastical positions to terrorize the innocent.

  6. “From his present station in the Communion of Saints, I have no doubt that Francis George is interceding for George Pell,……”

    Given that Cardinal George died just 4 years ago, I think it reasonable to assume that his “present station” is in Purgatory, undergoing whatever purification and cleansing is necessary before his eventual reunion with God in Heaven. (That is, indeed, the Church’s eternal and unchanging teaching on the doctrine of Purgatory.) And I write this as one who was very pleased with the restoration of the Catholic faith to the Archdiocese of Chicago during Cardinal George’s 17-and-a-half year tenure as Archbishop – a priceless legacy which is being figuratively defecated upon by the current Cardinal-Archbishop and his minions, supporters, toadies, fellow-travelers, and “useful idiots” both within and without the Archdiocese.

    IF George Weigel meant to imply that Cardinal George’s soul is already in Heaven – well, that is the same error of presumption as Bishop Barron’s “fervent hope” that very few souls are in Hell. (And I don’t normally quibble publicly with what Mr. Weigel writes, either on First Things or in his articles’ reprints here on CWR – but that one statement just struck me as seeming to be just such presumption.) Will Cardinal George’s soul make it to Heaven some day? One can certainly hope so and pray for that to happen (and my opinion is that his deeds here on earth certainly merit Heaven – but that’s just my well-informed opinion).

  7. “From his present station in the Communion of Saints” appears precisely worded to avoid just the presumption you ascribe. Whether as a member of the Church Triumphant where his ability to intercede clearly understood, or as a member of the Church Suffering where his ability to intercede is less definitive, yet certainly a reasonably-hoped-for circumstance, a presumptuous statement about Cardinal George would have been easier to make: “From Heaven…”

  8. I am so grateful for George Weigel’s articles on behalf of George Pell. As an Aussie Catholic I have followed and am so grateful for the faithful work of Cardinal Pell towards the sanctification of our beautiful Church.
    That opinion is in no way intended to diminish sin which occurs within the Church, and the effects of that sin on so many who are innocent.
    Our movement and our ultimate goal are towards Our Father in heaven, and I pray that we participate in the way of Divine justice and mercy for all. Amen.

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