The Anatomy of a Pathology

An attempt at explaining the unhinged hatred displayed by Cardinal George Pell’s enemies

Australian Cardinal George Pell relaxes on the grounds of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney April 9, 2020. Cardinal Pell was released from prison April 7 after the High Court of Australia unanimously overturned the December 2018 jury verdict that found him guilty on five counts of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in 1996. (CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Sydney)

Those who imagined that the sliming of Cardinal George Pell would stop as of April 7, when a unanimous decision of the High Court of Australia acquitted him of “historical sexual abuse,” did not reckon with the climate of venomous hatred that has surrounded Pell for decades, fouling Australia’s public life, legal system, and politics in the process.

That climate certainly was a factor in the Victoria police department trolling for accusations against George Pell (most of which were dismissed before trial; others were finally quashed by the High Court decision). That climate surely tainted the trial that led to the cardinal’s conviction in December 2018, despite a jury having been shown that it was literally impossible for him to have done what he was alleged to have done, where he was alleged to have done it, and in the time-frame proposed by the prosecution. That climate likely influenced the otherwise incomprehensible decision of two justices of the Supreme Court of the State of Victoria when, in August 2019, they upheld the jury verdict in spite of a devastating dissent by the one justice on the appellate panel with substantial criminal law experience. That climate shaped the commentary of the gobsmacked anti-Pell Australian media in the immediate aftermath of the High Court’s acquittal; no one in that baying mob of Pell-haters had the honesty or grace to admit that the case against Pell had been irrational from the start, or that the High Court had saved Australian justice from becoming an international laughingstock (and worse).

The incessant, even obsessive, degradation of Cardinal Pell has continued in recent weeks. After the High Court’s decision, previously redacted portions of a report by Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse were released. The anti-Pell media, trying to rebound from the defeat it had just suffered at the hands of Australia’s supreme judicial authority and stung by the bludgeoning it had taken from a few brave commentators in the Australian press, claimed that the Royal Commission’s full report confirmed their claims that Pell had been part of a vast cover-up of such crimes as a young priest – this, despite the cardinal’s vigorous rebuttal of those claims and massive evidence that it was Pell’s superiors who had engineered and carried out the cover-up, sometimes in consort with the police..

The Royal Commission’s work will be addressed later, for it, too, was affected by the anti-Pell climate of hate prevalent in many Australian circles: a climate of intellectual dishonesty, religious prejudice, and vile politics redolent of that which fouled the public air during the Dreyfus Affair in late-19th century France. The first order of business, however, is to try to understand just what spawned this climate of hatred.

The short answer is that the public climate of rabid Pell-hatred is the by-product of certain poisonous fumes that have polluted public life Down Under for decades. Some of those fumes were spewed into the atmosphere from Australian politics. Others were generated by a very ugly Catholic history for which George Pell has been scapegoated. Still others involve an aggressive secularist assault on biblical religion. Together, these combustible elements ignited to create a public atmosphere of irrationality unbecoming a mature democracy. That atmosphere created the circumstances in which George Pell’s critics and enemies were able, with virtual impunity, to defame one of Australia’s most distinguished sons, and do so with a ferocity that has led the unhinged to issue death threats against him.

How did this happen? Australian public life is not for the faint of heart, but this is not typical Aussie hardball. This is something properly described as pathological, and the underlying pathogens should be explored. In doing so, it will be helpful to distinguish the pathogens generated by Australian politics from the ecclesiastical pathogens, although the two reinforced each other for decades and continue to do so today.

The Political Pathogens

The political side of this tawdry story requires a dive into the mid-20th century history of the Australian trade union movement and the Australian Labour Party: a tale that revolves around a formidable figure named B.A. (“Bob”) Santamaria, arguably the most controversial Catholic figure in Australian history prior to George Pell.

Many Australian unions were deeply penetrated by communists in the 1930s and were thus aligned with the policies of Stalin’s Soviet Union. The disturbing effects of that penetration were soon evident. As a member of the British Commonwealth, Australia quickly entered World War II when its government accepted Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany on September 3, 1939; Berlin, however, was then allied with Moscow through the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact of August 23, 1939. So when Australian troops were sent to the Middle East in support of Britain’s efforts to halt the German advance there, unionized Australian dockworkers refused to load military supplies intended for their deployed countrymen – and would not do so until the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941 put paid to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, Stalin switched sides, and the word went out from Moscow that Hitler was now the enemy.

Strong communist influence in the Australian unions also had serious repercussions in the Australian Labour Party [ALP], which was wedded to the country’s unions even more closely than Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Democratic Party was to the unions of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the U.S., trade unions were one important part of a complex Democratic coalition that also included Wilsonian progressives, southern segregationists, and big-city Catholic ethnics in the Northeast and Midwest; in Australia, the ALP was the political expression of the unions, period. And while communists had not completely gotten control of the ALP, non-communist members of the party feared, in the early 1940s, that it was only a matter of time before the takeover was complete and the ALP became irreversibly aligned with Soviet policy.

Enter Bob Santamaria.

A labor activist and devout Catholic whose mind and spirit were shaped by the social doctrine of Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI, Santamaria was a shrewd political strategist and tactician as well as a serious thinker. As such, he realized that the only way to break the communist hold on the unions, and therefore on the Australian Labour Party, was to out-organize the communists from the bottom up, on the shop floor level. At the state and federal levels, communists controlled the levers of power; and while they did not insist on communist ALP candidates for state and federal office, they welcomed what were then known as fellow travellers. Their grip on the unions and thus on the ALP could be broken, however, if the communists could be out-voted at the most basic level of union activity: individual workplaces or shop floors, where the process of choosing state and federal union and party officials (and thus selecting political candidates for election to the state and federal parliaments) began.

Santamaria, often working through parish priests who helped him identify union members amenable to reason, created what became known as the Movement: a reforming effort that taught trade unionists the principles of Catholic social doctrine, trained them in leadership and organizational skills, and then, shop floor by shop floor, took back the Australian labor movement from the communists. By the mid-1950s, communists had lost control of every major union in Australia and their influence within the ALP had been seriously eroded.

None of this was easy, and the battle to save Australian trade unionism created rifts within the Catholic Church, religious home of many union members. Bishops with different ideas of the Church’s role in public life took different positions on Santamaria and the Movement’s efforts, to the point where an appeal was made to Rome to sort things out; Rome’s Delphic response (don’t form a Catholic political party – which no one, including Bob Santamaria, was proposing – but fight the communists) settled nothing, and the division between pro-Santamaria bishops and anti-Santamaria bishops presaged, in a way, the split in the ALP itself in the mid-1950s. A new party, the Democratic Labour Party [DLP], was built on Santamaria’s principles. As the junior partner in a coalition, the DLP helped the Australian Liberal Party (which is actually the conservative party in Australia), dominate the country’s national politics until the mid-1970s.

It would be an exaggeration, but only a slight one, to say that Bob Santamaria was the crucial figure in forestalling what might have been the communist takeover of Australia. By breaking the communists’ hold on the key trade unions, he undermined the communists’ influence in the ALP. The subsequent fracture of the ALP was a bitter one, and Bob Santamaria was never forgiven by the ideologically hardened elements of the Australian Left for his work in the 1940s and 1950s.

Over time, the hard Left in Australia, like others of similar disposition throughout the world, took the exit ramp from Marx-and-Lenin Boulevard onto Antonio Gramsci Parkway: making its peace, more or less, with a market-oriented economy, the Aussie hard Left, tutored by the Italian Marxist theorist Gramsci, began the long march through the institutions of culture. Rather than pursuing control of the “means of production,” as old-school Marxists would have tried to do, the hard-core Australian Left undertook a program of radical secularization of public life, support for the sexual revolution in all its manifestations, and, most recently, identity politics.

That program successfully conquered much of the Australian media, much of the Australian university world, and indeed most of Australian culture (high and low); at the same time, cowed politicians of more conservative social instincts were brought to heel, such that what was once the far Left became the center of Australian politics. The result in much of Australia is a de facto dictatorship of relativism, in which shaming, ridicule, and the relentless media persecution of dissenters from the mainstream, nihilistic cultural consensus have been used to create a public climate that (as one veteran Australian political operative put it to me) “makes California look like Alabama by contrast.” In his exasperation, my friend perhaps heightened the contrast (for one ought not sell California’s polymorphous perversities short); and he was specifically referring to the State of Victoria. But similar, if not quite-so-dramatic, situations obtain throughout the country, not least because of the virtually complete capture by the Left of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the taxpayer-supported national television and radio service.

Yet despite its success in the long march through the institutions of culture and the transformation that success has produced in Aussie politics, the ideologically hardened Australian Left continued to hate Bob Santamaria. For Santamaria had compounded the original sin for which the Left never forgave him – beating the communists at their own organizing game in the 1940s and 1950s – by his defense of Pope Paul VI’s teaching on human love and the appropriate means of family planning in the 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae. In that defense, Bob Santamaria was a lonely figure among publicly prominent Australian Catholics and did not have the same success within the Church as he’d had in his struggle for the body and soul of Australian trade unionism. But he fought on. And in the decades between Humanae Vitae and his death in 1998, Santamaria became a vocal proponent of the dynamic orthodoxy and social doctrine of Pope John Paul II.

In that, as in his ongoing battle against the lifestyle Left, he found a co-belligerent in a man he befriended and to whom he became something of a mentor: George Pell.

Preaching the homily at Santamaria’s funeral in 1998, then-Archbishop George Pell of Melbourne began on a wry note: “We are told that the sure mark of a false prophet is that all people speak well of him. In death, as in life, Bob Santamaria has triumphantly escaped such a fate.” And then, at the mid-point of his homily, Archbishop Pell highlighted two facets of Santamaria’s character, the first of which was ignored by Santamaria’s enemies in their polemic against him: “He had huge and hidden reserves of compassion for individuals, which never obscured his clarity of mind about principles and issues.” In the retrospect of two decades, it seems an eerie premonition of the fate that George Pell himself would suffer at the hands of the same enemies – the degradation of one’s essential humanity and decency because of the political incorrectness of one’s ideas.

Thus one important piece of the puzzle in the anatomy of Pell-hatred: George Pell, the political disciple, as stand-in for B.A. Santamaria, the ancient bogeyman of the hardcore Australian Left.

The Ecclesiastical Pathogens

Seeking to ignite the flames of evangelical fervor, Pope John Paul II often used unexpected, even shocking, episcopal appointments to jolt self-satisfied, dispirited, or moribund local Churches into renewed Catholic vitality. Appointing Aron Jean-Marie Lustiger, the son of Polish Jews, as archbishop of Paris was one such example. John J. O’Connor to New York and Francis George, OMI, to Chicago (after very short stays in their previous dioceses) were two more instances, as were Desmond Connell to Dublin and Joachim Meisner to Cologne. In some cases, this papal form of shock therapy worked; in others (notably Ireland and Germany), it didn’t. The nominations of George Pell as auxiliary bishop of Melbourne and then that city’s archbishop, followed by his appointment as archbishop of Sydney and a cardinal, certainly fit that pattern. And while Pell’s indefatigable work in reigniting dynamic orthodoxy in Australia has borne considerable fruit over the past several decades, it has also cost him dearly. For the situation he was charged with changing was a particularly foul one, and, for a variety of reasons, both political and ecclesiastical, Pell took (and is taking) the blast of opprobrium that ought to have been directed at wickedly malfeasant churchmen.

When George Pell returned to Australia after theological studies in Rome (where he was ordained in 1966) and doctoral studies in history at Oxford, he served in numerous capacities in the Diocese of Ballarat, where he had been born in 1941. The bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, was a typical clerical autocrat of the pre-Vatican II era, trying to govern his diocese in the post-Vatican II Church through the old methods. When Pell was appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987, he found himself under the authority of an archbishop, Frank Little, who did not welcome Pell’s appointment (to put it gently). In their different personal styles, Mulkearns and Little presided over local Churches that exemplified many of the serious problems besetting Australian Catholicism in the immediate post-Vatican II years: a rapid decline in Mass attendance and other forms of Catholic sacramental practice; a meltdown of consecrated religious life and a mass exodus from the priesthood; doctrinal ambiguity, weak spiritual formation, and moral laxity in seminaries; catechetical silliness that emptied Catholic faith of its content and its mystery, and thus of its magnetism; a deterioration of Catholic identity and the reduction of Catholicism to an ethnic marker; a deep deficit in evangelical energy; and, because of all this, an unwillingness or inability (or both) to respond creatively to the secularist assault being mounted on the culture (and the Church) by the new Gramscians of the Australian Left.

These deficits of Catholic conviction and ecclesiastical spine were evident for those with eyes to see and ears to hear in the 1970s and early 1980s: a small band that included Bob Santamaria and George Pell. What was not evident, and which bishops like Mulkearns and Little did everything in their power to keep hidden, was Australia’s grave crisis of clerical sexual abuse. That crisis involved both diocesan clergy and religious priests and brothers; and it was as bad, or worse, than elsewhere in the world Church. Lives were ruined; bishops and religious superiors, intent on preventing the “scandal” they imagined would ensue if the facts became public, determinedly kept these sins and crimes away from public scrutiny – thus magnifying the scandal when the dike of deception inevitably broke. And in that strategy of information-lockdown, bishops and religious superiors had, at the time, the cooperation of the public authorities, including the Victoria police department.

When George Pell was named as Archbishop Little’s successor in 1996, he immediately got to work putting dynamic orthodoxy in business in Melbourne, paying particular attention to the reform of religious education and catechetics. Perhaps his most striking effort involved the lax local seminary. When Archbishop Pell insisted that daily Mass and the regular recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours begin again – moves regarded by the seminary faculty as reactionary – the faculty, thinking to call the archbishop’s bluff, threatened to resign en masse. Pell, a former Australian-rules football star who does not scare easily, accepted the resignations and then set about reforming the curriculum and discipline of the seminary. It was an unmistakable signal that the lassitude, flaccidity, and general weakness that had too often characterized post-conciliar Catholic life in Melbourne were going to be challenged, and by the leader of the archdiocese.

Pell also addressed the abuse crisis vigorously, the first bishop in Australia to do so. His predecessor, Archbishop Little, had kept no records of abuse claims, from his installation as ordinary in 1974 until 1993, three years before his sudden retirement; Little handled such cases personally and in strictest confidence, determined to quarantine the information he had as much as possible. Bishop Mulkearns in Ballarat had followed a similar policy, which included, in both Melbourne and Ballarat, reassigning known abusers. Pell was determined to take a radically different path, which he believed was both a demand of justice and an essential part of his broader work of authentic Catholic reform.

Within a hundred days of becoming archbishop of Melbourne, Pell appointed an Independent Commissioner to receive and evaluate claims of clerical sexual abuse, and worked closely with the Victoria police to avoid archdiocesan interference in their investigations and to seek their counsel in developing the protocols by which the Independent Commissioner would work. Neither the Independent Commissioner’s findings nor police findings were contested by the archdiocese. Pell also created what became known as the Melbourne Response. The first procedure of its kind in the world, the Response was intended to facilitate financial assistance and counselling for abuse victims through a process that did not require them to seek legal representation or to establish the Church’s legal liability. At the time, the Victoria police welcomed the Response (which was led by lay legal professionals), calling it “a positive step in tackling this very sensitive community issue,” and similarly applauded the appointment of a distinguished barrister as Independent Commissioner. (Some 224 complaints of sexual abuse from the 1970s, 82 complaints from the 1980s, 12 complaints from the 1990s, and one subsequent complaint were upheld by the Response.)

George Pell took a similarly vigorous approach to Church reform when John Paul II transferred him to Sydney as that city’s archbishop in 2001, and two years later created him a cardinal. As in Melbourne, revitalizing the local seminary, strengthening religious education, and supporting lay renewal movements were Pell priorities. And in Sydney, Pell seized the opportunity to underscore one of his longstanding concerns as an archdiocesan ordinary: reanimating Australian Catholicism’s sense that its local Churches were component parts of a universal Church centered in Rome. Thus Pell asked, and Pope Benedict XVI agreed, that World Youth Day-2008 be held in Sydney. And contrary to the carping of the usual naysayers, it was a considerable success.

At the outset of his Sydney years, Pell was himself accused of acts of sexual abuse allegedly committed forty years earlier. Having established protocols for handling such accusations similar to those he had created in Melbourne, Pell, after vigorously declaring his innocence, stepped aside from the governance of the archdiocese until a former Victoria Supreme Court justice could independently investigate the matter – a step Pell took against the advice of an overwrought senior Vatican official who urged Pell to “sue him [the accuser]; sue him!” Justice Alec Southwell, Q.C., dismissed the complaint.

In the eighteen years he served as archbishop of Melbourne and archbishop of Sydney, George Pell’s reforming efforts in those two large archdioceses were subject to relentless criticism by the proponents of Catholic Lite, who found a ready megaphone for their anti-Pell attacks in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and much of the Australian print media. In those same years, Pell’s refusal to kowtow to political correctness lit up the Australian Left on a regular basis – and like his ecclesiastical critics, his political foes found ABC and many print outlets eager to amplify their complaints. Pell refused to bend to the gay insurgency and was thus regularly portrayed as a homophobe. He debated with relish the “new atheist” Richard Dawkins, in what ABC must have imagined would be Pell’s intellectual Waterloo; the cardinal more than held his own as Dawkins, presumably sharing ABC’s view that Pell was a pre-modern booby of a Catholic bishop, was ill-prepared and boring. When the Gramscian Left in Australia converted to Gaia-worship and declared anthropogenic global warming a settled fact, and a civilization-ending threat to be handled by a massive expansion of governmental control of economic life, Pell begged to differ – and was thus anathematized by his enemies as a heretic as well as a homophobe and a scientific ignoramus. It hardly needs saying that Pell was also attacked for these opinion crimes by his ecclesiastical opponents and enemies, who saw in them further challenges to Catholic Lite, which had long made its peace with the political Left in Australia.

George Pell infuriated his critics because he refused to concede that what the Gramscian Left and the proponents of Catholic Lite had long assumed settled was in fact settled. He did not think the ratchet of history worked in only one direction. He was not cowed by the polemics typically deployed from the portside of the political and ecclesiastical spectrums and then disseminated by much of the Australian media. This led to befuddled outrage: What was it about this man, this infuriating public figure who did not bend as so many others had?

So a venomous conviction seems to have formed in the minds of George Pell’s enemies: Pell must be a wicked man, because only a wicked man could hold such retrograde views and espouse such a reactionary cause as classic Christian doctrine and morality.

Thus George Pell’s dynamic Catholic orthodoxy and his refusal to concede the moral, social, and political rectitude of the hardened Left’s most cherished causes enflamed the minds of his critics and enemies, both political and ecclesiastical, generating pathogens. Those pathogens interacted to create the pathology of phobic Pell-hatred: in truth, a form of public mental illness, similar to what might have been found in Dreyfus-era France or Cultural Revolution-era China. This pathology often precluded rational judgment about anything involving Cardinal Pell. And whipped up into a public frenzy by ABC and others in the Australian media, Pell-hatred inevitably led to the determination, Pell delendus est: Pell must be destroyed.

Precisely how this project was then acted upon, in Australia and perhaps elsewhere (once Cardinal Pell was transferred to Rome to reform Vatican finances and attracted new enemies in the dark underside of international finance), remains a puzzle. Solving that puzzle requires the discovery of a few more essential pieces, and thus cannot be explored here – although, from a legal point of view, the most recent effort to destroy George Pell once and for all was rebuffed in no uncertain terms by the Australian High Court on April 7, 2020.

Yet the phobia of Pell-hatred remains, fouling the public atmosphere of Cardinal Pell’s beloved country. And that brings this analysis, by way of a (mercifully!) brief conclusion, to the release of the previously redacted sections of the Royal Commission’s report on sexual abuse – and the latest public wave of assault on Cardinal Pell’s character.

In the Star Chamber

Royal Commissions are not judicial bodies and do not operate under the strict rules of evidence and the standard of guilt-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt that govern (or should govern) criminal trials. And while the Royal Commission in question was established to look into various Australian institutions’ handling of the sexual abuse of the young, it seemed clear from the outset that the Royal Commission was primarily interested in the Catholic Church – and in Cardinal George Pell in particular. The Commission, half of whose members did not have legal experience, seemed to give something of a pass to the Victoria police, who, knowing of abuse, had gravely failed in their responsibilities to protect young people in the 1970s. But during twenty hours of their hostile grilling of George Pell, the commissioners and their counsel seemed to imagine that a young priest would have been told about, and should and could have done something about, crimes being concealed by a secretive and autocratic bishop – even though the Commission found that Bishop Mulkearns had hidden information about Gerald Ridsdale, one of the worst of the priest-abusers, from others, including senior Catholic officials. And in its assessment of Pell, the Royal Commission gave short shrift to his vigorous response to clerical sexual abuse when he had the authority to do something about it – a response that included, shortly after his becoming archbishop of Melbourne, sacking two abuser-priests as well as empowering the independent Commissioner to investigate abuse claims and creating the Melbourne Response to aid victims.

That the Royal Commission’s assumptions and judgments were almost certainly warped by the fetid public atmosphere surrounding George Pell – and indeed by the specific ideological content of much of that anti-Pell venom – was illustrated by the different treatment the Commission meted out to Paul Bongiorno and George Pell. Like Pell, Bongiorno was a priest of the Ballarat diocese in the 1970s. One of Gerald Ridsdale’s victims told the Royal Commission that he had informed Bongiorno about Ridsdale’s crimes. The Commission did not call Bongiorno to testify; Bongiorno said in a statement that he did not remember such a conversation.

Now, compare and contrast: There is no corroborating evidence, written or oral, to buttress the Royal Commission’s judgment that George Pell must have known of Gerald Ridsdale’s crimes; there is, in fact, ample evidence that Bishop Mulkearns deliberately kept diocesan consultors like Pell in the dark about such matters. And there is Pell’s testimony, as well as that of others, that he was not informed of Ridsdale’s crimes. By contrast, there is a victim’s testimony that he had told Paul Bongiorno what Ridsdale was doing.

The Royal Commission accepted Bongiorno’s statement that he recalled no such conversation (claiming that it could not resolve the difference between the victim’s account and Bongiorno’s). The Royal Commission disbelieved Pell’s testimony and the testimony of those who adamantly insisted that Pell was telling the truth when he insisted he knew nothing of Ridsdale’s abuse (and others’) because of Mulkearns’ cover-up. Why?

Might that have something to do with the fact that Paul Bongiorno abandoned the Catholic priesthood to become a left-leaning journalist and ABC commentator, fully in sync with the dominant Australian media culture, while George Pell is a staunch defender of Catholic orthodoxy and a foe of political correctness? Why did the Royal Commission evidently assume that Bongiorno is a man of integrity while assuming precisely the opposite about George Pell? Did the poisonous atmosphere analyzed here have something to do with that?

Leaders of the Catholic Church in Australia in the last decades of the twentieth century shamefully covered up the sexual abuse of the young. So did various public authorities, often cooperating with bishops and religious superiors in doing so. Why, then, has Cardinal George Pell become the scapegoat for the gross negligence of others?

Score-setting is an ugly business. It has assumed an exceptionally repulsive countenance in Pell-hatred and its attendant scapegoating. An innocent man continues to be defamed. And there is a real danger that, because of hatreds political and ecclesiastical, young people are being left at risk because public attention to the societal plague of the sexual abuse of the young is being misdirected.


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About George Weigel 290 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 Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His new book, The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission, will be published by Ignatius Press on July 7.

32 Comments

  1. The one thing I have to disagree with is Mr. Weigel’s appearing to blame the pre-Vatican II era for the late Bishop Mulkearns’ behavior: “The bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, was a typical clerical autocrat of the pre-Vatican II era, trying to govern his diocese in the post-Vatican II Church through the old methods.”

    It’s all the more odd since he goes on to point out the disastrous effects of Vatican II: “In their different personal styles, Mulkearns and Little presided over local Churches that exemplified many of the serious problems besetting Australian Catholicism in the immediate post-Vatican II years: a rapid decline in Mass attendance and other forms of Catholic sacramental practice; a meltdown of consecrated religious life and a mass exodus from the priesthood; doctrinal ambiguity, weak spiritual formation, and moral laxity in seminaries; catechetical silliness that emptied Catholic faith of its content and its mystery, and thus of its magnetism; a deterioration of Catholic identity and the reduction of Catholicism to an ethnic marker; a deep deficit in evangelical energy; and, because of all this, an unwillingness or inability (or both) to respond creatively to the secularist assault being mounted on the culture (and the Church) by the new Gramscians of the Australian Left.”

    • “appearing to blame the pre-Vatican II era” –

      ‘appearing’ seems to be the operative word. He isn’t blaming the pre-Vatican II era per se; he is just pointing out that (a) “clerical autocrat(s)” governing “the post-Vatican II Church through the old methods” is(are) bound to precipitate problems.

      Surely the likes of Karol Wojtyła and Joseph Ratzinger weren’t “clerical autocrat(s)” governing “the post-Vatican II Church through the old methods”?

      “It’s all the more odd since he goes on to point out the disastrous effects of Vatican II…”

      Perhaps that should be ‘the disastrous effects in *wrongly implementing* Vatican II, goat-rodeo style’ or ‘the disastrous effects of Vatican II being interpreted through the lens of a ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ instead of the ‘hermeneutic of reform’ >> http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html

      • “Surely the likes of Karol Wojtyła and Joseph Ratzinger weren’t “clerical autocrat(s)” governing “the post-Vatican II Church through the old methods”?”

        I didn’t say that they were. But I don’t think it’s anything approaching just or accurate to refer to a “typical clerical autocrat of the pre-Vatican II era” and “old methods.” That’s putting the blame on the “pre-Vatican II era,” which is nonsense, given the clerical autocrats of the post-Vatican II era. The problem seems to have been cowardice and lack of honesty. I can actually understand not wanting the Church to be shamed, but doing what they did is like leaving a huge abscess festering under the skin because what’s in it would be just so icky and embarrassing if it came out. It doesn’t help, it just makes things worse for the body, and makes it even more vile when it does eventually come out.

        “Perhaps that should be ‘the disastrous effects in *wrongly implementing* Vatican II, goat-rodeo style’ or ‘the disastrous effects of Vatican II being interpreted through the lens of a ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ instead of the ‘hermeneutic of reform’”

        Very possibly; but the problem is that that is exactly how Vatican II was implemented and interpreted. Why was that allowed to happen? Were some people too afraid of appearing to be “typical clerical autocrats of the pre-Vatican II era” to deal with those who mis-implemented and mis-interpreted?

        • “I didn’t say that they were.”

          And I wasn’t implying you did. I was simply pointing out that when Weigel referred to Mulkearns as “a typical clerical autocrat of the pre-Vatican II era, trying to govern his diocese in the post-Vatican II Church through the old methods”, he doesn’t appear to be blaming the pre-Vatican II era as such for the late bishop’s behavior.

          “I don’t think it’s anything approaching just or accurate to refer to a “typical clerical autocrat of the pre-Vatican II era” and “old methods.” That’s putting the blame on the “pre-Vatican II era,” which is nonsense, given the clerical autocrats of the post-Vatican II era.”

          That seems to be a misunderstanding. As I said, Weigel doesn’t appear to be finding fault with that era per se; – just (some of) the “typical clerical autocrats” of that era.

          Of course there are such autocrats in all eras, including, dare one say, some “airport bishops” of our time – https://catholicphilly.com/2013/09/features/words-of-pope-francis/pope-francis-tells-new-bishops-avoid-scandal-of-being-airport-bishops/

          “The problem seems to have been cowardice and lack of honesty.”

          Yes, but there can be more to it in some cases, such as, for example, the ‘old method / thinking’ of being (too) ‘hopeful about the outcome of treatment’ >> https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2002/05/11/treating-the-priest-under-churchs-wing/ca70bb82-ad34-48f5-ad63-a4fbfde25d64/

          “The problem is that that is exactly how Vatican II was implemented and interpreted.”

          In, arguably, *some* (and not all) cases. It is still possible to adhere to ‘the hermeneutic of reform.’

          “Why was that allowed to happen? Were some people too afraid of appearing to be “typical clerical autocrats of the pre-Vatican II era” to deal with those who mis-implemented and mis-interpreted?”

          Whether they are “typical clerical autocrats” from the pre- or post- Vatican II era, sometimes we have to learn to swallow the likes of Jn. 10: 12 – 13 and Mt. 25: 26, however bitter that is.

          • What Mr Weigel fails to mention that is of specific relevance to this Pre / Post Vatican 11 issue you are debating is the Papad decree Crimen Sollicitationis issued by Pope Pius XI in 1922. One can hardly call Mr Weigles article an analysis when he fails to take this Papal decree into consideration when drawing his conclusions regarding those who are “clerical autocrats” etc etc. I consider his writing more likely to be selective analysis with the specific intent to construct and legitimise a pre concieved narrative. Does his pre determined position stand the test of scrutiny in the light of the Pontifical Secret? This also has specific relevance with attempting to argue the position that Vatican 11 and the Post War era is solely responsible for all the Catholic Churches problems with sexual abuse crisis.
            Mr Kieran Taspell wrote in his introduction to his book ‘Potifer’s Wife’ the following regarding the Pontifical Secret:

            “The ‘cover-up’ of child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church has been occurring under the pontificate of six popes since 1922. For 1500 years, the Catholic Church accepted that clergy who sexually abused children deserved to be stripped of their status as priests and then imprisoned. A series of papal and Council decrees from the twelfth century required such priests to be dismissed from the priesthood, and then handed over to the civil authorities for further punishment. That all changed in 1922 when Pope Pius XI issued his decree Crimen Sollicitationis that created a de facto ‘privilege of clergy’ by imposing the ‘secret of the Holy Office’ on all information obtained through the Church’s canonical investigations. If the State did not know about these crimes, then there would be no State trials, and the matter could be treated as a purely canonical crime to be dealt with in secret in the Church courts. Pope Pius XII continued the decree. Pope John XXIII reissued it in 1962. Pope Paul VI in 1974 extended the reach of ‘pontifical secrecy’ to the allegation itself.
            Pope John Paul II confirmed the application of pontifical secrecy in 2001, and in 2010, Benedict XVI even extended it to allegations about priests sexually abusing intellectually disabled adults. In 2010, Pope Benedict gave a dispensation to pontifical secrecy to allow reporting to the police where the local civil law required it, that is, just enough to keep bishops out of jail. Most countries in the world do not have any such reporting laws for the vast majority of complaints about the sexual abuse of children. Pontifical secrecy, was the cornerstone of the cover up. The effect on the lives of children by the imposition of the Church’s Top Secret classification on clergy sex abuse allegations may not have been so bad if canon law had a decent disciplinary system to dismiss these priests. The 1983 Code of Canon Law imposed a five year limitation period which virtually ensured there would be no canonical trials. It required bishops to try to reform these priests before putting them on trial.”

            Pope Francis put an end to the Pontifical Secret in Dec 2019.

            Here is a link to Mr Taspell’s submission titled; “Cannon Law A Systematic Factor in Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church”
            https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/sites/default/files/SUBM.2398.001.0001.pdf

            It holds true for the church as for the medical profession that if you are going to treat a malady, correct diagnosis is an essential starting point.

    • Brilliant article covering all the bases of this sad and sorry tale. One day he will be recognized as a saint along with the brilliant Santamaria. Thank you for the erudite analysis.

  2. Read your book George several times but don’t buy your argument.

    Can you have your cake and eat it too? Was VatII was the cause of the Church and vocations falling to bits? Or was it the VatI stalwarts who were not marching to VatII that caused the Church to fall to bits.
    Hmm sounds like someone is trying to spread the blame thinly on everyone except … guess who?

    Also, everyone else was neurotic, lying and bullying except … guess who? And the victims? Well, they were just no-one and nothing to anyone of … guess what? … consequence.

    • Your comment does not appear to make any legit complainst about this article by Weigel but seems to be the standard “i hate George Weigel” comment, which usually arises from people from the SSPX and other breakaway sects, because JP II excommunicated Lefebvre, and they have never forgiven JP II, or his biographer, for that.

  3. Read your book George several times but don’t buy your argument.

    Can you have your cake and eat it too? Was VatII the cause of the Church and vocations falling to bits? Or was it the VatI stalwarts who were not marching to VatII that caused the Church to fall to bits.
    Hmm sounds like someone is trying to spread the blame thinly on everyone except … guess who?

    Also, everyone else was neurotic, lying and bullying except … guess who? And the victims? Well, they were just no-one and nothing to anyone of … guess what? … consequence.

  4. An eye-opening indictment of the ugly history of “left-ism” in Australia. Refusing to fight the Nazis because they were “non-agreesive” chums with the Comintern.

    Then the Gramsci option.

    Pathological, indeed.

    Thank you to Mr. Wiegel for shedding light on this hidden and ugly history.

    I would only add that I am sure that the Gramsci-compliant left inside the Catholic Church, in Australia (and Rome and around the world, including the sociopath comrade McCarrick) was gleeful to have Cardinal Pell scapegoated for the unjustice of Australian Catholic coverup Bishops and sex abusers.

  5. Dear Mr. Weigel,

    The neopagan Christian persecution is well under way both down under and here in the US. But your essay helps us all to better understand the forces and contexts for such unadulterated hatred towards those determined to propose the Truth, the Way, and the Life that is Christ and His bride.

    Thank you for your great courage, clarity, charity, commitment, and sacrifice.

    God Bless,
    Jim Gill

  6. Yes, the post Vat II turbulence has been well documented and was creative and dynamic in its positive aspects at a time that the world in a time of change with the freeing up of Catholic culture and sensibly changing stultifying rules and traditions in many Religious Orders, e.g. The local bishop in Perth had to tell the Benedictine nuns that the Rule forcing them to wear the heavy black habit from November to April and the white habit the other half of the year, applied to the northern seasons not in Australia. However, the author – looking at his account for the period from 1960 to 2000 during which I taught and worked in Catholic schools in Victoria – has given one perspective on Victorian political and Catholic history, fluently and cogently but does not have much in the way of scientifically conducted surveys to establish just how many of these so-called secular and Catholic Left wing/ Gramsvians there were and who they were and in what organisations. More importantly, to connect the appalling current witch hunt against Pell back to The Movement seems to me to be a long bow. Events in Ballarat (when he was a busy cleric on the rise), the photo of him accompanying Ridsdale to court, his seeming evasiveness before the Royal Commission at a time when genuine victims and the other sorts were looking for a target and his somewhat regrettable comment that it all did not concern him all that much – or words to that effect – combined to leave him open to unsympathetic attitudes and attack by journalists of a range of different backgrounds from Zwartz, of a Salvation Army background, Faine, Marr, Milligan, Morris-Marr with the latter two being self appointed warriors for every alleged victim. Pell’s unfortunate encounters with the Fosters (parents of two abused daughters) and his attack on Ellis (altar boy victim) for which he apologised, both of which gained much publicity in Catholic and non-Catholic circles alike were arguably the more telling factors. A recently related story to me of an unhappy encounter by a parent who had been coached in the St Kevin’s rowing club by him and who attempted to introduce his two sons to him but was brushed off were also instrumental in an important but less momentous way of shaping attitudes in Victoria.

    • Leaving aside the rest of what you wrote,

      “A recently related story to me of an unhappy encounter by a parent who had been coached in the St Kevin’s rowing club by him and who attempted to introduce his two sons to him but was brushed off were also instrumental in an important but less momentous way of shaping attitudes in Victoria.”

      Seriously? Somebody decides that he was “brushed off” by the Cardinal, and somehow that justifies the vicious, spiteful attitudes in Victoria?

  7. This ought to be required reading for any Catholic serious about understanding the current state of the Church and the world, and not only down under.

  8. Great article. This gives a lot of background on why Australia has become a very screwed yup country. Just recently, the hierarchy in Australia, at least the anti Pell part of it, had some sort of weird conference where they proposed that now is the time to finally implement Vatican II. And by that, they really meant this is the time to ignore what Vatican II really said, and proceed with a massive left wing of the church program to gut Catholicism of all content. Their main cleric, Mark Coleridge, even has people call him “Archbishop Mark” as if this makes him one of the people. Australia has become rotten

    • How is Mr Weigel’s Left / Right polemic playing out in America? I think you have your moment of truth unfolding…..

        • Hi Carl, good to hear from you. WDS? I had to look that one up….withdrawal symptoms I presume? Nah, no counterfeit for the Holy Spirit in my blood system. No chemical enhancement of endorphins nor dopamine.
          What is interesting though is I first post a poem and Leslie’s reply is I post irrelevancies and something about Catholic Lite®. I suppose that may be the cause of what you perceive in me as some form of WDS which would no doubt be remedied if i was to partake in what Leslie has labeled real Catholic.
          Next Is my post on the topic of the Papal Secret which I assume is not irrelevant and there is no response, no discussion on its relevance to the topic in hand. My next post above gets your response in a short space of time. I see it as a great privilege and oportunity that we can discuss in these web pages, and for some looking on indeed, a witness to our faith as is everything we do.
          The relevance of the above post may become clearer to you in future posts of mine but esentially it’s about choosing sides and the biblical notion of being in the world and not of the world. Mr Weigel’s as introduction to his analysis refered to his writing as “An attempt at explaining the unhinged hatred displayed by Cardinal George Pell’s enemies”. The multitude of complexities and realities implicated in the subject matter of which Mr Weigel wrote about and his general approach to the subject has got me thinking and might i add praying earnestly for discernment.

      • You’re just upset because the article destroyed the false narrative you have been peddling on this site for the past few months.

        • No that is not what upset me. My consern is manyfold. To help you, Carl and others understand where I am coming from with respect to Mr Weigel’s article that he described as ” An attempt at explaining the unhinged hatred displayed by Cardinal George Pell’s enemies” I will post a link to another article on this website by Cardinal Farrell:
          https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/06/05/cardinal-farrell-laments-ideological-divide-in-christian-response-to-george-floyd-killing/

          Mr Weigels final paragraph in his article is, to my mind particularly illuminating and conscerning in how it refers to the subject of conflict:
          ” Score-setting is an ugly business. It has assumed an exceptionally repulsive countenance in Pell-hatred and its attendant scapegoating. An innocent man continues to be defamed. And there is a real danger that, because of hatreds political and ecclesiastical, young people are being left at risk because public attention to the societal plague of the sexual abuse of the young is being misdirected.”
          There is much to Mr Weigles discourse that seriously consernes me beyond the issue of Cardinal Pell and here outlined in his article is among other things a history that very much involves American influence in the Australian political system, hence my reference to taking sides. The article by Cardinal Farrell speaks better and with more authority than I can on the subject of the danger of taking sides in a political and Ideological paradigm. In this I’m trying to have my focus on a Kingdom of Heaven paradigm as the Cardinal said in his article:

          ” “Returning to this purity of the Gospel becomes the best way of promoting the social good, avoiding partial and ideological visions,”

          • Many of the attacks on Cardinal Pell have clearly been political in nature. But defending him from injustice is not political or ideological. Nor is it clear at all how Cardinal Farrell’s remarks have much, if any, bearing on the Pell situation.

          • Another long-winded attempt at self-justification. You certainly are persistent, I’ll give you that.

    • The Anatomy of a Pathology:

      Is it the kingdom of heaven you serve
      or a version of the American dream
      where the world is rid of communism
      where YOUR catholicism reigns supreme
      co opted by clever discourse
      and by forces that remain unseen
      where God is made in the image of man
      while children of the Middle East scream
      as the sound of yet another bomb
      delivers your American dream
      make sure Australia is on your side
      and Opus Dei a part of the team

      • And once again Christopher posts irrelevancies that don’t address the issues and that highlight his anti-American and anti-Catholic (that’s real Catholic, not Catholic Lite®) bigotry.

        By the way, Christopher, did you ever report the abuse about which you knew so much in the 1980’s? And, if not, why not?

    • Athanasius,
      I request more than that. The reason I am long winded in reply is an attempt to explain and illuminate a position from different vantage points in order not to attempt self justification, but in order to reach an understanding even in the absence of agreement. I place a lot of effort and time in attempting to be coherent in the presentation of my views and this endeavour involves by necessity, perseverance.
      I am thinking through and working on a reply to Carl’s observations but my family needs me. Peace be with you

  9. The professional Pell haters are going into meltdown over Pell being free. Because how dare the High Court clear him of a crime he couldn’t possibly have committed? In their twisted little minds, Pell will always be guilty, even if they cannot make up their minds what exactly Pell is supposed to be guilty of. Their minds are made up, and they do not want to be confused with facts.

    Makes one think these people should wear diapers and suck on pacifiers.

  10. For Australian, and scholarly, info, re “…Santamaria, often working through parish priests who helped him identify union members amenable to reason, created what became known as the Movement: a reforming effort that taught trade unionists the principles of Catholic social doctrine, trained them in leadership…”

    This construction omits the actual dynamic of how this came about: in the post-War winters, the Communists instigated widespread strikes in the ‘prime mover’ areas of coal-generated power, and factory closures had many thrown out of work. All this under Soviet instruction, to try to bring on the destruction of the Labor [!] national government, and the destruction of the authority of Government, in a pre-revolutionary gambit. While the Labor Government jailed the traitors and put the Army into the coalfields to get industry working, the Australian Labor Party brains trust realised that the communists’ grip on trade union leadership was the central problem, and so secretly approached a Catholic leader over whether Catholic workers might be encouraged by their parish priests to attend their union meetings to challenge communist control. Santamaria’s later and successful organisation of these workers was at the instigation and request of ALP leadership. As any wise person will realise, after Santa’s heroes had drawn the teeth of the commo control through their most bitter, brutal and painful sacrifices of various kinds, the ALP bosses – aided by the treacherous Catholic prelate majority – stabbed Santamaria and the anti-communist warriors in the back – leaving Australia’s once-proud Labor Movement permanently crippled [ including the expulsion of the anti-communists who were forced then forced to establish the patriotic Democratic Labor Party] : “When I joined the Labor Party, it contained the cream of the working class. But as I look about me now, all I see are the dregs of the middle class. When will you middle class perverts stop using the Labor Party as a cultural spittoon? – Kim Beazley Snr to an ALP State Conference, circa 1970.

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Anatomy of a Pathology - Catholic Mass Search
  2. TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit
  3. A more complete Pell story - California Catholic Daily
  4. AUSTRALIA The Anatomy of a Pathology - National Association of Catholic Families
  5. The Anatomy of a Pathology - Daily Declaration

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