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Cardinal Pell: “There is a lot of goodness in prisons…”

A new First Things essay by the former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy contains a number of interesting reflections on both life in prison and Cardinal Pell’s spiritual life.

Australian Cardinal George Pell is surrounded by police as he leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia, Oct. 6, 2017. (CNS photo//Mark Dadswell, Reuters)

First Things has posted an essay, simply titled “My Time in Prison”, by Cardinal George Pell. It contains a number of interesting reflections on both life in prison and Cardinal Pell’s spiritual life, beginning with the observation that “I was fortunate to be kept safe and treated well. I was impressed by the professionalism of the warders, the faith of the prisoners, and the existence of a moral sense even in the darkest places.”

His fellow prisoners, he notes, were divided as to his guilt, while he says most of the guards thought he was innocent:

One evening, I overheard a fierce argument over my guilt. A defender announced he was prepared to back the man who had been publicly supported by two prime ministers. Opinion as to my innocence or guilt was divided among the prisoners, as in most sectors of Australian society, although the media with some splendid exceptions was bitterly hostile. One correspondent who had spent decades in prison wrote that I was the first convicted priest he had heard of who had any support among the prisoners. And I received only kindness and friendship from my three fellow prisoners in Unit 3 at Barwon. Most of the warders in both prisons recognized I was innocent.

He then remarks:

The antipathy among prisoners toward the perpetrators of juvenile sexual abuse is universal in the English-­speaking world—an interesting example of the natural law emerging through darkness. All of us are tempted to despise those we define as worse than ourselves. Even murderers share in the disdain toward those who violate the young. However ironic, this disdain is not all bad, as it expresses a belief in the existence of right and wrong, good and evil, which often surfaces in jails in ­surprising ways.

“After I lost my appeal to the Victorian Supreme Court,” Cardinal Pell admits, “I considered not appealing to the Australian High Court, reasoning that if the judges were simply going to close ranks, I need not cooperate in an expensive charade. The boss of the prison in Melbourne, a bigger man than I and a straight shooter, urged me to persevere. I was encouraged and remain grateful to him.”

He closes by stating “My Catholic faith sustained me, especially the understanding that my suffering need not be pointless but could be united with Christ Our Lord’s.”

The essay hints at what can be expected in Cardinal Pell’s prison journals, which will be published by Ignatius Press.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, Editor of Ignatius Press, recently made a public appeal for donations to help in that publishing endeavor:

Cardinal Pell is a good man, and a good friend personally of mine and of Ignatius Press. Ignatius Press has published his books in the past and will soon be publishing his extraordinary prison journal.

I’ve already read the first half of the journal and it is extraordinary. I think it’s going to be a spiritual classic. The entire journal is about 1000 pages, so we will print it in three or four volumes. With your help, we can proceed with this project and offer Cardinal Pell appropriate advances on these volumes, which he can then use to remove much of the worry he now has about his legal debts.

This is not just about Cardinal Pell. His victory was not just a victory for one man. It was a victory for the Church. And not just the Church in Australia. It revealed to all the world just how far the Church’s enemies will go and how deceitful they will be to discredit her.

Now that we’ve won, let’s help Ignatius share the story and let us help Cardinal Pell get out from under this remaining burden.

Read Cardinal Pell’s entire First Things essay here.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. If Ignatius Press makes the film ‘A Hidden Life’ available I will contribute.

    I spoke to them about a month ago and the person I spoke to hadn’t even heard of it.

      • I did not know that. My point is that it should be readily available from Ignatius Press – I should not have had to get it through Barnes & Noble.

        • While I am not involved in that area, I know that there can be a variety of obstacles and challenges when it comes to distributing various films or non-Ignatius Press books.

  2. It is good that someone believes that prisoners are not sub-humans. “There but for the grace of God, go I.”

    Technically, innocent prisoners can morally escape. The state is an agent of God. Anyone who knows that they are innocent needn’t suffer the state’s punishment.

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