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Cardinal Pell and squirming Catholics 

One gang that finds it impossible to admit error is the Australian Left, which is still conducting a war of calumny against Cardinal George Pell even after his acquittal by Australia’s High Court.

Australian Cardinal George Pell relaxes on the grounds of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Sydney April 9, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Archdiocese of Sydney)

According to the movie Love Story, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Typical Hollywood fluff, you might say. Yet the best answer to that asininity was given by a Hollywood all-star, the late, great Charlton Heston. Asked the secret of what would eventually become his 64-year long marriage to Lydia, Chuck Heston replied, “Learning to say five words: ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong.’”

It’s a lesson that seems especially hard to digest these days, at all points along the polarized spectrums of political and ecclesiastical opinion. One gang that finds it impossible to admit error is the Australian Left, which is still conducting a war of calumny against Cardinal George Pell even after his acquittal by Australia’s High Court of spurious charges the Aussie Left may well have had a hand in concocting. That stubbornness extends to the Catholic subdivision of the Aussie Left, as a recent review in The Australian of the cardinal’s prison diary by Gerard Windsor, a longtime campaigner for Catholic Lite, suggests.

Mr. Windsor gracefully admits that, in Prison Journal: Volume I – The Cardinal Makes His Appeal (Ignatius Press), “there is no self-pity, just the assumption that the wrong eventually will be righted, that God knows what he’s doing, and that the suffering involved can be put to fruitful use.” Windsor admires the cardinal’s heroic resolve in jail, which he rightly attributes to the depth of George Pell’s faith. The first volume of what will be a multi-volume work centers on the cardinal’s hope, eventually frustrated, for vindication by a state appellate court; Mr. Windsor seems to have shared that hope, for he notes that he was one of two people not “on the conversative wavelength” whose supportive letter the cardinal discusses in his diary.

Full marks, then, to Gerard Windsor for discerning what he describes in his review as a “miscarriage of justice.” We can assume that Mr. Windsor was pleased when justice was finally done and the Australian High Court did what that state appellate court inexplicably failed to do, given the emptiness of the prosecution’s case against the cardinal: quash the trial court’s guilty verdict, effectively reprimand the trial jury and the majority of the appellate court, and enter a verdict of acquittal.

But then (to riff on Love Story), the maxim “Being Left means never having to say you’re sorry” kicks in, and Mr. Windsor’s review skids off the road into a rant about Pell the “warrior Prince” who continues to “wage war” from jail. That war is fought against the “militant secularists” the cardinal believes conspired against him, and “against his fellow Catholics:” an ecclesiastical vendetta conducted, according to Mr. Windsor, “with even greater determination.” Windsor is thus offended by the cardinal’s description of the Catholic Lite Brigade as “the bland leading the bland,” which Windsor regards as a “vacuous slur” from “the mike-hogging uncle in the family.”

Australian public life is a contact sport, and it ill behooves Mr. Windsor (evidently an eager entrant in the Epithet Derby) to complain when Cardinal Pell speaks his mind robustly, as he was and is wont to do. That, Mr. Windsor says, makes “liberal Catholics squirm.” But isn’t that Catholic Lite squirming a form of surrender to the shibboleths of the secular Left and its culture of lifestyle libertinism? There are honorable exceptions, of course, but “liberal Catholics” have been notably absent in Australia (and elsewhere) from the battle against the Left’s determination to establish, with the force of law, what amounts to a new religion: the religion of the Self, in which the human person is reduced to a bundle of morally equivalent desires, the satisfaction of which is the primary function of government.

That ersatz religion – which underwrites everything from the abortion license to legalized euthanasia and physician assisted suicide to the LGBT political agenda – will eventually settle for nothing less than criminalizing the biblical and Christian idea of the human person. Indeed, that effort is already underway in the Australian state of Victoria (where Cardinal Pell was maliciously prosecuted) and it’s implicit in the Biden administration’s promotion of gender ideology and the Newspeak-redolent “Equality Act.”

Mr. Windsor admits that “secular animosity” toward the Church and the Catholic idea of what makes for human flourishing “does exist.” But he doesn’t seem to grasp the virulence embedded in that animosity or the need for courageous bishops to fight it. One wonders if that blind spot is a result of too much squirming about truth-telling, and too little willingness to reconsider and then say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”


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About George Weigel 346 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 most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

8 Comments

  1. It’s an example of what Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957) called the “ultrasupernaturalist” or enthusiastic tendency to subordinate everything, especially the precepts of the natural law, to one’s desires and personal interpretation of something accepted as God’s Will. This cropped up in the earliest Christian communities, notably the one at Corinth, where there were some individuals setting themselves above others due their presumably having achieved a greater degree of Christian enlightenment. Enthusiasm afflicts left, right, center, and everywhere else. It’s the desperate need some people have to be better than anyone else, especially those whom they suspect may be better than they are. It is, as Knox said, not really religious, but “a perpetual maneuvering for position.”

  2. My wife’s ancestors left Ireland when it was a matter of becoming Protestant and eat or stay Catholic and starve. My own ancestors left Okinawa when our family’s tradition of service to the King through administration, scholarship and medicine came to an end with annexation by Japan. So here we are in a land we have called home for 6 generations. A great country which afforded our immigrant families progressive prosperity, unprecedented freedoms, stability and the ability to think and worship as Christians. Beginning in November of 2020 I have told my children not to feel obliged to stay in this country if it becomes inhospitable to living as faithful Catholics whose allegiance is to Jesus Christ first. But I wonder aloud if there even exists an current English speaking nation in the world which is not inhospitable to the Catholicism of Peter, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Moore, Newman and Wojtyla?

  3. The greatest mistake defenders of the faith make in their dealings with the Left is in ascribing to them a shared morality that will provide common ground on which dialogue can take place. Their sense of morality rejects the concepts of right and wrong, good vs evil, moral or immoral. They have replaced those principles with “it works” or “it doesn’t work” morality. For them, the end always justifies the means. It is folly for defenders of the faith to ever rely on the Left’s morality.

    I am not in any way advocating that defenders of the faith abandon the moral high ground in favor of the Left’s end justifies the means moral criteria, On the contrary, it is the defenders of the faith’s adherence to those very principles that will ultimately win out in the end. By their deeds will the people inevitably reject the Left and by their deeds will defenders of the faith win them over.

  4. The greatest mistake defenders of the faith make in their dealings with the Left is in ascribing to them a shared morality that will provide common ground on which dialogue can take place. Their sense of morality rejects the concepts of right and wrong, good vs evil, moral or immoral. They have replaced those principles with “it works” or “it doesn’t work” morality. For them, the end always justifies the means. It is folly for defenders of the faith to ever rely on the Left’s morality.

    I am not in any way advocating that defenders of the faith abandon the moral high ground in favor of the Left’s end justifies the means moral criteria, On the contrary, it is the defenders of the faith’s adherence to those very principles that will ultimately win out in the end. By their deeds will the people inevitably reject the Left and by their deeds will defenders of the faith win them over.

  5. Maybe easily “triggered” Catholic “liberals” would be more appropriately described as “catholic snowflakes”?

  6. I do not know the particulars, but I watched a call-in broadcast some time ago prior to Pell’s exoneration of this false accusation where the caller seemed to memtion another prior accusation, seemingly more credible, against the Cardinal. Mr. Weigel, intoning a nasty dismissal, insulted the caller with the argument that it was irrelevant to the charges for those that were at issue regarding the Cardinal’s existing conviction. I do not know if the caller had any basis or not for his concern, but I have no faith at all in George Weigel’s integrity to be objective about identifying fault in anyone he holds dear to be a hero in the Churh’s modern history. I’ve witnessed him heap praise on too many who turned out to be scoundrels before.

    • Yes ..and this and several other accusations were dismissed EVEN by the Victorian Police authorities as unworthy of being brought to trial. And this from a Police Force who set up a task force ‘to get’ the cardinal SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE any charges were forthcoming!
      Gordon Carter. Adelaide. South Australia.

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