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Cardinal George Pell: The Encourager

I know of few, if any, public figures who have displayed the moral courage George Pell displayed for decades as he defended and promoted the truth of Catholic faith.

Cardinal George Pell is pictured during the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family at the Vatican in this Oct. 16, 2014, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

On Tuesday, January 3, when Cardinal George Pell and I went to pay our respects to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, lying in state in St. Peter’s, I couldn’t help but notice the reverence with which the basilica’s little people, the Sanpietrini, greeted the tall Australian who walked slowly with a cane. These ushers and guards are used to ecclesiastical eminence, but there was something different about their evident respect and affection for Cardinal Pell. Here was a man who had suffered greatly for the Church and the truth. Here was a “white martyr.” Attention should be paid. And it was.

We prayed for 15 minutes at the bier before the high altar on which the Pope Emeritus rested, and later at the tomb of Saint John Paul II, before leaving the basilica by a back door, where the cardinal’s car was waiting for us. I only became aware of how difficult walking was for my friend of 55 years when he asked to lean on my arm as we descended a slight decline leading to the door. Outside, we saw Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, longtime secretary to the deceased Pope Emeritus, who was coming into St. Peter’s with a small group. We exchanged condolences, during which the archbishop told the cardinal that the last book Pope Benedict had read was the first volume of Pell’s Prison Journal (to which I had the honor of contributing a foreword).

The previous evening, Cardinal Pell and I had enjoyed dinner with some 50 Milwaukee province seminarians at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, hosted by its archpriest (and Milwaukee native), Cardinal James Harvey. They were an impressive group of men and hung on every word the cardinal, in cracking good form, said in his brief after-dinner remarks. Pell gently but firmly stressed the importance of courage in the priesthood: the courage to evangelize, the courage to face cultural headwinds, the courage to put one’s faith totally in the Lord.

And in the hours immediately after his shocking, unexpected death on January 10, it came to me, through the mental and spiritual fog of a deep grief, that, in those brief comments, George Pell had inadvertently but quite authentically written his own epitaph: he was a courageous man who “en-couraged” others — who gave others courage, or, perhaps better, drew out of others the courage they did not know lay within them.

I know of few, if any, public figures who have displayed the moral courage George Pell displayed for decades as he defended and promoted the truth of Catholic faith in the face of a relentless, vicious Australian media campaign to destroy him. At the request of Pope Francis, he courageously set about cleaning the Augean Stables of Vatican finance and was making serious progress on that Herculean task when the support he had counted on evaporated. Knowing that he was innocent of the absurd charges on which he was first convicted, he courageously turned 404 days in prison into an extended retreat, during which he wrote three volumes of reflections that have given spiritual comfort and encouragement to readers around the world. Returning to Rome after he had been vindicated in his innocence by Australia’s High Court, he played a quiet but effective role behind the scenes, encouraging the defenders of Catholic orthodoxy to think through the requisites for a more vibrant Catholic future.

We were together in Rome almost every day of what turned out to be the last week of his life. And during that time, we discussed at length the nature of the crisis confronting the Catholic Church in 2023: in Germany, to be sure, where the Synodal Path is turning toward apostasy, but also throughout the world Church, as preparations for the October 2023 Synod on Synodality risk stripping the bishops of their authority and turning the Church into a woke discussion club. It was, we agreed, a crisis of apostolicity: Would the teachings of the Lord Jesus, handed on to us by an authoritative apostolic tradition that traces its origins to the original apostolic band, continue to be taught in the 21st century? Would the truths of divine revelation, borne by the apostolic tradition, continue to be taught, held, cherished and lived?

Answering those questions with a robust “yes” requires the kind of courage that Cardinal George Pell displayed for over eight decades, up to the day he died. Others in the Church’s leadership, ordained and lay, must now display that same grit, strengthening each other’s courage in what promise to be difficult, turbulent months ahead.

(George Weigel’s column ‘The Catholic Difference’ is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.)


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About George Weigel 428 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), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).

10 Comments

  1. For all his deep respect for his friend, Weigel seems to downplay the genuine anger Cardinal Pell displayed in his last testament rebuke of the Synod on Synodality, which was also an implicit criticism of the whole trajectory of this pontificate, another matter Weigel has continuously refused to deal with directly.

  2. Mr Weigel,

    A most uplifting and at the same time sobering essay.

    Thank you for devoting your life to Christ and His bride.

    Jim Gill

  3. Having heard that the Divine Will revelation and related devotion is rather popular in Australia , surprised to hear that Cardinal Pell ( RIP ) did not believe in Adam and Eve – not to discount his many other contributions to The Church .
    Well , he likely does now after a warm hug from both of them 🙂
    and want those who cherish his memory to have the courage to trust in that part of the Genesis account verbatim – our First Parents created in Love, clothed in Light of the Divine Will ..

    https://www.littlechildreninthedivinewill.com/rounds-explained

    The ‘aboriginals’ of Australia as well as those from the Amazon, the confused , aimless urban elites and their cohorts – all to be ? more receptive to hear of same in a Synodal set up -to be pleading for the Divine Will as did The Mother …as asked for by The Spirit for our times and aided by the Sts and Holy Angels –
    Adam and Eve too looking forward to same , to bring back what was lost under their watch !

    A Synodal format that brings up such family history and its relevance and all – the cherished , fruitful time the Holy Father had spent with the poor in the slums of Argentina might have been the preparation for him to see the need for same in the spiritual slums of our times !

    FIAT !

  4. The Church will always need good leaders like C. Georg Pell, P. Benedict XVI and St. John Paul ll. Pray constantly, rejoice always AND accept all things as coming from the Lord, Who is always with the Church, His Bride.

  5. “we discussed at length the nature of the crisis confronting the Catholic Church in 2023: in Germany, to be sure, where the Synodal Path is turning toward apostasy, but also throughout the world Church, as preparations for the October 2023 Synod on Synodality risk stripping the bishops of their authority and turning the Church into a woke discussion club. It was, we agreed, a crisis of apostolicity:”

    Hello George Weigel. Would you say, It is a crisis of Apocalyptic Apostasy? In Matthew 26, St. Peter’s fall from Faith, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’, seems to be attached to the Papacy’s fall from Faith in the era of the Apocalypse, according to USCCB Bible notes.

    Matthew 24:9 The Destruction of the Temple Foretold. The Beginning of Calamities.

    Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved

    Matthew 26:31
    Peter’s Denial Foretold. Then Jesus said to them, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’

    USCCB NABRE Bible Note for Matthew 26:31
    Will have…shaken: literally, “will be scandalized in me”; see note on Mt 24:9–12. I will strike…dispersed: cf. Zec 13:7.

    [24:9–12] Matthew has used Mk 13:9–12 in his missionary discourse (Mt 10:17–21) and omits it here. Besides the sufferings, including death, and the hatred of all nations that the disciples will have to endure, there will be worse affliction within the church itself. This is described in Mt 24:10–12, which are peculiar to Matthew. Will be led into sin: literally, “will be scandalized,” probably meaning that they will become apostates; see Mt 13:21 where “fall away” translates the same Greek word as here. Betray: in the Greek this is the same word as the hand over of Mt 24:9. The handing over to persecution and hatred from outside will have their counterpart within the church. False prophets: these are Christians; see note on Mt 7:15–20. Evildoing: see Mt 7:23. Because of the apocalyptic nature of much of this discourse, the literal meaning of this description of the church should not be pressed too hard. However, there is reason to think that Matthew’s addition of these verses reflects in some measure the condition of his community.

    Zechariah 13:7 Oracles Concerning the End of False Prophecy.
    The Song of the Sword

    Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the one who is my associate—oracle of the LORD of hosts. Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In all the land—oracle of the LORD—two thirds of them will be cut off and perish, and one third will be left. I will bring the one third through the fire; I will refine them as one refines silver, and I will test them as one tests gold. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them; I will say, “They are my people,” and they will say, “The LORD is my God.”

    • Matthew 24:10 The Destruction of the Temple Foretold.
      And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many

      Matthew 6:13
      “‘Subject us not to trial but deliver us from the evil one.'”

      New American Bible, Notes for Matthew 6:13
      Jewish apocalyptic writings speak of a period of severe trial before the end of the age, sometimes called the “messianic woes.” This petition asks that the disciples be spared that final test.

      In Divine Mercy in My Soul, Jesus personifies His Church as a Whole, in St. Faustina. In ‘Divine Mercy in My Soul’, Jesus puts His own ‘golden cinture’ on St. Faustina, to “you will never be subjected to temptation” protect her from temptation, which is an Apocalyptic Lord’s Prayer request, ‘lead us not into temptation’. I see Jesus as desiring to wrap all His Faithful of His Church in His ‘golden cinture’, to protect His Church from the quickly approaching Messianic Woes, especially the danger presented in The Lord’s Prayer, ‘lead us not into temptation’.

      Jesus’ ‘golden cinture’ is also worn by The Book of Revelation Angels of the Apocalypse. I think that Revelation 7 Angels of the Apocalypse, putting God’s Seal on His Elect, are Catholic Priests, placing Catholic Sacraments on Catholics, especially Jesus’ gifts of Divine Mercy Sunday.

      Divine Mercy in My Soul, 40
      During Holy Mass, before Communion, we had the renewal of vows. When we had left our kneelers and had started to recite the formula for the vows, Jesus appeared suddenly at my side clad in a white garment with a golden girdle around His waist, and He said to me. I give you eternal love that your purity may be untarnished and as a sign that you will never be subjected to temptation against purity. Jesus took off His golden cinture and tied it around my waist.

      Matthew 6:13
      “‘Subject us not to trial but deliver us from the evil one.'”

      Revelation 15:5
      After this I had another vision. The temple that is the heavenly tent of testimony opened, and the seven angels with the seven plagues came out of the temple. They were dressed in clean white linen, with a gold sash around their chests.

      Revelation 7
      ‘Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites:…
      …Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’ He said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’.

      Matthew 22:11 The Parable of the Wedding Feast
      But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.

      Jesus is Getting Married!
      http://www.apocalypseangel.com/married.html

      • Why would Jesus ‘strike’ one of His ‘Shepherds’, a Catholic Pope? Jesus says, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’.

        In 2 Samuel 23:3, God refers to world rulers as ‘the morning light’. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus refers to His Catholic Apostolic Successors as ‘Angels’, ‘Morning stars’, or can also be called ‘Lucifers’; “Lucifer, The name Lucifer originally denotes the planet Venus, emphasizing its brilliance. The Vulgate employs the word also for “the light of the morning””. In Revelation 1, Jesus tells us, “This is the secret meaning of the seven stars you saw in my right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

        In Revelation 2:5, Jesus tells His Catholic Apostolic Successor, ‘Angel’ of Ephesus, “Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” What does a Fallen Angel, or Fallen Lucifer, Catholic Apostolic Successor look like when Jesus ‘removes’ His ‘lampstand’ from him? Well I think, if the Catholic Apostolic Successor Fallen Angel is a Pope, it will look like, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’.

        2 Samuel 23:3
        The God of Israel spoke; of me the Rock of Israel said, He that rules over men in justice, that rules in the fear of God, Is like the morning light at sunrise on a cloudless morning,…

        Revelation 2-3
        “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write this:
        “To the angel of the church in Sardis, write this:
        “To the angel of the church in Ephesus, write this”
        “To the angel of the church in Smyrna, write this”
        “To the angel of the church in Pergamum, write this”
        “To the angel of the church in Thyatira, write this”

        Revelation 1:19 The First Vision.
        Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards. This is the secret meaning of the seven stars you saw in my right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.’

        Lucifer
        The name Lucifer originally denotes the planet Venus, emphasizing its brilliance. The Vulgate employs the word also for “the light of the morning” (Job 11:17), “the signs of the zodiac” (Job 38:32), and “the aurora” (Psalm 109:3). Metaphorically, the word is applied to the King of Babylon (Isaiah 14:12) as preeminent among the princes of his time; to the high priest Simon son of Onias (Ecclesiasticus 50:6), for his surpassing virtue, to the glory of heaven (Apocalypse 2:28), by reason of its excellency; finally to Jesus Christ himself (2 Peter 1:19; Apocalypse 22:16; the “Exultet” of Holy Saturday) the true light of our spiritual life.
        quoted from: Lucifer; New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

        Matthew 26:31
        Peter’s Denial Foretold. Then Jesus said to them, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’

        Jesus is our Lamp, which is supposed to shine on earth through the lampstands of Jesus’ Catholic Apostolic Successor ‘Angels’, or ‘Lucifers’. Catholic Apostolic Successor Angels are the eyes of the Body of the Church. When a Catholic Apostolic Successor goes dark, meaning the ‘light bearer’ Apostolic Successor Lucifer starts teaching evil instead of Jesus’ Gospel, they become Fallen Angels, or in other words, a Fallen Lucifer. What is Jesus to do with a Catholic Fallen Angel Lucifer Apostolic Successor who turns to darkness? Jesus pulls their lampstand, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’.

        Revelation 22:16
        “It is I, Jesus, who have sent my angel to give you this testimony about the churches. I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Morning Star shining bright.”

        Luke 11:34
        The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness.

        2 Peter 1:19
        Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

        Matthew 5:13
        You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

        Luke 13:34 The Simile of Salt.
        “Salt is good, but if salt itself loses its taste, with what can its flavor be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

        John 8:12
        Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

        Luke 8:16 The Parable of the Lamp.
        “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.

        Matthew 6:22 The Light of the Body.
        The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.

  6. I am grief-stricken by the sudden death of Cardinal Pell, and simultaneously thankful that he publicized his rejection of the lawlessness and unfaithfulness of the Pontiff Francis and his circle.

    I am sure that for those like George Weigel, who had a personal friendship with Cardinal Pell, his death is an enormous loss, and I offer my prayers for Mr. Weigel, and Tracy Rowland, and Bishop Conley, and I am sure so many other leading members of the Church faithful, laymen and priests alike.

    I note, among other things, this line from the tribute to Cardinal Pell: “At the request of Pope Francis…he was making serious progress [on cleaning up the Vatican financial corruption] when the support he had counted on evaporated.”

    “The support he had counted on evaporated.”

    Having read the tributes to Cardinal Pell, one powerful thing that comes across is that he was a great guy, a great leader among his friends, “a happy warrior.”

    God bless Cardinal George Pell, and may he intercede for us, now that he has entered the house of The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    As to a turbulence ahead, whether it be mere months, or long years, and many more losses, the words of Mother Teresa echo back: “My job is not to be successful, my job is only to be faithful.”

    Semper Fidelis…

  7. Revelation getting more revealed / explicit – Church has already spoken and been in efforts to do same , allowing private revelations too to come to the aid …
    Would it be that one of the (? most serious ) errors could be interpreting the signs of the times – omitting the role of Russia , whose head too get dressed in white and as a competing Rome ? used by the enemy to spread erros / confusion with fear and contempt esp. against the Holy Father , his faith and role …

    May the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart blind Satan to usher in the time of the Light of the Reign of the Divine Will into more hearts . with the tears and purification too needed for same for the Era of Peace before the final end !

    St.Hannibale and Pope Emer. Benedict , St.John Paul 11 , I.H.M ., St.Joseph ,all holy Sts and holy angels , pray for us all , flood the whole of humanity with your
    Flame of Love .

    FIAT !

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