Thursday, 28 February 2013

Cardinal Pell on the Pope: what we need now is...

Last night Cardinal Pell made some, in my view, rather graceless and ill-timed criticisms of Pope Benedict XVI on Channel 7.  He is still, apparently, giving interviews.

So let's take a look at what he had to say to the ABC's AM Program this morning.

My comments are in red.

Resignation as a break in tradition?

TONY EASTLEY: Australia's most senior Catholic cleric, Archbishop George Pell, says Pope Benedict made some mistakes in his eight years at the helm of the Church.

Archbishop Pell who's in Rome to participate in the conclave of Cardinals which will elect a new Pope says the Pope Benedict's decision to retire could set a precedent which may be a problem for future leaders...

MARY GEARIN: Can I take you to some comments that many found surprising on this very day of the last address? Part of what you said was that his decision to resign might leave future popes vulnerable and it was taken very much as a criticism of that decision.

GEORGE PELL: I think what I was actually doing in the interview was spelling out the pros and cons [Really?!   What Cardinal Pell actually reportedly said was that it could lead to media pressure on a future pope to resign.  Yet that appears to give credence to media speculation that, despite his clearly stated denials of this, the Pope felt forced into resigning because of assorted scandals.  It also implies that a future Pope would have so far forgotten his Office as to respond to secularist pressures over spiritual imperatives] just as the Pope did to some extent in his address. I said that I accepted his decision; very obviously that's what Cardinals are for. 

He was well aware that this was a break with tradition, slightly destabilising. [I do find it odd that so-called 'conservatives' who have defended so hard the radical reforms of Vatican II to Church practice have suddenly discovered a tradition they actually like. Yet is it really so untraditional?  Surely it is totally consistent with the relatively recent trend of ensuring that those in office are able to do the job - requirements that bishops retire at 75, that Cardinals over 80 don't get to vote in the Conclave, and that the incompetent be asked to resign or removed?]  But he felt that because of his weakness and sickness, which was only too evident today, that he just didn't have the strength to lead the Church in these demanding times.

But he is as well aware as I am of the slight change to the tradition. 

Governance

MARY GEARIN: Other comments you made were more personal, saying that he was a great teacher but government wasn't his strong point. Can you expand on that? Can you say in which way his governance was lacking?

GEORGE PELL: Well there was the Vatileaks. I mean, I think the biggest disappointment was his butler, that he copied so many thousands of pages. [That was surely a betrayal, a Judas within rather than a failure of governance on the Pope's part!] I think the governance is done by most of the people around the Pope and that wasn't always done brilliantly.[True, but anyone who has ever tried to turn around the culture of an organization will have some sympathy for the problems the Pope has encountered.  Indeed, as a bishop Cardinal Pell should surely be a little more sympathetic given his own problems with organizations such as the still regularly hitting the headlines St John's College inter alia.] And I'm not breaking any ground there. This is said very commonly. But the Pope was a magnificent teacher. 

MARY GEARIN: But the Pope could have done more to prevent those leaks?

GEORGE PELL: No, I don't think so. They are most unfortunate. Probably a change of procedures would have made it more difficult but it's very easy to be wise after the event. It was totally unprecedented. [Indeed!]

Sex abuse scandal

MARY GEARIN: Can I ask you also about something else you said - that the sexual abuse scandals facing the Church is not its biggest challenge? They'll be victims of sexual abuse who will find that very, an unacceptable position.

GEORGE PELL: Well what I've said two or three times today is that the sexual abuse scandal is the biggest challenge facing the Church in Australia at the moment.   [That is not quite the issue.  The Cardinal said yesterday that the loss of belief in the West was the biggest challenge facing the Church.  What he doesn't seem to accept is that the two issues are connected - the West cannot be reclaimed unless the Church recovers its moral authority: this was one of the lessons the Church learnt at the time of the Reformation, and surely needs to relearn now!]

Transparency and accountability

MARY GEARIN: And we're going into the conclave now which is obviously, famously secret. Should there be a bit more transparency to this whole process in today's world where we are demanding more accountability from the Church?

GEORGE PELL: Well I mean I've given half a dozen interviews today so, you know, I'm doing my bit.[!] And that'd be, most of the other Cardinals would be doing the same. [Yep, we've all been really enjoying those outrageous tweets and blog posts from Cardinal Mahony].

I think it's quite reasonable that we have some time for a private discussion. [Agreed.  But if you want to do that, don't feed the media frenzy!  I'm all in favour of transparency and accountability as a general principle, and I've said so here on many occasions.  But there are some areas where the frank and fearless discussions need to happen behind closed doors and stay secret. Personally, I think the Cardinals would have been better off sticking to lines like, I'm just listening to what the Church is saying at the moment, or even positively inviting people to tell them their views, but then listening without comment and saying that they are praying for guidance to the Holy Spirit.] But the issues facing the Church are well ventilated and certainly in Australia we attempt regularly to put our side of the question. 

The campaigning has well and truly started!

MARY GEARIN: Is the politicking behind the scenes thick and fast at the moment?

GEORGE PELL: Well politicking is not the word [Really. Could have fooled me.] but any organisation that is lively and vital and growing, there is a creative tension between people who have got different priorities. That's certainly the case in the Church. And I don't know whether it's thick and fast but the dialogue has commenced. 

What should be the qualities of the next Pope?

MARY GEARIN: How would you describe your priorities when you will be voting?

GEORGE PELL: I want somebody who'll maintain the tradition both in faith and especially in morals where it's under attack. I want somebody who is able to speak to the world. And also I would like somebody with strong pastoral experience in a diocese [umm, didn't Pope Benedict XVI actually have that - he was Archbishop of Munich] who is able to lift the morale of the Roman Curia [from all reports it is not their morale that is the problem, but rather their morals!] and perhaps provide a bit more discipline.

There is one obvious quality missing from that list - namely holiness!  Last weekend in The Australian the Cardinal opined that he would be supporting "not necessarily the most holy person, but the person best equipped for the job".  Yet why should do the two qualities necessarily be in conflict?  Saints come in all shapes and sizes, and there have been some great bureaucrat-saints in the past, and more than a few of them have been popes (my personal favourite is Gregory the Great - read his letters - but there are many other examples).  And surely openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is one of the most important qualities for any officeholder in the Church, let alone the highest one!

I do wonder if part of the reason for the malaise behind the sex abuse scandal is that some of the hierarchy have lost sight of the idea that the purpose of the Church is not to run a huge empire of schools, hospitals and other social services, but rather to get people to heaven.  Running the place, preserving the reputation of the Church, and other such objectives are means to an end, not ends in themselves. 

Pulling the Church together?

In last night's interview, Cardinal Pell also suggested that what is needed now is someone who will 'pull the Church together'.

On that subject, let me close by quoting from a great blog post today from the ever excellent Fr Tim Finigan of the Hermeneutic of continuity blog, reporting on the Pope's last General Audience last night.

He says:

"A fundamental reason why people gather in St Peter's Square and pour out their hearts in prayer and cheering is that the Pope bears the burden of belief for the whole Church. If it were not for Pope Benedict, many Bishops around the world (and some close to home) would long ago have spoken out in favour of women priests, gay marriage, artificial contraception and a host of other aberrant doctrines. What has prevented this from happening is the Holy Father, the successor of Peter who has confirmed his brethren in the faith. An interregnum brings with it a note of disturbing chaos. The announcement Habemus Papam will be applauded with relief and joy even before the name is given."


2 comments:

Tony said...

While most of the time we seem to see things from the opposite ends of the spectrum, I can only agree with most of what you've written.

+Pell seems to be engaged in some mischief and I'd agree that there is a time and place to criticize the soon-to-be departed, but surely not on the eve of that departure. Maybe his comments are for an internal audience?

A couple of points of disagreement:

I really don't think 5 years as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising constitutes 'strong pastoral experience' and, related to that, if his years at the centre of Vatican bureaucracy didn't give him the groundwork to reform that bureaucracy I'm not sure what would. Maybe it can only done by someone 'outside the piazza'?

Tony said...

While most of the time we seem to see things from the opposite ends of the spectrum, I can only agree with most of what you've written.

+Pell seems to be engaged in some mischief and I'd agree that there is a time and place to criticize the soon-to-be departed, but surely not on the eve of that departure. Maybe his comments are for an internal audience?

A couple of points of disagreement:

I really don't think 5 years as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising constitutes 'strong pastoral experience' and, related to that, if his years at the centre of Vatican bureaucracy didn't give him the groundwork to reform that bureaucracy I'm not sure what would. Maybe it can only done by someone 'outside the piazza'?