Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pell's graceless comments on the resignation of the Pope

I keep reading comments to the effect that Cardinal Pell is well regarded around the world, and thus may be less of a long shot to be pope than we here in Oz might think.

If so, let's hope his latest comments will give the Cardinal-electors pause, for they are a classic illustration of his frequently demonstrated problem of foot in microphone disease.

A poor Pope and a worse example?

Most people at the moment are focusing on the positive legacy Pope Benedict XVI leaves behind.

But in an interview on Channel Seven from Rome, criticised him for resigning, and took a few potshots at him as pope, suggesting that he had performed poorly on Church governance.  On the next Pope he said:

"He's got to know his theology, but I think I'd prefer... someone who can lead the church and pull it together a bit".

Whether or not you agree with Cardinal Pell's assessment (and I don't as I'll explain in a post on the Pope Benedict XVI's legacy in the next day or two), they seem extraordinarily graceless at this particular moment, on the eve of Pope Benedict's retirement.

Pell's priorities!

Even worse though, was his dismissal of the child sex abuse and homosexual infiltration of the priesthood and Curia as real issues facing the Church.

According to this interview, Cardinal Pell sees the key issue as the loss of belief and believers from the Church in the first world.

Apparently, he sees no connection between the failure to teach and uphold traditional morality over the last several decades, the loss of the Church's moral authority as a result of the scandals, and the problem of atheism:

"Despite all the controversies, George Pell said that priest paedophilia and sex abuse scandals are not the greatest issue facing his church.

He said that the loss of belief and believers was the greatest challenge facing the Church.

"No, no, I think [the biggest problem] is the spread of unbelief in the first world," the Cardinal said.

The moral authority problem

Now I'm prepared to agree that the sex abuse scandal and related issues are not the only issue facing the Church that the next Pope will have to tackle.

In reality the biggest problem facing most Catholics in the world is probably persecution, and this something recent Popes haven't much focused on: in the third world the problem comes, in the main, from the resurgence of extremist versions of Islam; in the first world, from the threats posed by an increasingly militantly secularist society.

When it comes to the rise of unbelief in the West, I'm not terribly convinced the West can be saved.  For all of George Weigel and others arguments about the need for the next Pope to be a salesman for the New Evangelization, we've been there and tried that with John Paul II.  Frankly, the 'New Springtime' looks no closer today than it did back in 1979 and I suspect it is time to try a completely different strategy.

But even if you don't agree with this view, surely it is obvious that if there is any chance at all of turning the tide, it depends on the Church being clear about what it stands for, making sure it gets that message out consistently, and that it has the moral authority to be heard.

It is entirely to Pope Benedict XVI's credit that we have started to see - despite the best efforts of many Curial officials and diocesan bishops to undermine him and resist - the recovery of the certainties of the faith in both morals and doctrine.

It is also entirely due to his efforts, as far as I can see, that we have started to see Catholic charities, hospitals and educational institutions actually being required to act in ways consistent with the faith.

And it is due to his leadership that at least a healthy start  - acknowledging that there seems to be a long way to go still - has been made on clearing out the filth in the Church that appears to reach into even the highest levels of the hierarchy.

The compassion deficit

One of the biggest impediments though, to the Church moving forward in countries like Australia and the United States is the apparent deficit, on the part of many in the hierarchy, of genuine compassion for, empathy with, and outreach to the victims of the abuse scandal.

No one has been able (to date at least, the Royal Commission has yet to start!) point to any complicity of Cardinal Pell in the cover up, and they've certainly tried.

But they certainly have been able to point to more than a few cases where he has displayed an utter lack of empathy and sympathy for victims in his (few) meetings with them; worse, they have been able to point to his past moral support out of 'priestly solidarity' to some of Australia's vilest abusers.

His latest comments will not encourage anyone to think he has gained any greater understanding of the depth of the laity's feelings on this issue.

Pell for Pope?

I hadn't actually planned to do anything on the merits of the various candidates for Pope, but since some seem to be out there campaigning, let me conclude with a few of my own views on Australia's only Cardinal, who commented in response to a question on his chances:

“I’m Catholic, I’m a bishop, I’m a Cardinal, [I’m young] by papal standards, but yes it’s a very outside long shot.”

As a bishop, Cardinal Pell has made many positive contributions to the Australian Church, and he deserves a lot of credit for those.

But for every plus, there is a counterbalancing minus.

He has famously done some cleaning out from time to time (most noticeably at the Melbourne Seminary).  And yet his current diocese continues to host one of those Soho-style gay Masses, as well as more than a few vocally seemingly heterodox priests.

He has celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass on many occasions, and allowed traditionalists space long before Summorum Pontificum.  And yet by all accounts has no genuine liturgical sensibility (the turgid style of the missal, improvement though it is on what came before, and the controversial new altar of his cathedral, being cases in point).

He certainly deserves credit for his defense of religious freedom in Australia, including building some interfaith partnerships in support of this.  But why oh why did he feel the need to host a Muslim Iftar dinner during Ramadan?

He has certainly been an active media performer.  Yet not always with exactly the results one might hope for, as evidenced by his poor performance in his tv debate with Richard Dawkins, and his comments immediately before the Royal Commission on sex abuse was announced here.   Similarly, his (in my view eccentric) views on things like climate change have made him a darling of some American conservatives, but has, in my view, tended to undermine both his own and the Churches credibility in the public square in Australia.

And when it comes to the ability to pick the right people - many of the picks for bishops for other dioceses under his watch have proved a mixed bag indeed, including a number of utter disasters (some since retired in disgrace, but others still in place).

Pell for Pope?  Please God, no!


Joshua said...

I didn't watch it, but a Catholic relative of mine did, and couldn't wait to tell me how rude and ill-timed were His Eminence's words.

Knowing of what you detail regarding the faults and failings of this Prince of the Church, I too wonder why non-Australians get so excited about him. He has feet of clay, and the Papacy is above his pay grade.

JW said...


Kate Edwards said...

Not dislike for an artwork JW, I don't actually have a strong view on this, but I have read the complaints of those who suggest, the merits of the design aside, that its placement makes celebration ad orientem difficult to impossible.

And I'm not judging, just tossing in by two bob's worth - if the Cardinal's wish to campaign through the media and attack the Pope in public, then they must expect others to follow the lead they offer. Personally, I think the conclave would have been a better forum for such remarks as those of Cardinal Pell than Channel Seven.

Denis Goodwin said...

I just hope the conclave elects for us a man who is holy enough, intelligent enough and vigorous enough to make dramatic changes in how the Vatican and the episcopate work for spiritual rather than bureaucratic objectives. And he needs to be young enough to have the physical and mental faculties to ensure that his decisions are followed. Jesus was a young man during his public ministry.
There is an excellent article on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics site by Tracey Rowland, who is Dean of the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne and an Adjunct Professor of the Centre for Faith Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame (Australia).
The article is entitled Benedict's war: What the Pope achieved and what he leaves behind.
The article concludes:
“Given the successive waves of intellectual combat Pope Benedict XVI has endured in the service of the Church he loves, a future pope may well declare Benedict XVI a Doctor of the Church. Were that to happen, I think he should also be honoured as the patron saint of people everywhere who are oppressed by bureaucracy - especially bureaucracies run by philistines.”
Amen to that.

A Canberra Observer said...

RE: the altar in St Mary's. My personal opinion is that it is a modern travesty visited upon an otherwise finely designed gothic cathedral.

+Pell has been lauded as a kind of super-orthodox prelate. The reality is that in many cases he has not been doing anything extraordinary in absolute terms, just what he ought to do. Sadly in relative terms that means he stands out, especially against the backdrop of his anaemic brother bishops in Australia.

And as to him and the media. For many years I have been saying he should not be allowed within 50 meters of a microphone.