For whom the Pell trolls

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George Pell's performance on ABC's Q&A program this week was an embarrassment to his faith, says contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence — even after the presenter let him off lightly about some of his worst faux pas.


by contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence

Oh my gawd. How embarassment. My Jesuit mates have been tearing their hairshirts out.

Richard Dawkins, who doesn't believe in gods, Santa Claus, Santa Lucia, or Cardinal George Pell's facile argument, was clearly losing patience with his intellectual inferior. So was I. It was a no contest.

The Catholic Church came off third best on Monday's Q&A on ABC TV.

As penance, I counsel George Pell to recite five Acts of Contrition, 14 Hail Marys, because he clearly loathes marianists; read a couple of Ikea church of assembly kit instructions based on the dead sea scrolls; Dr Barbara Thiering's 'Jesus the Man'; the Pesher Technique; and one or two Lords Prayers, just for bringing the Catholic Church into even more disrepute.

George Pell and his intimate circle, known as the Spice Girls have shoved their fundamentalist joyless, homophobic and misogynist nonsense down the parched throats of Australian Catholicism for too long.

His infantile protectionism of the children of the book and the Old and New Testaments on Q&A, was a demeaning representation of a faith that I have long filed under 'never to be opened unless by a female Catholic priest'.

Pell has so much in common with seriously whacky Imams, Reverends and Rabbis and Presidential candidates, whose fundamentalist rigid posture indicts their own religions as being incapable of withstanding mere mortal scrutiny and debate.

Frankly, I was shocked at Pell's dismal theological performance. After all, it is no secret Pell once harboured ambitions to be the first Australian Pope. Forget it, George.

The nearest Australia ever came to occupying the throne of the Vicar of Christ was with the shearer's son, the late Archbishop Sir Guilford Young, of Hobart — a towering intellect, orator and humanist.

Such was the facile nature of debate between Dawkins and Pell, that it is unworthy of serious academic analysis, at least on this day.

Even the most blinkered and devoted Catholic must have been cringing at this preacher man – who holds Catholicism's highest title and is the Pope's main man in Australia – and his simplistic ravings.

Once, all roads might indeed have led to Rome, but increasingly for thinking Catholics, the roads less travelled bring greater comfort and humanity and make more sense.

I was astounded at Pell's extraordinary attitude and seeming denigration of the Jews.

Consider this from the Q and A transcript (emphasis mine).  We start with a question to Pell from the host and moderator, Tony Jones:
TONY JONES: George Pell, can I just come back to you on this question of the existence of God. Why would God randomly decide to provide proof of his existence to a small group of Jews 2,000 years ago and not subsequently provide any proof after that?

GEORGE PELL: Well, I don't think there's ever been any scientific proof.

I don't believe God does anything randomly, although he might set up, he might set up a system which works, apparently through, you know, through chance, through random, but if you want something done, you’ve got to ask somebody.

It’s no good, say, my asking everyone in the congregation will you would do something.

Normally you go to a busy person because you know they'll do it and so for some extraordinary reason God chose the Jews. They weren't intellectually the equal of either the Egyptians or the...

TONY JONES: Intellectually?

GEORGE PELL: Intellectually, morally...

TONY JONES: How can you know intellectually?

GEORGE PELL: Because you see the fruits of their civilisation. Egypt was the great power for thousands of years before Christianity. Persia was a great power, Caldia.

The poor – the little Jewish people – they were originally shepherds. They were stuck.

They’re still stuck between these great powers.

TONY JONES: But that’s not a reflection of your intellectual capacity, is it, whether or not you're a shepherd?

GEORGE PELL: Well, no it’s not but it is a recognition it is a reflection of your intellectual development, be it like many, many people are very, very clever and not highly intellectual but my point is...

TONY JONES: I’m sorry, can I just interrupt? Are you including Jesus in that, who was obviously Jewish and was of that community?


TONY JONES: So intellectually not up to it?

GEORGE PELL: Well, that’s a nice try, Tony.

The people, in terms of sophistication, the psalms are remarkable in terms of their buildings and that sort of thing. They don't compare with the great powers.

But Jesus came not as a philosopher to the elite. He came to the poor and the battlers and for some reason he choose a very difficult but actually they are now an intellectually elite because over the centuries they have been pushed out of every other form of work.

They’re a - I mean Jesus, I think, is the greatest the son of God but, leaving that aside, the greatest man that ever lived so I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don't need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days.


Even dissecting the garbled meandering of Pell's ramblings — his disdain for the Jews bleeds through the confusion, that much is clear. What is going on in his head? What was he thinking?

And this at the calendar times of Easter and Passover! So much for ecumenism.

It is a preposterous assertion, and I suggest it is now time for Cardinal Pell to go quietly. Pension him off and do the inter-faith movement a favour.

Pell's conduct on Q&A makes a mockery of the enforced sacking of working priests such as Father Bob Maguire OA.

It is well known that Pell had long wanted to be rid of this turbulent priest.

Unlike Pell, Father Bob, cranky and irascible and popular, is just at home at the pulpit or on radio and TV or administering to the homeless, junkies and those of us who are disaffected and despised — regardless of one's religious or irreligious inclination.

I feel that Pell is simply jealous of the rebellious Maguire and the affection in which he is held. That opinion is certainly shared by many, although publicly uttered by few.

In today's The Age, Barney Swartz discusses Pell's comments about Jews on Q&A.

The Australian Jewish News also published an article by Gareth Narunsky, on Pell's Q&A comments.

The Cardinal's comments went from bad to worse. He was clearly on a roll.

From the ABC transcript:
TONY JONES: Can I take it to a bigger level...............to the Holocaust, to genocide, to famine: if there is an omnipotent and all powerful God, why does he let these things happen?

GEORGE PELL: That’s a very good question but if God is going to allow us to be good he’s got to give us freedom. There is no alternative to that and...

TONY JONES: But he chose to intervene at different times in history to save the Jews when they were going over the River Jordan. I mean there are many times when, apparently, God has intervened in biblical times. Why not now?

GEORGE PELL: .... He helped probably through secondary causes for the Jews to escape and continue.

It is interesting through these secondary causes probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were. It is a terrible mystery.

TONY JONES: There would be a very strong argument saying that the Jews of Europe suffered worse than the Germans.

GEORGE PELL: Yes, that might be right. Certainly the suffering in both – I mean the Jews – there was no reason why they should suffer.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="496"] George Pell and Richard Dawkins (image courtesy Telegraph UK)[/caption]

The so-called 'debate' (a misnomer) between Dawkins and Pell was memorable for its cringe moments – and for what wasn't discussed – including the widespread sexual abuse of children and young adults by members of Catholic Clergy and Religious Orders.

Whilst Pell and the Pope constantly pontificate about how other people should or shouldn't live their lives, they have less to say about the rampant global paedophilia that has infected the Church.

And it was curious to this observer, to watch this very issue glossed over by Q&A despite an overwhelming response from the audience. Clearly, Tony Jones didn't want to go there.

Here's how it unfolded – and listen to the audio as well – says it all.

Firstly, a question from the audience:
MICHAEL MATTY: Is it okay to tell a child that God doesn't exist?

TONY JONES: Richard Dawkins?

RICHARD DAWKINS: I think it is okay to tell a child the truth but I would prefer to encourage a child to make up her own mind and to think about the evidence and to believe things when there is evidence.

What I think is not okay, what I think is deeply immoral, is to tell a child that when she dies if she's not good she's going to go to hell. That seems to me to be mental child abuse and an utter disgrace.


GEORGE PELL: I remember when I was in England we were preparing some young English boys, they were from very...

When the Cardinal spoke the words directly above about preparing....young.... boys, the audience let out knowing guffaws and laughs, very obviously alluding to the grooming and sexual abuse of boys by priests and brothers (and nuns).

But the Cardinal chose not to confront the issue and went on:
GEORGE PELL: Preparing them for...


TONY JONES: Come on.

GEORGE PELL: Thank you. Preparing them for the first communion and they were very patriotic young lads and one of them announced very breezily to me that he didn't believe in hell and I mean certainly the idea of any child being sent to hell, I agree that that is grotesque and that’s not the Christian God but, anyhow, I said to this kid — I said simply "Hitler. You think Hitler might be in hell? Started the Second World War, caused the death of 50 million or would you prefer a system where Hitler got away with it for free?"

Anyhow the little kid was quite patriotic and he said, “Mmm.” He realised hell was in with a chance if Hitler was going to go there.

TONY JONES: What about a system where he was obliterated and didn't exist anymore?

GEORGE PELL: Well, he would have got away with too much, as far as I am concerned.

TONY JONES: So you actually – well, prefer the idea of hell as a place of punishment for – but for who? Where do you draw the line? Do unbelievers go to hell?

GEORGE PELL: No. No. No. The only people – well, one – I hope nobody is in hell. We Catholics generally believe that there is a hell. I hope nobody is there. I certainly believe in a place of purification. I think it will be like getting up in the morning and you throw the curtains back and the light is just too much. God's light would be too much for us. But I believe on behalf of the innocent victims in history that the scales of justice should work out. And if they don't, life is radically unjust, the law of the jungle prevails.

TONY JONES: Okay, I’m just going to go to our next question...

Tony let George off the hook. He shouldn't have.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="499"] Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal George Pell at Final Mass For World Youth Day 2008, Sydney[/caption]

More than any other issue confronting the contemporary Catholic Church, none is causing more angst than that of child sex abuse and the Church's continuing attempt to cover up and protect perpetrators.

Last month in Victoria, a group of Catholic Clergy, led by Father Tony Kerin, the Episcopal Vicar for Justice and Peace, called for an independent inquiry into child sex abuse, as has belatedly happened in Ireland.

In yesterday's Age, the hardworking investigative team of Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker have teamed up with Jane Lee to write about a report by Det Sgt Kevin Carson linking a number of suicides by people sexually abused by Catholic Clergy.

It is time we had a Royal Commission into this entire insidious and tragic issue. I am tired of all the excuses and impediments put up by the Catholic Church. What sort of utter despair and bleakness must those who suicide be feeling? And who drove them to it?

Yesterday, Victoria Police announced it would be compiling a brief for the State Coroner about suicides related to victims of sex abuse by members of the Catholic Church Clergy.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu was asked several times yesterday, including on ABC local radio, whether there will be an inquiry into the shocking 40 suicides attributed to such sex abuse. He cannot obfuscate for much longer and hopefully by the time we go to press on this story, he will have announced an inquiry.

Cardinal Pell, it is of little consequence waffling on about the symbolism or otherwise of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve and whether we will all go to heaven and play the harp or pokies that always come up trumps, when for the sexually abused, Paradise is already lost and their perpetrators have ensured, in the name of their God, and their 'brand'  that the victims forever dwell in a Hell on earth.


* In the interest of transparency, Tess Lawrence confirms that, in her role as a specialist in Ethical Crisis Management, she provided counsel to Christian Brothers and researched and implemented campaigns for the Brothers in relation to sex abuse claims. These campaigns held victims and allegations to be of paramount importance and consideration and were a departure from the Church's normal demeanour. As such, Lawrence clashed with some sections of the Church's hierarchy and propagandists.

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