Cardinal Pell has been convicted and everyone I want to call is dead.
Elation slid into rage. That instant of ‘we got him’ flashed and passed and made way for instants of ‘you bastards, you absolute bastards’ with electric ease.
Here was a man so cloaked in authority, sanctity, and righteousness for so long by so many that his abuses of power—his abuses of children—went unchecked, unmarked, and unmasked for half a century.
Not that there weren’t whispers. Confessions. Men half-shadowed by curtains, faces blank with the knowing of what had been done.
Loud sounds made quiet.
In 2014, appearing at the royal commission via video link from the Vatican, Pell compared the Catholic Church to a trucking company. If a trucker raped a passenger on a job, he reasoned, ‘I don’t think it reasonable that the…leadership of that company to be held responsible.’
It seemed to me then, as it does now, that you can hear the faint ring of the catechism in the old Trucker’s proverb: ‘gas, grass, or ass: nobody rides for free’.
A friend of mine’s brother threw themselves from a highway overpass sometime ago. They had been abused in a Catholic institution. They were a bit older than me, part of a group of Italian and Portuguese kids from the neighbourhood I’d grown up in, one of those ‘weird older brothers’ of a friend who was a little tapped, started ripping bongs at a desperately young age, was prone to random acts of violence, property damage, and who I remember storming through their house screaming intermittently, seemingly at nothing.
Like so many kids (because that’s what we were then, and what some remain eternally) I knew at that time he was unfairly broken by people and structures beyond his control or comprehension. Those I knew who grew up in state protection, or those who up tragically beyond it, carried in their eyes and bodies an aura that—if you were attuned to it—could be felt instinctively. Many people arrive at that instinct as victims, many more by loving victims.
Once you know it you can’t unknow it. It will colour your interaction with everyone: every handshake, eye-hold, hug, and kiss. As you come to appreciate that instinct, you will know its vast sadness, and within that sadness you will witness the meanness of those who keep its dark candle burning.
Those who came to know it through the church bare it differently. What is deformed is faith. Not necessarily in Christ, or the Church, but in the self, the family, the community, and their history. A disconnection that leaves you adrift in that unholiest of feelings—doubt.
Doubt will take you to a highway overpass.
The wake of hurt, grief, and death left by the Church, Cardinal Pell and their champions is incalculable. Such things can’t be measured. There will be healing, but there wont be healed. There is but one Lazarus. Revelations 21:4 reads ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
Ah, but has it?
Here is the anger.
With Pell, we have seen the same men defend the same man from damnation, for what, for me, has been a literal lifetime—what for the dead I’ve known has superseded one.
Since the royal commission begun tugging at Pell’s vestments, winding him into its cogs and catacombs, the defenders of the holy order took to their columns and golden-mics to uphold the limping Cardinal, each a Simon of Cyrene.
Another former Prime Minister, and longtime Pell champion, John Howard, said the trial was the result of a ‘get Pell mentality’. A witch-hunt was afoot, apparently. For Tony Abbott, ‘obviously the legal process must now take its course, but the George Pell that I’ve known is a fine man indeed’.
Enter the witches.
Paul Kelly, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Divine, Greg Sheridan, Gerard Henderson and more took to their pulpits to spew condemnation. Not on Pell, of course. But on the survivors and their case. Those with the largest soapboxes in Australia doing their best to hurt the already hurt.
And I wonder: can’t they see the straight highway that runs from men like Pell to the broken boys hurtling off the overpass?
It is disingenuous in 2019 to expect anything resembling an apology from this cabal of duds and bullies. For them, to apologise is to cease to function.
So I propose branding. Not literally, of course. But in the hyper-market conscious hellscape that is modern politics and media, I know nothing matters more to these people than their brands. What are their brands after Pell’s conviction? What did they defend as allies of Pell.
Tony Abbott: Ally of Pell. Andrew Bolt: Defender of Pell. Miranda Divine: Attacker of Pell’s victims. And so on. Never let them forget it.
They must own the hurt that they’ve sewn. ‘Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature,’ [Galatians 6:8.].
They can always repent.
In December, Pell was granted bail to undergo knee surgery. When was it last that the Good Father knelt? How will he hold his body when praying for forgiveness? What does Cardinal Pell look like in supplication?
Some friends will never know.