Cardinal Pell Speaks About New Book
Friday, Nov. 26, 2021
Cardinal George Pell was at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Park City Nov. 15 -18. IC photo/Marie Mischel
PARK CITY — Cardinal George Pell, who spent 404 days in solitary confinement in an Australian prison until his conviction on charges of sexual abuse of a minor was overturned in 2020 by the High Court of Australia in a unanimous decision, kept a daily journal of his ordeal. After his release from prison, that journal was published in three volumes, the third of which was released on Nov. 2.
The cardinal wrote approximately three pages each day, always ending with a prayer or reflection taken from wide-ranging sources: the Psalms, various saints, John Donne and Shakespeare, to name a few.
Prison Journal Volume 3: The High Court Frees an Innocent Man covers the period of Cardinal Pell’s imprisonment from Dec. 1, 2019 to April 8, 2020, the day after his release. These days happened to be the First Sunday of Advent and the Wednesday of Holy Week, respectively. In the entry that opens the book, the cardinal notes that “[T]he liturgical year is a wonderful invention …” but one that he had taken “somewhat for granted. … However, I have a new and deeper appreciation for Lent and Easter, Pentecost, Advent and Christmas, and even Ordinary Time, as they give structure and purpose to my quiet life in jail.”
Continuing his thought, he adds that “In the yearly cycle of feasts, we [Christians] celebrate what has been achieved by God’s people and look forward in hope.”
In an interview with the Intermountain Catholic, the cardinal said that life in prison “is very humdrum. So you welcome the weekly visits from the chaplain, you welcome when there’s an interesting program on [television]; I’m very interested in sports – there’s Aussie rules football and test cricket.”
While “life is pretty quiet in jail,” that quiet could be broken by other prisoners “who were sometimes very angry, sometimes very anguished,” he said.
Then, with humor that occasionally comes out in his book, he added that the quiet life in jail “was good preparation for COVID isolation.”
The entries in the journal cover an eclectic mixture of topics: the cardinal mentions visits from friends and supporters who included Anthony Abbott, the former prime minster of Australia, and Father Victor Martinez, the Australian superior of Opus Dei; the contents of his meals – he enjoys Cadbury’s chocolate; musings on the contents of letters he received (according to a press release from his publisher, he was sent more than 3,500 letters), his exercise program that included a self-imposed goal of at least 100 ping pong volleys in a row. He also commented on worldwide events such as the financial scandal at the Vatican and global warming.
The cardinal also closely followed the arguments his legal team was preparing to present for the appeal to the high court. “I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in handing it over to them and just letting it go,” he said. “I meticulously examined everything – I’m not a lawyer, but increasingly I got a little bit better at that.”
While incarcerated, the cardinal was unable to celebrate Mass. In the interview, he said he missed the consolation of the knowledge that during the celebration of the Eucharist as a priest he was giving praise to God in a way that couldn’t be done in ordinary prayer. He also regretted being unable to offer up his Mass for other people, he said.
In the first volume of the journal, the topic of forgiveness was addressed, but in the third journal this topic is touched on only once or twice.
“I hadn’t become unforgiving, but one of the things I do believe [is that] if you’ve said something once or twice and meant it, I don’t think it helps to be repeating that to the same person,” he said. “So I certainly believe in the obligation to forgive. … If you forgive, you’ve got to continue to forgive, and sometimes you’ve got to work at it.”
At 75 years of age and having been a priest for more than 50 years, he thinks “you have to practice what you preach,” he added.
What he would like readers to take away from his book, he said, is that “The Christian mix works. It’s true, and Christ’s teachings are … as effective now as they have ever been, and I think even more needed because we’re a prosperous society but we’re quite a neurotic society also.”
Once the book tour is finished, Cardinal Pell intends to return to Rome and take up his typical routine of “Mass, daily prayers, reading, doing a bit of writing, keeping abreast of current affairs – certainly in the life of the Church,” he said.