Behind rigidity something always lies hidden. In many cases, a double life.
-- Pope Francis
There needs to be a word to describe the phenomenon in which a person projects internalized conflict onto others--the sort of ironic hypocrisy often manifested by authority figures or people who set themselves up as examples of morality.
"Pot-calling-the-kettle-blackism" just doesn't trip off the tongue. "Hypocrisy" isn't strong enough; we're all at least part-time hypocrites. I would think the Germans might have a handy word for it, but apparently it doesn't exist. So we can't apply it to the case of Cardinal George Pell.
You might have missed the news about Pell last week because there were a few other things going on. Michael Cohen turned out to be more Joe Valachi than Frankie Pentangelli. Our president once again found a ruthless foreign dictator more credible than American intelligence agencies. The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the United States, voted to effectively prohibit gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from being ordained as ministers and to prohibit Methodist ministers from performing same-sex marriages.
The Arkansas Legislature busied itself with failing to move out of committee a bill to redesignate a star on the state flag --that in 1924 the body had decided was in honor of the Confederacy--to honor the state's Indian tribes. (And during the debate, one of our legislators referred to the Civil War as the "War of Southern Independence" while another one wondered why we wanted to honor tribes "after they fought against us?")
Plus Gladys Knight was dressed up like a bee to sing on some reality show.
Still, you should know that last week we found out that, in December, Cardinal Pell became the highest-ranking Catholic clergyman ever convicted of sexually abusing children. To be specific, he was convicted of committing five sexual acts with two 13-year-old choirboys while he was Archbishop of Melbourne. We found out about those convictions last week when authorities decided to drop additional charges against Pell, finalizing the case and rescinding a gag order.
As of this writing, he's sitting in an Australian maximum security prison awaiting sentencing on March 13. He's facing up to 50 years in prison.
Pell was--still is--a pretty big deal. In news accounts, he's often referred to as the "most prominent Catholic" in Australia. Pope Francis created a Vatican office for him in 2014--prefect of the secretariat of the economy, in essence the Vatican treasurer--and some power rankings place him as the No. 3 Catholic in the world. He resigned his Vatican position in 2017 to go home to Australia to defend himself against charges of sexual abuse of children.
Now, Pell was big on railing against the sins of the flesh. It was a cornerstone of his career. He refused communion to openly gay members of the church. He opposed legislation to permit gay couples to adopt children. He didn't think that discrimination against gay people was comparable to discrimination against racial minorities.
All of which is pretty much in line with church policy, though few Catholics leaned in as hard as Cardinal Pell. Famously intransigent, he accused the church of being "frightened to put forward the hard teachings of Christ." He was disdainful of a ceremony in which a wreath was laid outside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in memory of gay students in Catholic schools driven to suicide. He said that homosexuality was "more dangerous than smoking" and that if homosexuals would stop recruiting "new members to the subculture," there would soon be no gays to commit suicide.
As a member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Pell warned the governments of the world that to grant gays equal rights was to "deny a psychological problem which makes homosexuality against the social fabric ..."
Yet, as hard as he campaigned against gay marriage and made war on sex, Pell was remarkably soft on pedophile priests. As a bishop he stonewalled, claiming he didn't have enough information, that he didn't have authority to act. He protected Father Peter Searson, a priest who sexually abused children, killed animals in front of them and threatened them with handguns. He publicly supported Gerald Ridsdale, a priest who was defrocked after he was found guilty of more than 100 counts of sexual abuse of children at his 1993 trial.
Pell was not especially popular among Australian Catholics, but he had a gift for politics and fundraising. Pope John Paul II brought him to Rome. Benedict XVI kept him there. Francis kept him there too.
Now Pell has been found guilty, and is the first cardinal to go to prison since Hungarian communists held a show trial and convicted Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty of treason and conspiracy in 1948.
Pell still has his defenders, among them American George Weigel, who in the conservative religion journal First Things points out that in holding a Vatican diplomatic passport and Vatican citizenship Pell was not compelled to return to his homeland to face charges but did so voluntarily. People are wrongly convicted, even in liberal democratic societies. Maybe Pell's was a show trial too. All I know about him is what has been reported.
But I'm not surprised he sits in prison. It's a story we've heard before.
We all know about the troubles the Catholic Church has had with pedophilia and ephebophilia. No doubt some of that problem is baked into the profession. We might understand that men who are in denial of their nature--or, more cynically, looking for a cover for their predation--might seek to become priests, similar to the way some bullies might seek to become police officers. You can try to screen these people out, but people will lie and misrepresent themselves to get what they think they want.
I grew up around Catholic priests and found them to be without exception decent and worthy. As are most cops, most baristas and even most newspaper columnists.
But there are things we might observe.
Maybe we should call the vociferous expression of moral outrage "pelling."
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Editorial on 03/03/2019
Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: The Cardinal protests