The Australian Apostle
GEORGE PELL: DEFENDER OF THE FAITH DOWN UNDER
by Tess Livingstone
491 pages, $18.95
To order: (800) 651-1531or ignatius.com
George Pell was appointed a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1990, when he was an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne.
As he rose through the Australian hierarchy, he worked for years with the congregation's prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, becoming archbishop of Melbourne, archbishop of Sydney and now cardinal archbishop.
Reading Defender of the Faith Down Under, one gets the sense that the present Pope was involved in Cardinal Pell's advancement, and that the Australian cardinal was one of the new Pope's strongest supporters at the conclave. In the book, Cardinal Pell says of Cardinal Ratzinger, “His working relationship with the Holy Father has been one of the high points of papal history. The Church of John Paul II owes Ratzinger an enormous debt; his contribution has been invaluable, and the abuse heaped upon him is totally unjustified.”
It might be said that the Church in Australia owes a debt to its cardinal, though the book makes clear that too few appreciate his contribution. Indeed, it seems that orthodoxy had fallen from favor “Down Under” before Pell began flexing his impressive intellectual, theological and magisterial muscles.
With his large, footballer frame adding heft to his pronouncements, Cardinal Pell has defended the Church's teachings on contraception and sexual morality in general, promoted John Paul II's encyclicals on life, discounted the possibility of women priests, and denied Communion to “rainbow sash” homosexual activists. In addition, he has locked horns with Australian Peter Singer before the ethics scholar became a famous supporter of infanticide as a tenured professor at Princeton University, and he made major strides in addressing a clergy sexual-abuse scandal that exploded in Australia years before it hit the headlines in America.
Cardinal Pell has often done this over the objections or obstructions of an entrenched ecclesial bureaucracy with a “new church” mentality, and amid a firestorm of media attention that brands him “archconservative.”
Knowing well the trouble he would stir with his unwavering appeal to orthodoxy, Cardinal Pell took as his episcopal motto the words of Jesus to his apostles, and those of John Paul II at the beginning of his papacy: “Be Not Afraid.” Courage has been a watchword throughout Cardinal Pell's career.
Author Tess Livingstone claims that few associates would have placed Cardinal Pell on his current path, judging from his formative years and early years as a priest. As a seminarian in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, he welcomed the changes the council brought into the Church. Yet, as has been noted recently in commentary about Benedict XVI, he rejected the radicalism and anti-religious sentiment engendered by the “spirit of the Council,” which had little to do with the Council documents themselves.
As the author adroitly notes, those who criticize the cardinal for being “stuck in the 1950s” can themselves be accused of being “stuck in the 1970s.” Pell's supporters see him as intent on implementing the true reforms of Vatican II while preserving the deposit of the faith, Livingstone writes.
This long, well-documented and balanced book quotes the cardinal's critics as well as his friends. It will certainly serve as a major source for the much that will be written about this charismatic cardinal, who will continue to influence the direction of the Church for years to come.
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Connecticut.
- July 10-16, 2005