The Archbishop Emeritus of Sydney, Australia, made the front page of the media in Europe beyond the Alps on the occasion of the release in Italy of the first volume of his book, Prison Journal, an interesting story in more ways than one, especially in deciphering what is playing out in Rome.
Being a prince of the Church and spending over four hundred days in prison in a non-Communist country is the sad record Cardinal George Pell set at the age of eighty. An experience that did not undermine the pugnacious character of the Australian.
Moreover, the tone was set in the interview given to Avvenire on September 25, during the presentation of his book, Prison Journal, at the episcopal seminary of Pordenone: “writing in prison is good therapy; St. Paul proved it and Solzhenitsyn also testified to it,” joked the high prelate.
Cardinal Pell does not really exercise the art of understatement when it comes to analyzing the judicial and media lynching of which he was the victim: “I was targeted because of my defense of the traditional vision of family, life, and sexuality,” he says.
And he recognizes that “the triggering factor was the abuse crisis,” because from the start of the trial, the former archbishop heard that it was “possible, even probable (that he) was innocent, but (that) the Church has done so much harm that it was right that someone had to pay and be punished.” And he added, a bit fatalistically: “unfortunately, it fell on me.”
Without seeking to minimize it, the high prelate wishes to situate the abuse question within the Church in a more general context of the religious crisis: “in our Westernized societies, this great tragedy is not the number one problem. The main problem is the weakening of the faith and the fact that many young people no longer believe.”
“This is the big challenge. Next to that, there is the moral crisis of the family and the enormous threat of pornography, not only for the Church but for all of humanity,” he warns.
On the role of “Mr. Proper” of Vatican finances, which Pope Francis had entrusted to him, and which drew him certain enmities within the Curia, Cardinal Pell launches with a knowing smile: “for me, there was no difference between Italians and non-Italians, but between honest people and those who weren't.”
Some proof for him that transparency is advancing in this area: “Cardinal Angelo Becciu’s trial can be held, it is an important moment because in this way the Vatican can be seen as a place where the law is respected,” emphasized the former Archbishop of Sydney who has never hidden the fact of having come up head-on in the course of his duties against the former number two man in the Secretariate of State.
Another sign of a certain Australian outspokenness: the universal synod, a great project dear to the Argentine pontiff, does not seem to trigger any excessive enthusiasm on the part of the high
prelate; “I'm not an expert in synodality,” he quipped, “and I don't see many who really understand what this means, but I will follow it all with great interest.”
When finally asked what struck him the most during his time in prison, Cardinal Pell replied without hesitation: “not being able to celebrate mass, alcohol being prohibited in prison; and not knowing what was going on outside.”