Today we present two contrasting albeit critical responses to the panegyric by George Weigel in praise of Cardinal George Pell we drew to your attention last Friday that was published in the conservative American journal, First Things. Both have been submitted to Catholica by priests: Fr Eugene Ahern is based in Melbourne and Fr Daniel Donovan is located in Sydney.
I write as someone who is a personal friend of George Pell. I have known him for fifty years. I studied with him both in Australia and in Rome. I have had a continuing relationship with him particularly while he was my archbishop in Melbourne and both then and while he has been in Sydney because of my deep personal commitment to defending my smallest and most defenseless brothers and sisters in the human family, the unborn babies.
I would like to think that subscribers to "First Things" would share my position that the defense of human life is of paramount importance in every age and in every society. I am pleased to identify with the total rejection of abortion by the Catholic Church. The horror of abortion is rightly identified by the Church with the penalty of excommunication for those directly involved in an abortion, that is the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child.
You may wonder where this is leading? Well, George Pell has completely failed to give leadership on the life issues. In the past cardinals from Sydney and Melbourne have gone to Canberra, our national capital, to address the National Press Club, on the eve of important votes on the abortion issue in the national parliament. George Pell has never led such a high profile and hard hitting campaign against abortion. This is to his personal shame.
How do I explain George Pell's abject failure to stand up for the babies? It is difficult to know. I offer these thoughts. It is very hard for any of us to come to love and care for our smallest and hidden brothers and sisters who we cannot see. That does not excuse us from trying particularly when we are surrounded by the grim reality of huge numbers of babies being killed by abortionists right before our eyes.
In early 2008 before World Youth Day I wrote to George Pell suggesting he see and promote the film, which put a clear case for the unborn baby in terms of its feet, etc! He rejected my idea. He was "too busy", yet this was a film that teenagers in Australia were seeing and discussing. He was too busy to touch the mainstream.
Secondly he and other bishops hold out their hands for the huge grants which Catholic institutions, especially Catholic schools and universities receive. It is not surprising that he would be reluctant to directly "bite the hand" that feeds the Church. In 2004 during the "ad limina" visit to Rome I challenged him one evening in Domus Sanctae Marthae about the defense by a prominent Catholic Sydney political figure of massive abortion funding by the national health scheme, Medibank. He dismissed by challenge telling me I was “too hard” on the man. Imagine Cardinal von Galen saying I was "too hard", if I had criticized a defender of Nazi funding of its euthanasia programme.
Thirdly and sadly George Pell has told one of the national leaders of the Australian pro-life movement that the abortion debate has been lost in Australia. He probably got that line from his mentor a certain B. A. Santamaria, who certainly believed it. Incidentally Santamaria gave scant political importance to the abortion issue in politics even criticizing a pro-life campaign which unseated the pro-abortion leader in the Federal House. If he truly believes the fight is lost, it is no wonder he has given up without a fight for life. Whatever the reason the fact is that George Pell has never been an outspoken champion of the pro-life movement in the vehement styles of Cardinal Knox of Melbourne or Cardinal Winning of Glasgow, who led by words and action.
So it is that I challenge George Wiegel in his assessment of George Pell and the cardinal’s failure to even contribute to the pivotal and paramount issue of our day. It is hardly surprising that George Pell did not take George Weigel to protest outside one of the many Sydney abortion clinics where the killing continues unfettered. Instead he chose to show him a wombat!
Eugene Ahern, Melbourne. Submitted to Catholica 18Dec2011
Christmas mail for me always involves numerous cards from my many Catholic friends whom I was privileged to serve in a Parish in South East Washington DC. Next year 2012 will in fact be the one hundredth birthday of a very special lady who frequently shared with me her experiences as an Afro-American woman in the Catholic Church which quite uncritically treated Black Catholics as "second class" requiring them to attend their own Churches. My deep affection for these people and their living faith despite the official Church attitude to them is most impressive. Their stories are reflected in the life and work of Mother Mary Lange who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence.
On opening my emails I found that one from a good friend had a warning, "this could turn your stomach!" So always ready for a challenge, I opened it and followed the links to a blog from First Things by George Weigel entitled, "The Cardinal Down Under" fascinated by his attack on the local Church especially, when he had only been in the country for a short period it suggested that he had arrived with pre-conceived views on the Australian Church. Amazon confirmed my suspicions detailing his major publications and his interests in "Catholicism". References to "Australian Catholicism" and "Catholic Lite" in his blog introduced a language of disdain which will only serve to alienate further Australian Catholics from the hierarchy. Paul Kelly writing in The Weekend Australian [December 17-18] about the challenges facing Labor makes a number of key points which are relevant for the "beleaguered" Church. Kelly points out Labor can no longer "assume that Labor-voting low-income workers were too dumb to realise they were being played for mugs. That game is up." Bishops must start serving their community otherwise they cannot assume the support of their people.
What is it with the name, "George"? Whether it be a Christian name or a surname, first there was George Pell then there was that blogging terror Fr George and now George Weigel an imported George who would appear to lack the normal courtesy and etiquette by denigrating his host Community. However his experience of the Australian Church and its remarkable achievements should not be viewed through his prism of Catholicism. Words which end in "–ism" are not real words and as such they are open to manipulation because they lack a precise and clear definition and smack of intellectual snobbery which is a cover for a very limited worldview. Bernard Lonergan [1904-1984], referred to classicists or those who understood that culture was normative so that "Catholicism" is a package deal which accepts the Western/European culture as the norm and thereby superior to other world cultures.
Paul, the Apostle [Gal 3-4] encountered the problem with the Judaizers or those converts to Christianity from "Judaism" and their belief that Christians must first accept the Jewish Law and customs if they were to be saved. Paul emphatically, rejected their arguments and declared that Christian unity is not in race or culture but "in Christ" [Gal 3:28] who has sent the Spirit of adoption into our hearts making us "heirs of God through Christ" [Gal 4:6-10]. Luke further proffers Paul's position [Acts 4:12] stating; "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Paul understands that salvation is about righteousness is "...confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" [Rom 10: 8-11]. Paul was quite unfamiliar with the position argued by Weigel that George Pell "saved Australian Catholicism".
Weigel achieved "fame" for his biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope and The Beginning and the End, on John Paul's legacy. Maybe these are important studies but they have little or no connection with the daily life of ordinary Catholics and will remain largely unread by them. Not so with the caricature of the Australian Church as "Catholic Lite" prior to the arrival on the scene of George Pell.
Interestingly, I first encountered the term, "Catholic Lite" in the writings of the Bishop of Parramatta, in a letter to the teachers and clergy of the Diocese proposing that they develop "Religion Programs" for young Catholics. As I have noted on several occasions the Bishop did not include parents in his plans to develop these programs. At that time, I believed it was an oversight on the Bishop's part but after reading Weigel's blog, I realise that I was mistaken. Apparently "Full Strength Catholic" deliberately excludes parental participation and flies in the face of the Church's explicit teaching that parents are "the first and best teachers of their children in the way of the faith?"
Weigel further claims that Anthony Fisher OP "is a Pell protégé". So what is so special about Anthony Fisher? All of the recently appointed Australian bishops (with one or two exceptions) are Pell's "protégés" although the term "clone" might be more appropriate. All are globetrotters, devoid of leadership qualities and lacking effective pastoral and communication skills as recently demonstrated on national television in the Diocese of Lismore. While Chrissie Foster records in her book the lack of compassion shown by the Catholic Church to her and her husband in 2008 when they complained of the loss of two daughters who had been sexually abused by a Melbourne priest. No doubt, it would be hard for Weigel from his home in North Bethesda to empathise with these people "the least" [Mt 25:45] — too "Catholic Lite" for him yet strangely Jesus identifies with them.
Father Robert Frederick Drinan SJ [1920-2007], a distinguished American lawyer and teacher was elected to the United States Congress [1973-1981] as the representative of Newton MA. When Pope John Paul II visited Boston in 1980, less than two years after his election, Drinan's superiors were ordered to make Drinan resign from Congress. The Pope reasoned that it was not proper for a Jesuit priest to be involved in politics. Later in a television interview Fr Drinan was asked if he would comply with the Pope's decision. "Of course, I will" Drinan replied. Then he added: "The Holy Father is from a communist Country and he understands that to walk down the street in a soutane is to make a powerful political statement. But he does not understand Western democracies, where to make a difference one must be part of the process."
Weigel refers to St Mary's Cathedral as "his Cathedral" — presumably the possessive pronoun (his) in this context refers to Cardinal Pell. St Mary's does not belong to the Archbishop but rather it is symbolic for all people within the Archdiocese (not just Catholics) as the seat and centre of Catholic life. St Mary's Cathedral has a national significance as the seat of the primal See in Australia and this honour is attached to the See itself not to the person who happens to hold the position of Archbishop of Sydney. While the Bishop leads the community from the Cathedral it is a quantum leap to refer to "his Cathedral", if anything the Cathedral has "its Bishop". Already the Parishes of Darlinghurst and St Benedict's Broadway have had their land re-possessed for the University of Notre Dame so it is a timely reminder that the Cathedral belongs to the Sydney Church and certainly, not to the Bishop as Weigel would claim.
Finally, there was that visit to that "wildlife preserve" but not only are Australian fauna "strange and wondrous" but they are also clever. It so happens that as that particular wombat was rummaging about his enclosure he was overheard commenting to another wombat:
Ungainly Wombat: Hey mate, did you see those two blokes, I wonder what the Creator had in mind there?
Daniel Donovan, Sydney. Submitted to Catholica 18Dec2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?