On Cardinal Pell and opposition to Pope Francis

Was Cardinal Pell a holy Church leader and did he strongly opposed Pope Francis?

After his death, many persons have begun to use Pell’s name and his reputation as a conservative Cardinal to bolster their own positions on a range of issues and to oppose Pope Francis. When Pell was alive, he did not join those few Church prelates who strongly opposed Pope Francis. And while some criticisms may be faithfully expressed about any Pope, Pell was not among those prelates who openly oppose or resist Pope Francis. So it is dishonest to use Pell’s name to attack the Pope.

Now it is claimed that Cardinal Pell was the author of a memo published in 2022 on the blog Settimo Cielo under the pseudonym of “Demos”, which labelled Francis’ pontificate as “a disaster in many or most respects; a catastrophe” [Wikipedia]. And while the Wikipedia article (currently 1/21/23) claims that “it was revealed” that Pell wrote the memo, there is no proof of that authorship. In addition, many new and exaggerated claims have been made about the words and positions of Pell and Benedict, claims made only after their deaths, when they obviously cannot reply. Such assertions by opponents of Pope Francis are self-serving and, at best, dubious.

Also, after the death of Cardinal Pell, many opponents of Pope Francis have begun to speak as if Pell were one of the holiest and most faithful Church leaders. In fact, Cardinal Pell has been repeatedly accused of child sexual abuse across multiple different years and accusers. One of these accusations resulted in a conviction that was later overturned.

“On 11 December 2018, Pell was convicted on five counts of child sexual abuse of two boys in the 1990s.”

“The sentencing hearing on 13 March 2019 was broadcast live to the public, with Chief Judge Kidd sentencing Pell to serve six years in jail with a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Pell was also registered as a sex offender. He served 404 days in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, before being acquitted.” [Wikipedia]

In the initial appeal of his case to the Australian Court of Appeal, the conviction against Pell was upheld.
A subsequent appeal to the High Court of Australia, the final court of appeal, “found that the jury should have had doubt as to the guilt of Pell; the verdict was changed to acquittal.” [Ibid.]

Despite the acquittal upon appeal, faithful Catholics ought to have doubts as to the innocence of Pell, given that he has been accused of the same offense by multiple persons across almost his entire time in the clergy, from the seminary to the Cardinalate. Those who speak as if Pell were particularly holy and faithful, and as if he supported particular ideas that he himself is not known to have expressed in his lifetime is highly dishonest. If your main basis for opposing the Vicar of Christ and successor of Peter is Cardinal Pell, maybe you should rethink your opposition.

The main criticism being discussed among Catholics today, which is actually known to have been stated by Pell, is specific to the synod of synods, which is a consultation with the dioceses and parishes of the world. No matter what one thinks of that Synod, it is not a teaching and not a continuous institution. If this approach succeeds or fails, it matter little to the evaluation of Francis’ Pontificate. Also, we do not know the result of that consultation; nothing has been decided, except that the Shepherd is listening to his flock. What a thing to oppose!

The opponents of Pope Francis do not accept his authority and decisions over doctrine and discipline. They do not want the Pope to run the Church. But they also criticize the body of Bishops as well as Vatican I and II. They level accusations against other Popes, even against the recent Pope Saints. And then they do not want the Pope and Bishops to consult with the parishes (priests, deacons, religious, laity). So who do they want to run the Church? Sadly, the answer is that they will never be satisfied with leadership in the Church unless they, the accusers of Popes and Councils, are the only leaders. They will not think the Church to be holy, unless they have their way on every issue of doctrine and discipline, down to the finest point of liturgical form. And that is not faith in Christ, but faith in oneself and in a rebellious subculture among conservative and traditionalist Catholics.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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5 Responses to On Cardinal Pell and opposition to Pope Francis

  1. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Dear Ron,

    Thank you for this article. We pray for the repose of Cardinal Pell, and we hope all those accusations of abuse dating back to his seminary days are not true. With regard to his positions on faith and morals, I think we can agree with most of them. According to the Wikipedia article, however, there is something he said that I find questionable. It is this report from his debate with Richard Dawkins:

    “During a debate against Richard Dawkins on the television show Q&A in 2012, in response to whether there had ever been a Garden of Eden scenario with an “actual” Adam and Eve, Pell said:[73][74]
    ‘Adam and Eve are terms – what do they mean: life and earth. It’s like every man. That’s a beautiful, sophisticated, mythological account. It’s not science but it’s there to tell us two or three things. First of all that God created the world and the universe. Secondly, that the key to the whole of universe, the really significant thing, are humans and, thirdly, it is a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and suffering in the world.’”

    Cardinal Pell seems to regard the story of the Fall as “sophisticated mythology.” This statement seems difficult to reconcile with what Pius XII teaches in Humani Generis, 37-39 (Denz.-H 3897-3899) and what the Council of Trent teaches about the transmission of original sin (Sess. 5, can. 1-4; Denz.-H 1511-1514). In terms of science, the existence of a historical Adam and Eve is certainly possible as the Catholic philosopher, Dr. Dennis Bonnette has explained: https://strangenotions.com/the-scientific-possibility-of-adam-and-eve/ Moreover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing Vatican II (GS 13) refers to original sin as “a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.” A deed is an event, and a real sin cannot be committed by a mythological figure. Still less can “sophisticated mythology” explain the transmission of original sin “by propagation, not by imitation” as the Council of Trent teaches.

    I hope I’m not misinterpreting Cardinal Pell’s on original sin. I wonder if you have any thoughts.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I agree that the teaching of the Church on original sin requires that Adam and Eve were two real historical persons, from whom descended all human persons. There are mythological or more precisely figurative elements in the stories from Genesis, chapters 1 to 11. However, this does not imply that these stories are purely fictional or mythological. Jesus certainly speaks about marriage as being ordained by God from the beginning, and He references Genesis in this regard.

      I’ve read Dr. Dennis Bonnette on this topic, and consider his position to be generally orthodox and insightful. But I think he dates Adam and Eve too far in the past. Behavioral modernity has usually been dated by anthropologists to 50,000 to 80,000 years ago. Bonnette places Adam and Eve much earlier, I think at the start of Anatomically Modern Humans, rather than Behaviorally Modern Humans as in my writing on this topic (Adam and Eve versus Evolution).

  2. Robert Fastiggi says:

    Thank you, Ron, for these supportive comments. I agree that there are figurative elements in Gen. 1-11 as Pius XII acknowledged. Cardinal Pell’s position on Adam and Eve, as expressed in his debate with Richard Dawkins, is at least problematical.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Right. Original sin must be a sin, a knowingly chosen act of a person (in this case two persons). Without a real historical sin, original sin loses much of its meaning. And then what would the Immaculate Conception mean? How can Mary be preserved from original sin, if there was no sin at the origins of the human race? Yes, very problematic.

  3. Bill says:

    It is true that Cardinal Pell would not approve of his name being used to promote rebellion against Pope Francis. It is also not reasonable to doubt Cardinal Pell’s innocence of all criminal allegations based on one’s feelings or indeed the history of allegations. No allegation has ever been based in credible evidence. There has been a targeted agenda against Cardinal Pell since he was Archbishop because he was a disruptor to organised crime in his home state of Victoria, Australia. There have been multiple occasions where allegations have been assumed to be true due to media propaganda, but with time the truth revealed the IMPOSSIBILITY of the allegations. For example, regarding the historical allegations when Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne, it was later determined as an unequivocal fact that Archbishop Pell was overseas at the time when the historical offending was alleged to occur. Regarding the most recent allegations, these too have now been revealed impossible – please refer to this detailed account by Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO, who is a Jesuit priest, human rights lawyer and academic, in which he highlights “….In the highest court of the land the most senior prosecutor of the state of Victoria invented a theory and then invented evidence.”

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