Profile in Courage: George Cardinal Pell

Following the death of Benedict XVI, next up in the unending tradservative quest for confirmation is George Cardinal Pell, who died unexpectedly on the tenth of January following hip replacement surgery.  

I have fond memories of Cardinal Pell who, despite his commitment to the Almighty Council, played a considerable part, thanks be to God, in helping me find authentic Catholic tradition. 

As newer readers may or may not know, in the early part of the millennium, I authored a faith formation series of conciliar document study guides that employed what eventually came to be called the “hermeneutic of continuity.” My mission at the time was to provide a resource for individuals and parish faith formation groups that reconciles the Council’s teaching with the perennial doctrine of the Church, a task that I now know to be impossible.

Even with an imprimatur from then Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, who wasn’t exactly known as an avowed enemy of the left, disseminating the material was a challenge inasmuch as it was considered too “conservative” in many parishes and dioceses.

In 2006, however, I was able to get my work into the hands of Cardinal Pell. He responded with great kindness, sending me a letter of endorsement for publication within the work in which he lauded the effort, heartily recommending its use as a resource for exploring the conciliar text.

Not long thereafter, Cardinal Pell gave his consent for The Catholic Weekly (the official diocesan newspaper of the Archdiocese of Sydney) to begin publishing my articles on the Council on a weekly basis. 

This helped me “get the word out” and opened many doors that led to the study guides being used in English speaking countries around the world.

Eventually, Catholic News Agency picked up my column and I found myself being invited to speak at, and lead, conferences in parishes and dioceses in various parts of the U.S. over the next several years.

Though I later came to realize that the Council and its poisonous doctrines gave birth to a counterfeit church, the experiences of those years drew me more and more deeply, not just into the conciliar text, but more importantly into Catholic tradition, the light of which exposed the dangers of Vatican II in a way that simply could not be ignored. 

Cardinal Pell would never come to see the Council in the same way as I, but his support for my efforts during what I call my “conservative adolescence” played a considerable part in my personal journey of faith (such as I have traveled it thus far), a part for which I will always remain grateful.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

My sincere gratitude having been expressed, let’s take a look at the posthumously penned legend of Cardinal Pell such as it is being written in our day.  

“He was a courageous man who also, more importantly, drew out of others the courage they did not know lay within them,” wrote George Weigel in an article for First Things in which the word courage is invoked nearly a dozen times.

In a separate piece written for First Things, Weigel lauded, as evidence of his courage, Cardinal Pell’s article (published by the Spectator) on the upcoming Synod on Synodality wherein he called it a “toxic nightmare.”  

“Courage” (see photo, left) also happens to be the one-word headline on the cover of The Catholic Weekly edition honoring the cardinal’s life and legacy. 

This “courage” encomium has even made its way into the right-most fringe of the counterfeit church, the ludicrous yet lucrative Limbo where tradservative media types dwell.   

Michael Matt, for example, said that Pell was “very courageous” for agreeing to celebrate the so-called Traditional Latin Mass at the conclusion of this year’s upcoming Chartres Pilgrimage. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to cast shade on Cardinal Pell and his legacy, but I ask:

Is it really an act of courage for a cardinal to offer the ancient Roman Rite of Holy Mass for a group of faithful pilgrims who hunger for its graces? 

Michael Matt thinks so, especially given the shadow cast by Traditionis Cojones.

I have a different view: It would be an act of extreme cowardice – perhaps even gravely sinful – for a cardinal who knows how to offer the true Mass to refrain from doing so in order to avoid inviting the mere possibility of provoking some undefined hardship. 

Matt’s mistake in this case is a common one in our day, namely, mischaracterizing the absence of cowardice as a sure sign of bravery, when in fact it’s merely a matter of one doing what one ought.  

In any case, Michael Matt, like many other tradservative commentators, has been gushing over news that Cardinal Pell has been revealed as the previously unknown author of the “Demos” memorandum that circulated among the College of Cardinals last Lent.

(Most readers are presumably familiar with this text, which can be read HERE.)

“This is HUGE!” Matt exclaimed before going on to suggest that Cardinal Pell was “growing disillusioned with the uber council.”

His proof for this claim is the following taken from the memo:

After Vatican II, Catholic authorities often underestimated the hostile power of secularization, the world, flesh, and the devil, especially in the Western world and overestimated the influence and strength of the Catholic Church.

We are weaker than 50 years ago and many factors are beyond our control, in the short term at least, e.g. the decline in the number of believers, the frequency of Mass attendance, the demise or extinction of many religious orders.

Note very well that Cardinal Pell does not fault the Council for this at all, rather, he pins responsibility for the “weaker Church” on the naiveté of those “Catholic authorities” who reigned after the blessed event. He even goes so far as to blame these same men for thinking too highly of the Church’s ability to steer the direction of human society!

The truth of the matter is that the Catholic Church – the one true Church of Christ as opposed to the conciliar counterfeit – is eminently influential and powerful in this world, but here’s the rub: 

The Church shapes society as her sacred pastors answer the call to lead their flock by “preaching the fullness of truth in season and out of season; reproving, entreating, rebuking in all patience and doctrine” (cf 2 Tim 4:2).

Had the post-conciliar claimants to Apostolic Succession been doing so over the last six decades, perhaps the number of true believers would not have declined as it has, the frequency of Mass attendance would not have plummeted, numerous religious orders would not have fallen extinct… 

Cardinal Pell went on to offer an excuse for himself and his con freres – men who at the very least allowed the errors of the Council to flourish unabated – saying that “many factors are beyond our control.”

This is courage?  

The Demos memo provides no indication whatsoever that Cardinal Pell had rejected the failed hermeneutic of continuity exercise, on the contrary, he writes:

The Christo-centricity of teaching is being weakened; Christ is being moved from the centre.

In the Demos memo, he wrongly places blame for this, not on the eminently man-centered Council, but at the feet of Francis, even going so far as to accuse him of launching a “systematic attack” on the “Christo-centric legacy of St. John Paul II in faith and morals.”

He cannot be serious! 

John Paul the Great Humanist cut his teeth at Vatican II, his entire reign of indifferentism was dedicated to the Council’s anthropocentric vision wherein “All things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown” (GS 12).

Cardinal Pell, despite some evidence of moving in the direction of tradition in his later years, appears to hold Vatican II harmless. This is the same Council that planted the seeds for the modernist notion of collegiality, an attempt at democratizing the Church that blossomed under Paul VI in the current iteration of the Synod of Bishops

Even though Cardinal Pell’s article in the Spectator is critical of the “toxic nightmare” that is the upcoming Synod on Synodality, his comments suggest that he was amenable to the liberal Council Father’s vision of shared, quasi-democratized, ecclesial governance. He writes:  

None of the synod’s participants, lay, religious, priest or bishop are well served by the synod ruling that voting is not allowed and propositions cannot be proposed. To pass on only the organising committee’s views to the Holy Father for him to do as he decides is an abuse of synodality, a sidelining of the bishops, which is unjustified by scripture or tradition. It is not due process and is liable to manipulation.

Newsflash: The Roman Pontiff doing as he decides – without first taking a vote from anyone – isn’t an abuse in the least. No such “process” is “due.” Synodality, as Cardinal Pell is defending it, is a farce.

And yet, his Spectator article is being lauded as a courageous defense of the Faith by men who should know better.    

The opening sentence of the Demos memo provides the money quote, portions  of which, more often than not, adorn tradservative headlines:

Commentators of every school, if for different reasons, with the possible exception of Father Spadaro, SJ, agree that this pontificate is a disaster in many or most respects; a catastrophe.

Cardinal Pell went on to catalogue the manifold ways in which the Bergoglian disaster is evident, which is all well and good, but an anonymous memorandum published under a pseudonym? 

Again, I ask, this is courage?

Perhaps my idea of courage is old school, but I don’t think it especially heroic for an 80-year-old cardinal, with precious little to lose, to mount a supposed defense of the Faith, in the face of perhaps its most vicious attack, whilst hiding behind a pen name. 

Even if Cardinal Pell had signed his name to the Demos memorandum and held a press conference to discuss it, I wouldn’t be inclined to call it an act of courage; I’d call it integrity, something everyone of us should expect, at bare minimum, from every churchman and lay Catholic alike.

One of the reasons these last nine years have been so catastrophic (overlooking for the moment that Jorge presides over a counterfeit church that was born in the 1960’s) is the fact that not even one member of the conciliar College of Cardinals has been able to muster up enough give-a-crap to take a bold, unambiguous stand for Christ and His Church, demanding that Bergoglio publicly renounce his blasphemies, heresies, and idolatrous activities. 

If Cardinal Pell had taken ownership of the concerns expressed in the Demos memo, perhaps others would have been motivated to step forward as well. By choosing anonymity, those too fearful to speak up are only confirmed in their cowardice.  

Future generations will look back on our day and ask:

Where in God’s name were the men? Where were they to be found in the hierarchy, in the pews, in allegedly ‘traditional’ Catholic media?

George Weigel opined that Cardinal Pell “drew out of others the courage they did not know lay within them.” 

While I am pleased to accept that he may have done so in various ways at certain times in his life, I am not going to join those who are blathering on about the cardinal’s courage, if for no other reason than to justify their own lack thereof.