“Why the Vatican Needs Pell” – ABC Drum

Cardinal George Pell will soon succeed Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re as the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

So reads the caption under the picture of +George on this page on the ABC Drum website. What?! Had I missed an announcement? No, and the author of the piece (Scott Stephens, the Religion and Ethics Editor for the ABC) is a little more careful to point out this is only Andrea Tornielli’s story. In this piece, Stephens is full of praise for Benedict and for Pell, but not so much for others in the Church. He links to several other stories on the ABC News and 7:30 Report websites – interesting to see that Crittenden is still working for the ABC in some capacity – which carry statements and stories that don’t seem entirely to match up, so I stress to say that I have no opinion personally on this material. But Stephens does seem to be of the opinion that Benedict is a part of the solution to the current situation, and that Pell would be an asset for the Holy Father in this cause.

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10 responses to ““Why the Vatican Needs Pell” – ABC Drum

  1. Peregrinus

    Very interesting piece.

    Scott Stephens is new to the ABC, but he’s been a regular contrtibutor to the “Faith and Theology” blog run by Ben Myers from Charles Sturt University, which I’ve read on and off for a while now. His day job is (or was, if the ABC gig is full-time) as a Minister in the Uniting Church, and lecturer in theology.

    He seems to display a pretty good understanding of the workings of the Catholic Church as an institution, especially for someone from a non-Catholic background (though I do notice the word “manse” slipping in where “rectory” is surely meant). And, of course, he agrees with me about clericalism, so he must be a sound chap.

    This is also the first piece I’ve seen anywhere which has anything interesting to say about what the appointment of Pell to the Congregation for Bishops (if if happens) will actually mean.

    • Yes, it didn’t seem to me to be the usual type of commentary that we find on the ABC. His background explains that. Quite a surprise that the ABC should hire a real live active Christian (or any kind of person of faith for that matter) for the position of Religion and Ethics Editor. Maybe Stephens has what it takes to become the ABC’s “John Allen” type? I mean he doesn’t hold back on criticism – he isn’t a party man, so to speak – but at least he seems to be more informed than usual, and I couldn’t detect anything that could be taken for “sneer” in his tone (which Crittenden tended lay on with a trowel).

  2. Matthias

    An excellent article and one hopes that Pell acts Compellingly in dispelling any further clouds around the Catholic church and abuse,when he gets to Rome. I know that English catholics were impressed with him when he was over there last year talking,as ref;ected in the comments about his knowing more about Ireland than others in the Vatican .not bad for a boy from Ballarat

    • adam

      That English catholics ‘were impressed with [Pell]’ last year is not entirely accurate. He is adored by a very right-wing element within English Catholicism and his visit was centred mainly at Oxford and Birmingham where he celebrated the old Tridentine rites of the liturgy. 98% of English catholics would never have heard of Pell and not read about him. And as for that wild red herring of Bishop Elliott being lined up for Westminster when it was vacant must have been the most stupid episcopal forecast since the Pharoah tried to close the Red Sea. I just wish some commentators would ‘get real’ about what happens in the English Church where numbers are less than 5 million out of 60 million. Pell is only adored by the few at Oxford and its very Tridentine elite. Sad but true.

    • Peregrinus

      The fact – if it be a fact – that English Catholics were impressed with Pell doesn’t really connect up with Pell knowing anything at all about Ireland. Most English Catholics know bugger all about the Irish church – especially the Tridentine wing to which adam refers. Plus, the fact that Ruth Gledhill is cited as the source for Pell’s popularity in England isn’t all that reassuring; she wouldn’t be the most highly regarded English religion correspondent when it comes to matters Catholic.

      Even if it is true that Pell knows more about the Irish church than others in the Vatican, I’m afraid that’s not setting the bar terribly high.

      The Vatican’s point man in Ireland is Diarmuid Martin – he had a long curial career before getting the Dublin gig – and what he has been saying for many months ties in with what Pope Benedict has recently been saying. It remains to be seen where other significant figures in the curia stand. Whether Pell is on the same page also remains to be seen; if he gets the Congregation of Bishops job, I devoutly hope that he is.

      Incidentally, Stephens’ comment that the first job of the new Prefect will “surely be to strip disgraced Cardinal Sean Brady of his diocesan authority by appointing a coadjutor” is interesting. Brady has just asked for a coadjutor, but none of the other commentaries I have read suggested that he was more or less required to by Rome. This is how Martin was moved from a curial career into the higher levels of the Irish church; he was appointed a coadjutor to the discredited Cardinal Connell in Dublin, and succeeded him a little over a year later.

      • adam

        Heavens above, to mention Ruth Gledhill now when she has recently made some serious blunders in her columns and some veiled attacks on Catholicism (check out Damian Thompson in The Telegraph) is really just mindboggling. She has no real credibility at all now and The Times has a certain anti-catholic bias if you read it regularly.
        As for Brady and the Church in Eire, he has not asked for a Coadujtor at all. He has asked for another bishop to assist him, and if he had asked for a Coad then at age 70 as he now is that would have made front page news. Please get the facts right, he has NOT asked for Coad.
        This type of comment is erroneous.
        Of course it would seem best if he did go as his leadership of the Irish Church is in tatters. Dublin’s +leader is far more courageous and ought be made a cardinal. watch the next consistory for such an act later this year. well, it’s just an observation, not a fact (yet).

        • Peregrinus

          True, Brady didn’t use the word “coadjutor”. But he didn’t use the word “auxiliary” either, and in any event he already has an auxiliary bishop. And Armagh is not a diocese that has required, or would ever require, an active archbishop and two auxiliaries.

          And look at the language Brady uses; he has asked for a bishop to be appointed “to assist me in addressing the vital work of healing, repentance and renewal, including engagement with survivors of abuse, as well as the many other challenges and opportunities which confront the (arch)diocese of Armagh and the church in Ireland at this time.” This is not the language used in connection with the appointment of an auxiliary; auxiliaries are not appointed to have specific areas of responsibility. It’s for the bishop, from time to time, to decide how best to make use of his auxiliaries. Brady seems to be asking Rome to take certain areas of pastoral care out of his hands, and put them in the hands of another bishop. Furthermore, the appointment of an auxiliary is not normally announced ahead of time.

          This is widely understood in the Irish church as a request for a coadjutor, and it is expected that Rome will answer the request by appointing a coadjutor with right of succession.

  3. Matthias

    Adam and pere i am only a proddy lad,so thanks for the correction. I am also interested in the fact that english catholics know next to nix about the irish church . Out of interrest I noted that when the scandal in the irish church first broke out, that Fr Ray Blake of St Mary Magdalen Catholic church in Brighton,on his parish’s blog,made the comment that it was jansenism amongst other things , within the Irish church which was to blame.I would be interested to know if he was accurate in his conclusion or speaking as a English catholic -and i think a convert from Protestantism(?) -and know nothing.

    • Peregrinus

      I don’t know to what extent I’d agree with his comment about jansensim.

      I think when we talk about the “clerical sex abuse crisis” we’re talking about failings at two distinct levels.

      First, we have the incidents of sexual abuse themselves. These are failings of the individual priests concerned. They are failings also of the church if, and to the extent that, priesthood (in the sociological, not the sacramental, sense) cause or contributed to them. Or clericalism. Or religion. Or any aspect of what I might call “ecclesial culture”.

      And, secondly, we have the corporate response to it – the denials, the aversion of the eyes, the evasions, the covering up, etc. Again, these are failings of the men concerned – bishops and superiors mostly – but also of the church if ecclesial culture caused or contributed to them.

      There has been a good deal said and written about how ecclesial culture might have contributed to sex abuse. Under this head we find clerical celibacy, Puritanism, a homosexual culture, the “lavender mafia”, 60s libertinism, immaturity, isolation, poor self-esteem, etc, variously blamed. Not to put words in Fr Blake’s mouth, but I think it’s here that he’d see Jansenism coming in.

      To be honest, I’m not actually sure that he really does mean Jansenism. “Jansenism” is a specific set of theological propositions, but it’s more usually used as shorthand for a certain [i]attitude[/i], which focuses on the misery and disgusting nature of our fallen condition, and the grim likelihood that most of us will not be saved. As an attitude, it tends to be accompanied by Puritanism and a dualist worldview which sees the material world as, basically, evil and the spiritual world as, basically, good.

      Since sex is the means by which our fallen, material existence is multiplied and propagated, jansenists (in this sense) tend to see it as, basically, distasteful and not a good thing. Of the various fallen and disgusting parts of our nature, sex is one of the most fallen, and most disgusting. The less you have to do with sex the better, and it is only the baser parts of your fallen nature which incline you to sex at all. Those who commit themselves to celibacy are engaged in a virtuous struggle – in which, of course, most of them are doomed to fail, but at least they are trying.

      Note that none of this is an explicit belief. In fact, if you set it out, most “jansenists” would probably reject it. It’s more an unarticulated attitude of mind.

      Right, so. Such an attitude to sex does not make for a healthy appreciation of sexuality, or even for a competent understanding of it.

      An institution staffed by people, some of whom infected with such attitude might have difficulty forming its priests in this regard. it might also have difficulty dealing with priests who erred sexually.

      But, leaving institutions aside, individuals with such an attitude would have great difficulty with expressing or even acknowledging their own sexuality. They might be inclined to take refuge in celibacy not because of a vocation to celibacy but because of an inability to accept sexuality – and this of course might be intensified if their sexuality was in any way not normative. And for such people celibacy would be seen as inherently virtuous, and not something to be valued as a support for a priestly or monastic life.

      They might also judge sexual sins as more or less serious according to how far they diverged from the ideal of celibacy. From this point of view, a casual sexual encounter, patronising a prostitute, or a sex act with someone incapable of a relationship, while wrong, is less wrong than a conjugal, but non-marital, sexual relationship. A priest who has occasional sexual encounters outside the context or possibility of a relationship would sin, but he might sin less seriously than a priest who has a regular sexual partner in an exclusive conjugal relationship.

      What does any of this have to do with child abuse? Well, assuming such a psychology, a young man who struggles with sexuality might find vowed celibacy attractive for the wrong reasons. And a priest who struggles with celibacy might not be as open as he should be to the possibility that he doesn’t have a vocation to celibacy. And a priest who has sexual encounters with youths or children might be inclined to view them as lapses which must be struggled against, rather than as the very serious problem that they are. (And a bishop might take a similar view.)

      If I’m right, what Fr Blake is talking about is a distorted understanding of and unhealthy attitude to sexuality, which he labels as “Jansenism”. I’m not sure about the label; I suspect this is a long way from the theological propositions which constitute Jansenism.

      I think the psychological attitude is real enough, but I’m unsure how far it really is to blame for the incidence of sexual abuse in the clergy. My focus is more on the second part of the crisis; the woeful response to sexual abuse, when it occurred. I wouldn’t discount the possibility that psychological Jansenism had some role to play, but in other threads on this blog I’ve blamed “clericalism”, and explained what I mean by that.