A rumour wrapped in a rumour tied up with a rumour…

Readers of this blog know that I have declared that I will believe the rumours of George Cardinal Pell’s “upcoming appointment” to the Congregation for Bishops WHEN IT HAPPENS. On this blog we know the difference between a rumour and a fact.

So, taking the orignal rumour with a grain of salt, what is one to make of gossip published in the press that the rumour is false BECAUSE of a previous unsustained and legally dismissed allegation? Other, much better read bloggers than I, have taken both the rumours and the gossip seriously.

We stick with the official version from the Archdiocese of Sydney, neatly tucked away at the bottom of Barney’s article in The Age: Cardinal Pell’s office has “never confirmed that he was a candidate for the bishops’ appointment, let alone being withdrawn.”

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32 responses to “A rumour wrapped in a rumour tied up with a rumour…

  1. Now David, if you know the difference between a rumour and a fact so well, why do you give such credence to the story about the Pope dining out incognito?
    :0)

  2. Peregrinus

    That’s the thing with rumours. If you put about a rumour that George is going to get such-and-such a gig, and then he doesn’t get it, you have to (a) confess that you were wrong, or (b) put about a second rumour to explain why he didn’t get it. Journalists are reluctant ever to admit that what they wrote was wrong, and Damian Thompson in particular has a constitutional inability to even countenance the possibility that he could ever be wrong on any subject; hence his rather overheated write-up of the new rumours here.

    The Sydney press office statement is no help at all. Of course George “never confirmed that he was a candidate”; whether he ever was or was not a candidate, he wouldn’t have confirmed it, so the fact that he didn’t confirm it tells us exactly nothing whatsoever.

    The whole thing is interesting, though as a case-study of rumours and how they work.

    Recall that this was not the only rumour about George and glittering new prizes that were being dangled within his grasp. A couple of years ago, he was all set to be translated to Westminster. More recently, he was to head up the Apostolic Visitation to Ireland. Neither event unfolded as predicted, but nobody felt it necessary to explain why not.

    So why does [i]this[/i] apparent reversal evoke explanatory rumours? I think there’s a couple of factors:

    – It’s credible. The Westminster rumour, by contrast, was not.

    – In one form or another, it’s a long-standing rumour. A couple of years ago I was confidently assured that George would be off to Rome once his WYD jamboree was (a) over, and (b) judged to be a triumph. No particular congregation was specified in that version of the rumour, but it was clear that he wouldn’t be going as the photocopier boy.

    – It didn’t come from any particular camp. I got it from people who would not be numbered among the Pellophiles, but plenty of fans – not least Mr Thompson – were circulating it also, as were less obviously partisan sources like Whispers in the Loggia. And some of the sources – I’m thinking of Whispers again – would generally be regarded as among the more reliable; they don’t print every rumour, but only those they judge to have substance, and their judgments are frequently borne out.

    So a fair spread of people will be either surprised or embarrassed if George doesn’t get the gig. And, if they now have some reason to think he won’t get it, they need an explanation.

    The 2002 accusation is an obvious one to light on. To be honest, it always struck me as something that could come back to bite him in relation to any future advancement. As we know, an accusation of this kind doesn’t have to have any truth in order to be very damaging, in identifiable and measurable ways. And there does seem to be a new awareness in Rome – at the Very Top – about the fact that the church needs to expect and demand a lot of its bishops in this regard. It’s not implausible that having been the subject of such an accusation [i]could[/i] hinder George’s advance, even though the matter was investigated and he was cleared to return to ministry. It’s rough, but there you go.

    The thing is, though, that this business has been known about all along. Likewise, the fact that he is not an Italian is not exactly news, and there’s abundant evidence that that’s not an insuperable obstacle to a senior curial appointment. The plain truth may be that George was never really in the running, or that he was given serious consideration but eventually another candidate was preferred not because of any issue of George’s but because of that other candidate’s merits. But it would be too embarrassing for the journalists to have to print that.

    • Another two critical factors in this present situation Pere are these:

      i) The credibility of Andrea Tornielli as both the source of the original information (i.e. that he was getting the post). The rumour had actually been circulating for months but it was when Andrea Tornielli confirmed it from his sources that people really started to give it serious credence. Part of Tornielli’s credibility comes from the fact that in the past he has been way ahead of anybody else in reporting what is going on. Similarly, it was when Tornielli came out and confirmed the information first reported or commented on by others that the story that he had been rejected for the post began to appear in the mainstream media.

      ii.) The other curious factor in all this has been the reaction from the Cardinal and his office as well. You may recall how swiftly and vehemently a strong notice was issued from his office pouring a big bucket of cold water over the rumour about him being considered to lead the Irish visitation. The rumours and stories about the possible Congregation of Bishops appointment had been around a lot longer, and was far more openly discussed, yet there has been deathly silence from the Cardinal or his pr machine in comparison to the Irish visitation suggestion. That has led many who follow these things seriously — i.e. in a journalistic way — to conclude that the Congregations of Bishops appointment had some credibility.

      My own reading of the situation is that he won’t be going to Rome. I think that will be disappointing for all his fans in Australia but also disappointing for many others. My sense is that there was genuinely a hope in this country across the spectrum of those who might care about where the Cardinal ends up that he would get the position. As Tony suggested in a post on Catholica though, and I agree with him, the vast majority of ordinary pew sitters are probably not fussed either way. At the ordinary parish level of the institution Cardinal Pell is probably not a big part of people’s thought processes outside of Sydney and Melbourne.

      • Gareth

        If the ordinary pew sitter doesn’t care much for Cardinal Pell, why does Catholica go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about him…?

        Like their is a life out there for the acatholics of Australia besides worrying their little heads about the good Cardinal.

        • Peregrinus

          Probably for the same reason that he’s mentioned on [i]CathPews[/i] about ten times as much as all the other bishops put together; he’s colourful. Like him or loathe him, at least he’s interesting.

          • Gareth

            God you are a loser Brian

            • Peregrinus

              I’m not Brian.

              • Gareth

                Well you can pass on the message – please do the Catholics of Australia a favour and stop trolling.

                • Peregrinus

                  Gareth, you’ve just returned to a conversation after four days to post the one-line message “God you are a loser”, addressed apparently to the wrong person.

                  I’m afraid you’re not well-positioned to accuse others of trolling.

                  If you have a message for Brian, you can deliver it directly. You know where he can be found.

                  • Gareth

                    Not I don’t where he is found but I sincerly wish that every time I visit a Catholic discussion board or blog, I do not have to listen to his endless rants which always seem completly out of place and no-one seems to take seriously.

                    His posts are a complete waste of everyone’s time.

                    It is a genuine request to ask him to do the most mature thing and stop it.

  3. Tony

    The Sydney press office statement is no help at all.

    Ah, Pere, you took the postscript right out of my … er … mouth.

  4. adam

    A couple of matters come to my mind on the Pell ‘move or no move’ to Rome. The office of the archbishop uses interesting words in the denial. It refers to Pell as a ‘candidate’. I may be wrong, but there are no candidates for any senior Curia positions, especially Prefects. This is an appointment by the Holy Father and him alone. There are NO CANDIDATES as such. If there were, then have they come forward to say they are a candidate or someone has nominated them to be so? No No NO – there are no candidates. The Pope will no doubt consult some people (who and how many we do not know), but above all he is probably going to appoint a cardinal and he will know the man he wants to be the next Prefect. If he wants him then he will ask him to take up the role. If the cardinal does not want to accept the appointment then he can tell the pope directly. Now, we have no way of knowing if BXVI has asked Pell to move to Rome, whether Pell has said yes or no, since the position is still occupied.
    Thus I venture to say that the statement is somewhat misleading and Pell may well move to Rome in the european autumn if that is what BXVI wants and Pell has said ‘accepto’.
    But we do not know and Pell has yet to come out and make a total denial of any offer or rejection or otherwise.
    So, the engima within the riddle goes on and loads of rumours fly around the european blogsphere with new retractions and now the Canadian cardinal in Quebec supposedly being the new ‘choice’. So we will have more rumours, denials, suppositions and counter-comments about him perhaps.
    But should we not just wait and see? Is there a bloc of bishops in the curia who do not want Pell there and have they dared to tell the Pope that? Do they know what he is thinking anyway? And finally WHO STARTS THESE RUMOURS in the Vatican?
    Interestingly NCR’s John Allen has kept a low profile on this – perhaps because he knows most of the conjecture is just that.
    So, Cardinal Pell, keep promoting the new book and governing your archdiocese.
    Semper fidelis

    • Peregrinus

      There aren’t any “candidates” in the secular political sense of people who nominate themselves, or submit an application for the job.

      But there certainly are candidates in the sense of persons whose names are put forward for consideration.

      The candidates may or many not know that their names are up for consideration, and they may or may not want the job. But they mostly do know, if only because those who put their names forward will be wise to sound them out first. And they are mostly people who would welcome the job, since the chances that somebody who doesn’t want the job will do it well are not great.

      There is also a strong culture in the church that, if offered a such a job by the pope, you really have to accept it. It is very bad form to turn it down. This in turn provides a reason why the pope wouldn’t offer the job to someone unless he was pretty sure that that someone wanted it.

      And, of course, there’s lots of things that people who want such a job can do to try to ensure that their names are put forward, and are favourably considered. I’m not saying that every candidate who is considered is actively working towards being appointed, but there is plenty of scope to do that for those so minded. Nor is this necessarily discouraged; it aids in the selection process to know how a candidate feels about being appointed, what his vision and ideas are, what contribution he thinks he could make, etc.

      So,yes, there are candidates. And those candidates, or some of them, may be doing a variety of things in the hope of securing appointment.

      I have no idea, though, whether Pell wants this particular gig, or any Roman gig. Much of the discussion and rumour-mongering proceeds on the assumption that he does; perhaps that assumption is well-founded, but perhaps not. In an earlier thread on this board I threw out the idea that being Archbishop of Sydney might actually be the more desirable, important and rewarding job, but nobody responded to the idea.

  5. adam

    well I just saw this on the R Coeli blog, 17 June:
    “Unless there are improbable – though always possible – last minute surprises, the choice of the Pope is settled on Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Québec”.

    So has it now been settled?
    Was the canadian the first choice anyway and never Pell?
    I can’t see the Pope make a choice then deciding that it was wrong and picking another.

    So we’ll have to wait and see if Ouellet really is the one to take over from +Re.

    • Peregrinus

      RC (and everyone else) is quoting Tornielli on the appointment of Ouellet.

      But it was previously Tornielli who forecast the appointment of Pell, and who now reports that this is not to proceed and that Ouellet is to be appointed instead. If Torniellis is reliable as to the selection of Ouellet, why discount what he said earlier as to the selection of Pell?

      I don’t see any reason why a pope wouldn;t make an initial selection but, before implementing it, decide in light of developments or in response to the views of advisers that it wasn’t the best selection, and make another. I’m not saying that is what happened here, but I don’t see anything improbable about it in general.

      • adam

        You mention ‘advisers’ but it appears that this pope does not have a load of close advisers here in Rome. He has a very small circle and if the truth be known, does not have lunches/dinners with many guests and views that JPII had in his pontificate. Ratzinger is a pope who also writes the vast majority of his sermons and speeches (confirmed by a former Sec of State official) and therefore I’m not so sure about the ‘advisers’ you mention. I would say he does not have many at all, although there is the college of cardinals. But does he keep calling them?
        But I think no one really knows what is happening on this matter and perhaps the two names mentioned have not even been asked.
        It is strange though that this matter goes on and on and still the Vatican has not announced a replacement. Maybe the pope just can’t make up his mind or doesn’t intend to for some time.
        Carry on Re.

  6. Matthias

    Sorry but i could not care less. Is this really big news ?.Seeing as he once played for Richmond in Aussie rules, does he get a backpocket training or remains a forward.

    • Peregrinus

      It’s big news to those who have strong feeelings – one way or the other – about Cardinal Pell.

      • Gareth

        why would anyone have ‘strong’ feelings about Cardinal Pell compared to any other Bishop?

        • Peregrinus

          Can’t help you, I’m afraid, Gareth. You’ll have to ask someone who has strong feelings about Cardinal Pell. I get the sense there are plenty of them around.

          • Gareth

            Maybe the editors of Cathnews and Catholica can help us then? They seemed pretty obsessed about him

            • Peregrinus

              Cathnews and Catholica (and Cathpews, and come to think of it a fair spread of the Catholic blogosphere) are to a significant extent driven by what appears in the media; they, or their contributors, comment on what comes up in the news reports, mainly.

              And Pell gets plenty of news coverage. And this is at least partly because he seeks it. He writes a regular newspaper column. He publishes books commenting on public affairs from a Catholic perspective. He seems to me to keep a much busier and more active press office than most other dioceses; indeed, than the ACBC. In these and other ways, he actively seeks to raise his media profile.

              He’s also media-friendly in the sense that he’s quotable, and distinctive. He generates much more interesting copy than most other bishops do; journalists love that.

              And it’s noteworthy that interest in Pell is not confined to those who disagree with him or his theological or pastoral positions. Pell has a very high profile in the international media, much higher than any other Australian bishop. This is due to his friends, not his enemies. For example, a Google search shows 122 references to him in the London [i]Daily Telegraph[/i] blogs site; I haven’t read them all, but I’m willing to bet that the great bulk of them are laudatory references by Damian Thompson, or comments in response to such references. By comparison, Denis Hart, Archbishop of a considerably larger Australian diocese, gets just two references in the same site.

              And these examples could be multiplied. [i]What Does The Prayer Really Say[/i] has 472 references to Pell, 6 to Hart. [i]Rorate Caeli[/i] has 88 references to Pell, none at all to Hart. I’m guessing that these references would not generally be hostile to Pell.

              In short, if Pell does attract an unusual degree of hostile attention on sites like Catholica, it is partly because he has been adopted as something of a poster-boy by a those of a particular theological bent. It’s not that long since CathPews hosted a sustained and lengthy discussion about why it was appropriate to refer to Pell as the “primate” of the Australian Catholic church.

              This degree of attention from all sides is explained not just by Pell’s media-friendly nature but by his various international roles, particularly on [i]Vox Clara[/i]. I’m not saying that this degree of attention isn’t justified (though, in fact, I think it probably is a bit excessive); I’m just pointing out that there are some reasons for his high profile, and it’s certainly not only those who disagree with him who take a great interest in discussing what he says and does.

              • Gareth

                sounds like a comprehensive response

                • adam

                  Yes, fair enough. But remember Pell is a cardinal, travels a lot to invitations overseas and when he speaks he makes his points firmly and strongly. But the very nature of being a cardinal gives him clout. He is also conservative which is why he often appears in Daily Telegraph in London.
                  One amazing point though, since you mention +Hart is how in heavens name did +Elliott even rate a mention for Westminster? He was never in the running, never even considered for that post. Who started that stupid suggestion. England was never going to bring in a ‘foreign’ auxiliary bishop, especially from Australia. It must have been the most absurd rumour circulated on these blogs.
                  Elliott will remain where he is for a long time.

                  • Gareth

                    One of the reasons we can add for why Cardinal Pell is mentioned so much in the Catholic media is that it appears he actually gets results in terms of vocations.

                    Like hm or loathe him, his reforms have gone a long way in the rise of numbers in the number of seminarians for both the Melbourne and Sydney seminary.

                    And that can only be good for the church – much better than frutless and useless discussions about married priests.

                    Next time Mr Coyne turns up for Mass should be grateful for Cardinal Pell.

  7. adam

    Sorry to labour the matter but Whispers in The Loggia today mentions that the complainent in the Pell case in 2002 had not been heard from since then.
    My understanding is that the man allegedly involved in this case where +Pell stepped aside for a while, is in fact dead. I thought the person was dead at the time of the case back in 2002.
    perhaps this could be cleared up as it seems odd that a case could ever be brought by a dead person in the first place.

    • Peregrinus

      The complainant was not dead in 2002; he was very much alive, and he gave evidence to the enquiry. I have not heard that he has died since, but of course that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t.

      Confusion may arise because another boy said to have been abused on the same occasion (a church camp which took place in 1961 or 1962) had died (in 1985).

      I don’t believe in raking over old coals, but the issue has been raised, and David has linked to Damien Thompson’s blog which says that the accusations against Dr Pell “turned out to be lies”. In justice to the complainant, it has to be said that this is not true. The QC who was commissioned by the church to enquire into the matters explicitly stated that he was not persuaded that the complainant was a liar, that he did not form an adverse view of him as a witness and that, when he gave evidence of having been molested, he gave the impression that he was speaking honestly from an actual recollection.

      He also stated that Dr Pell, who of course gave evidence to the enquiry, also gave the impression that he was speaking the truth.

      In short, the complaints against Dr Pell were not, in the opinion of the QC, shown to be true. But nor were they shown to be lies, and in fact though the QC may have thought that they were unreliable he clearly did not think that they were lies.

      This kind of “it seems likely/unlikely but we can’t be absolutely sure” finding is not uncommon in abuse enquiries; it’s part of the gritty reality that we have to deal with, and it underlines the point I made earlier that even after a priest has been cleared to return to ministry it is always possible that accusations of this kind will continue to affect him.

      • adam

        well written and clarified.
        Perhaps this matter will hang over +Pell for the duration of his episcopacy and indeed sounds and makes an even stronger case for him not being considered for the very senior curial position now and in the future.
        Certainly never papabile before he is 80.

        • Peregrinus

          Well, it didn’t prevent him from being appointed to the Pontifical Council for the Family in December 2002, just a couple of months after returning to active ministry, or from being made a Cardinal the following year. I think its the kind of thing that will come and go, and may or may not trouble him depending on the prevailing climate. There is certainly a much greater awareness in the Vatican of this problem nowadays than there was in 2002/03, when I think the penny hadn’t really dropped.

          • adam

            ‘The prevailing climate’ you refer to is going to continue and get worse. The number of bishops who have had to go now is increasing, look at Ireland and Germany. More is now coming out and there is outrage in Poland over an archbishop who worked closely with JPII and then back in poland and had to go. Now he allowed ‘back’ under certain conditions of public ministry.
            This climate is getting worse and dangerous for the Church in Europe. face the facts, France, Italy and Germany are not christian states – Spain now allows abortion and its supposedly catholic and yet the bishops do not scream about the abortion laws and do not man the barricades. The media will be after ‘bad bishops’ who have any tinge of a murky past. +Pell is stuck with that now right or wrong and he will never be in the Vatican curia because he will be attacked and any pontiff does not want more trouble-focusing on him and the curia.
            Just now we have +Sepe in Naples under investigation and goodness knows when the fan will be hit with loads of criticism about monies when the legionaires leader was alive and allegedly found its way to certain members high up. Just read John Allen on that matter in NCR and see what may well explode in the future.
            There’s only a certain time you can hold your fingers in the plug hole before the waste water comes rushing out and the leaders in europe are having trouble now and will for a long time yet.
            This is a slow martyrdom for the Church now and it is a scandal that needs to be pierced.

        • Peter Golding

          Pere,your summary of the hearing against Cardinal Pell is accurate,however,having read the transcript of the testimony of the complainant,I fail to see how the presiding QC could classify him as anything other than an unreliable witness.His testimony was all over the shop with constant changes to dates etc.
          Having said that,I could not care less who said what about Pell moving to Rome.I am rapt that we will continue to enjoy the benefits of his strong leadership here.

          • Peregrinus

            I think the point is that the complainant’s evident honesty was not enough to make his evidence reliable. I’m not disputing the decision of the QC. My immediate point is that it is neither true nor fair for Thompson to say that the complaint against Pell “turned out to be lies”.

            The wider point is that such excessive enthusiasm does Pell no favours. I’ve always felt that the allegations against Pell could come back to bite him, but I’ve never raised them in discussions about Pell on this blog or elsewhere; they may not be a completely closed book but I devoutly wished they were, and I have never wanted to draw attention to them. They’ve been investigated as fully as they can be, we have the firmest conclusion we are ever likely to get and it seems unfair and unhelpful to harp on them. So I have felt they might be problem for him while hoping that they wouldn’t be.

            >But now they have</i reared their head again, and Thompson is making unsupported allegations which, in fairness and truth, need to be corrected. Thompson is spinning a conspiracy theory as to why Pell wasn't selected, and to make it remotely plausible he has to rule out other explanations; that he was never as strong a candidate as previously thought, that his health has anything to do with it, or that the abuse allegations are problematic in the current Roman climate. To deal with the latter he is distorting the truth, and I don't think that should go by without comment. If we've learned one thing about sex abuse in the church, it's this: don't lie about it. Ever. For any reason.