Review - Cardinal, Louise Milligan
Anybody who knows me will probably be aware my family are from the Ballarat region, and I grew up outside the town during part of the worst of the excesses of the Catholic Church priests and bishops. We heard gossip, whether you were involved in the Catholic community or not. Very fortunately we weren't subjected to junior Catholic schools (one year only as a much older teenager at a secondary school run by the Loreto Nuns) or the church system probably because my father was educated at St Pats for a very short period before he left, never to discuss the place, loathing everything about them, around 10 years before George Pell was a student there. There have been other ramifications close to home as well.
To be fair I'd also have to declare I'm not a fan of religion - have never been a believer despite one-sided parental attempts to ensure otherwise - and have had a considerably underwhelmed view of the Catholic Church, in particular, and their supposed "moral teachings" for many years now. I wish as a teenager I'd known why there was so much secrecy, why there were rumours bubbling around, why there was an astronomically high suicide rate, alcoholism, drug taking, violence, weirdness about the town. And in particular the homophobia which was vicious. Much of this was partially explained in Milligan's book - so much started to become clear. I wish members of everyone's families who have been affected by the loathsome Catholic hierarchy in Ballarat had been given the opportunity to understand way back then.
Pell is currently facing charges over a range of child sexual abuse allegations some of which are discussed in this book and none of which I intend to cover here. Instead the book covers in considerable detail Pell's involvement in the constant moving, covering up, and denial of who did what or when in relation to a truly shocking number of appalling members of the clergy. It analyses Pell's testimony to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse, comparing and contrasting his statements against those of his fellow consultors, priests and school principals. He does not come out from that analysis well. He's so furiously engaged in some sort of ideological war to hold onto his "form" of conservative Catholicism. To lord it over "the flock", so restricted by what seems to be a completely hide-bound belief that everybody, absolutely everybody, is out to get him and he's the only good and right one in the pack. His constant deployment of the "I know nothing" defence is risible. Or at least it would be, if the chaos and damage inflicted by that attitude weren't so extreme.
Having had little or not respect for those furiously delivering nonsensical drivel in his defence, I can only suggest that they read this book fairly, with an open mind, and carefully consider how their champion obfuscated, combated, hid, washed his hands of and generally ducked and weaved away from any responsibility, any compassion and any overt acknowledgement that at any stage their beloved Church screwed up mightily and left carnage in its wake.
George Pell is the most recognisable face of the Australian Catholic Church. He was the Ballarat boy with the film-star looks who studied at Oxford and rose through the ranks to become the Vatican's indispensable 'Treasurer'. As an outspoken defender of church orthodoxy, 'Big George's' ascendancy within the clergy was remarkable and seemingly unstoppable.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse has brought to light horrific stories about sexual abuse of the most vulnerable and provoked public anger at the extent of the cover-up. George Pell has always portrayed himself as the first man in the Church to tackle the problem. But questions about what the Cardinal knew, and when, have persisted.
The nation's most prominent Catholic is now the subject of a police investigation into allegations spanning decades that he too abused children. Louise Milligan is the only Australian journalist who has been privy to the most intimate stories of complainants.
She pieces together a series of disturbing pictures of the Cardinal's knowledge and his actions, many of which are being told here for the first time.
Conspiracy or cover-up? Cardinal uncovers uncomfortable truths about a culture of sexual entitlement, abuse of trust and how ambition can silence evil.