“Aussie Aussie Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!” rang out across Peter’s Square, when “Giorgio Pell, Sydney”, was announced as the next candidate to be made cardinal.
Your Grace, it is reported that there was a scallywag in the crowd! This was 2003.
George Pell was my brother. He was a prince of the Church. A good and holy man, and a proud Australian.
He also had a punt on the Melbourne Cup, and was a passionate Aussie Rules player.
He believed in the rule of law, a fair go to all, and in Aussie Rules parlance, he played the ball, and not the man.
He may have disagreed with your opinion, but he didn’t disagree with you as a person.
He was falsely accused, tried, convicted and spent 404 days in solitary confinement.
The outcome from which was 3 magnificent prison diaries. One which was meditated by his good friend Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his dying days.
He was also described as Pope Francis’s best theological advisor by Cardinal Müller, a former member of the nine-member council of cardinals.
A current Australian bishop, when discussing George with the Holy Father, was prodded in the chest by the Pope, who said: ‘He’s an honest man.’
George was a friend of Pope Francis, and was greeted by the Pope in the Apostolic Palace on his return to Rome after prison.
When he arrived, he was stunned, as he was afforded the compliment of a cohort of Swiss guards, something only reserved for visiting heads of state.
He loved his family. He was a great brother to Margaret and myself, a fine brother-in-law to my wife Judith, an uncle to my four children, and great-uncle to my two grandchildren.
He always kept in touch with us, and would ring every couple of days no matter where he was in the world.
He rang my daughter Georgina just before he went into hospital. Luckily we were all at home, especially our grandchildren, especially our grandchildren Billie and Sonny. When Billie the 20-month-old heard his voice she roared, “George, George, George!”
He was so pleased to speak to everyone, and that the grandchildren were in fine form.
We as a family are devastated. He delighted in hearing our grandkids’ progress, their stories, and receiving their photos. He delighted in sharing a family meal, especially a roast lamb with all the trimmings.
We have great footage of an 80-year-old great uncle kicking the football with Sonny at a school not far from his Ballarat home. The first kick in over 40 years?
Georgina was a regular correspondent with George while imprisoned, and he commented in one letter, and I quote : “Many thanks for your lovely letter of encouragement and support. Family means a lot when they stick, and stand fast in times of trouble.”
He further added: I know that it doesn’t add much, but I say not to get into a stew over me. It is unjust, and it is like Lindy Chamberlain. But I have to keep battling on, and I will, just as you have to.
He then sent a family prayer after spending time in prayer and getting the basics of it right.
There are over 4000 letters of support that remain unanswered. Several of them are from his fellow inmates.
We thank you for all those letters of support, as they were a great consolation and comfort to him.
And as one of his section mates told him, if he had two mates who are former prime ministers, he must be OK.
His acquittal by the High Court was greeted with wild cheering in his section at Barwon Prison, as the announcement was made on TV: 7-0. He knew he was free.
We acknowledge the work of the remand centre and Barwon Prison staff in protecting him and keeping him fit and well. They treated him with dignity and professionalism. He was called George.
We’re also very thankful for the kind work of Sr Mary, the remand centre chaplain, who maintained his spiritual health in gaol but also kept in contact with me, to reassure us he was coping.
I recall on our first monthly visit to the remand centre that the officer in charge said to us, “Hey George, you have your jumpsuit on back-to-front!”
We know that he’d been strip-searched both before and after a visit, and that the jumpsuit was held together by cable ties.
That was a harrowing experience for us. But we were family.
He washed his socks when he’d shower. At Barwon, Saturday was meat pie day. When he heated his pie in the microwave on his own, in the section’s microwave.
He enjoyed sweeping out his small walking area in remand on his one hour of release, just to be able to hear the birds.
We have fond memories of his installation as Archbishop of Melbourne. The excitement and the joy that surrounded his acceptance as a shepherd to the flock, and defender of the faith, was overwhelming.
There was no need to advertise. This was a new beginning. Little did he realise that he would be so unjustly convicted for his predecessors’ failings.
Similarly here in Sydney his reception as Archbishop was spectacular. He was at home here. He loved Sydney, and gauging by the outpouring of love as he laid in state and today, Sydney loved him.
We sympathise with the legitimate victims and are in complete abhorrence of the criminals. Our own family has not been immune to this evil.
As a Catholic family brought up in Ballarat, we along with many other Catholic families had no idea of the evil curse that was perpetrated upon the innocent children of unaware parents, by secretive, deviant and manipulative criminals.
We as a society will continue to spend the rest of our days healing people.
As an immediate family we too have suffered by the processes that have happened over the last seven or eight years.
We felt so sorry for George because we could not help him. We knew that it was not true.
We had to be stoic against the relentless campaign to smear George’s life, especially with the youngest members of our family.
I need to remind you that all ordained priests take a vow of obedience to their bishop. That is what George was doing, when he accompanied that perpetrator to court.
He was not his friend. He was appalled at what he heard in court and did not go back the next day.
George did not know, as a junior consultor, of the perpetrator’s crimes and the reason why he was being moved across parishes.
Our much senior cousin priest, a former classmate of the then-bishop, similarly had no knowledge of the reasons for the parish shifts, at that stage.
In recent years I told George of three other priest felons, and their actions. He had no idea.
I also need to remind you that the Catholic Church 40 to 50 years ago was completely different to today’s Church, and that each bishop was in compete control of their own diocese, and were autocrats.
At the end of the commission’s hearings in Rome, George met with the victims, the Ballarat victims and families, privately.
George stated that it was very emotional, and many hugged him. The now-disgraced leader of that group apologised to him.
“Sorry George for what we did to you. We had to use your help to achieve our cause.”
Similarly, his regularly-reported lack of sympathy for victims is simply untrue, and can be reliably attested.
George was the first in the world to serve up a mechanism, of a first step toward healing.
By the time George and his team found 1.2 billion Euro that was not properly accounted for, his fate was sealed.
In the period just before he was acquitted of all charges, he asked me what he should do.
I explained to him that the family was happy for him to return to Rome. He rang back the next day and asked me if I was sure.
I replied, “Of course, you owe Australia nothing. Put on your red zucchetto, red soutane, and get back to St Peter’s.”
Your Grace, I think it was probably the first time he ever did as he was told!
As a family we appreciate those people both Catholic and non-Catholic who have consistently publicly supported George.
The so-called “Catholic” commentators, experts and public figures that probably being educated by the Catholic Church is the only thing they have in common with the Church: we implore you to rid yourself of the woke algorithm of mistruths, half-truths, and outright lies that are being perpetrated. Do your research. Talk to your elders.
We’d also like to say thank you to Fr Robert McCulloch, who has been such a friend not only to George for such a long time, but to me, my family, especially during the dark days.
Be not afraid was George’s motto. These words are mentioned in the Bible 365 times. They are powerful words, and need to be remembered by us as we continue the daily struggle.
George, we commend you to the Lord. After catching up with Mum, Dad, Molly and Margaret, you will be seated with St John Paul the Great, Pope Benedict, and our dear Lord.
You have fought the good fight. Help us to accept the baton. Rest in peace.
Transcript made by The Catholic Weekly.