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Prison Journal Volume 1, an excerpt


It is sometimes said that I chose to study for the priesthood rather than play VFL (as it then was called — the Victorian Football League). 


Thursday 21 March, 2019

The bigger choice for me was between going to university and a professional career, on the one hand, or priesthood.  I went to the seminary feeling I needed to do so to follow God's will, so I was much less joyous and generous than many of my peers.

A number of VFL clubs were asking me to sign in 1959, my last year at St Patrick's, Ballarat, although I had by then almost reluctantly decided to go to the seminary.  I never even managed to train with Richmond, although I did sign with them, and they promised me a place on the training list and the payment of my university fees.  Another problem was that Newman College at Melbourne University did not allow students to play league football then, and I was keen to go there.  Richmond was not the powerhouse it now is or became in the late sixties and seventies, nor was the preparation in any way as rigorous and professional as today.

I do not regret becoming a priest, although my life has been turbulent, as I do believe I did God's will, however imperfectly.  I gave my life to a cause of ultimate significance — and a priestly way of life with many human consolations.

At the Royal Commission [into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse], some lamented the excessive reverence and deference given to the clergy by many Catholics.  Without doubt, a minority of clergy abused this outrageously, but the respect, often love, shown to priests was not the result of some Church decree.  It had been earned by generations of hard priestly work and prayer.  Moreover, the people's devotion and loyalty were not indiscriminate; they were tolerant, but individuals and families made their judgements and choices. . . . 

A pleasant visit from Tim and Anne McFarlane, who told me that public opinion in the legal fraternity was strongly in my favour, even among those who disagreed with my views.

The second reading in the breviary was an excerpt from St Hilary of Poitiers on "Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord."

Fear of the Lord is not approved of by the progressive wing, because God is so loving, understanding, and all-forgiving.  They do not always join these sentiments with the obvious premise that one needs to repent before God can forgive.  I remember a vehement condemnation of "fear of the Lord" by a senior bishop, and indeed a majority of bishops voted to remove "the fear of God", or "of the Lord", from the liturgical translations at one of the Australian bishops' meetings.

Hilary explained that fear of the Lord had to be learned, through prayer and the search for wisdom and understanding, unlike our natural fear of being hurt through sickness, threats, or natural disasters.

I am in favour of fear of the Lord, properly defined, and not because I believe God is cruel or unpredictable or hostile.  In many discussions over the decades, I usually began with the Scripture teaching that only "perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn 4:18), and none of us can claim to love perfectly.

Lord Jesus, raise up among us new Elijahs, men and women, to keep the flame of Christian monotheism burning, especially in Australia.  We do not want our country to become a dry, weary wasteland, where there is little yearning for the Transcendent, while being mightily superstitious.



pelljjkjGeorge Cardinal Pell. "Thursday 21 March, 2019." from Prison Journal Volume 1 (San Francisco, CA:  Ignatius Press, 2020): 69-70.

Reprinted with permission of Ignatius Press. 

The Author

pellprisonsmallGeorge Cardinal Pell AC is an Australian cardinal of the Catholic Church. He served as the inaugural prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy between 2014 and 2019, and was a member of the Council of Cardinal Advisers between 2013 and 2018. Ordained a priest in 1966 and bishop in 1987, he was made a cardinal in 2003. Pell served as the eighth Archbishop of Sydney, the seventh Archbishop of Melbourne and an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne. He has also been an author, columnist and public speaker. Since 1996, Pell has maintained a high public profile on a wide range of issues, while retaining an adherence to Catholic orthodoxy. He is the author of Prison Journal, Volume 1, and Test Everything: Hold Fast to What Is Good.

Copyright © 2020 Ignatius Press
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