IN those rare forums where, over the past few years, Australians have been free to express dismay and anger about the (as yet unpunished) offences committed by lawyers, politicians, broadcasters, reporters, publishers, police and several perjurers against Cardinal George Pell, Fr Frank Brennan SJ has been lauded as righteous among the factions. A member of one of the country’s preeminent legal families, Brennan has a track record for campaigning on behalf of those denied the impartial salve of natural justice. This he does as a lawyer on a human rights mission and as a conventional Jesuit imbued with the inflexible liberalism that defines the Society. That he was famously across the aisle, if not the nave entire, from Pell on theology, politics, the environment, republicanism and moral doctrine made his criticism of the phony case against the Cardinal all the more newsworthy. Well and good, then, as far as it goes.
But how hearty do congratulations really need to be for a priest/lawyer speaking up for a brother in Holy Orders under mendacious attack or for stating what was plainly obvious to a majority of legal practitioners? There is aptness in gratitude here but not in laurels. Moreover, in the edited extract of his new book on the Pell disgrace published last week in The Australian (read it here), Brennan argues eccentrically the man is innocent but also responsible for his own imprisonment. If only he had worked closely with the other bishops (who were neither canonically obliged nor inclined to do so); if only he had returned from Rome to testify for a third time to a corrupted Royal Commission (he was not medically fit to fly); if only he had personally testified in court (he was following advice which, for all we know, may have paid off – albeit later). “Pell paid for these mistakes,” Fr Brennan asserts, “with 404 days of wrongful imprisonment.”
While the resemblance is compelling, this isn’t anything so crude as blaming the victim. Brennan is putting an awkward episode of fraternity with Pell behind him and re-demonising him as much as prudence allows. This is penitential vanity. Why declare that “I’m a critic but George Pell really was treated unjustly”? He was treated unjustly – period.
Other statements made by Brennan are risible, disgraceful and even un-Christian. “Pell has been emblematic of the Australian Catholic Church for decades,” he bizarrely claims. In fact, the former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney was the jeered Rev. Pat Malone of the hierarchy for his entire episcopal career. The anti-Pell world-appeasers and Vatican II idolaters were the emblematic ones. When VicPol and the ABC came clubbing, they fled the garden starkers. “Though convinced of his innocence, I still don’t subscribe to his culture wars,” Brennan sniffs – ironically, an olive branch to the secular left and the Church’s Geraldine Doogue wing whose passion for culture warring is as ISIS-ian as it is Sisyphean. And seriously – his culture wars? Whereat the pope’s Ignatian confrère feels tactically obliged to mention – in pious-heretical contrast to the innocent ogre of the hour – the “theological possibility” of women’s ordination and gay marriage.
Brennan’s concluding condescension is the nastiest and most deplorable. He hopes – “for the good of the Australian church” – that “Pell’s influence over episcopal appointments will wane.” It was Tertullian who said that the blood of the martyrs is seed for the Church. No, George Pell didn’t die but every conceivable attempt was made to kill him. And that is not close to being an exaggeration. Psychologically, spiritually, reputationally, existentially, professionally and – given the life-ending fate rigged for him – even physically, the motive was homicidal. Pell may not be a martyr literally but he’s the next bloodiest thing. Why would anyone who loves the faith want this Christian hero’s example to wane in the life of the Church? Why would a priest who grants Pell was innocent want Catholics and their bishops to return to priestesses and homosexuality – like dogs to their vomit – when these were the rustiest nails of justification used to pierce him? Because Catholic liberals are now traditionalists who want things to go back to the way they were.