Cardinal’s jail diary explores suffering, solitary lockup – books



Cardinal George Pell, who used to be sentenced and then acquitted of sexual abuse in his local Australia, reflects on the nature of suffering, Pope Francis’ papacy and the humiliations of solitary confinement in his jailhouse memoir, according to an advance copy obtained by The Associated Press.

“Jail Publication,” which recounts the first five months of Pell’s 404 days in solitary lockup, also provides a play-by-play of Pell’s legitimate case and gives personal insights into some of the divisive figures in the Catholic hierarchy today. To his supporters and even some detractors, Pell is a victim of a terrific perversion of justice; to his critics, he’s the symbol of everything that has gone mistaken with the Catholic Church’s wretched response to clergy sexual abuse.

Due out Dec. 15, the book likely won’t budge anyone from either camp, but this can be a fascinating read nonetheless. It is at times a spiritual meditation, a defiant assertion of innocence and a morbidly voyeuristic view into the day by day grind of jail life — all of it narrated by a man who for a time used to be some of the powerful Catholic cardinals on the planet.

“Jail Publication: The Cardinal Makes His Appeal” is the first volume of a set being published by Ignatius Press, the U.S.-based Catholic publisher, which has made no secret that it hopes sales will help Pell pay his sizeable legitimate bills.

Pell left his job as the Vatican treasurer in 2017 to face charges in Australia that he sexually molested two 13-year-old choir boys in the vestry of the Melbourne cathedral in 1996. After a first jury deadlocked, a second unanimously sentenced him and he used to be convicted to six years in jail. The conviction used to be upheld on appeal only to be thrown out by Australia’s High Court, which in April found there used to be fair doubt in the testament of his lone accuser.

Pell’s trial took place against the backdrop of Australia’s reckoning with decades of child sexual abuse brought to light by the years-long Royal Commission inquiry into institutional abuse, which found that 7% of Australia’s Catholic priests raped and molested children. For lots of of his supporters, Pell used to be sentenced as a scapegoat for all of the church’s sins.

Pell, though, had been dogged for years by allegations that he mishandled cases of abusive clergy when he used to be archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney. Specifically, he used to be accused of creating a sufferers’ compensation program in Melbourne chiefly to offer protection to the church’s assets and of the use of aggressive tactics to discourage sufferers’ lawsuits.

Pell repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has apologized to sufferers for what he called the “profoundly wicked” actions of predatory priests. He has defended his record, though he has described some of his encounters with sufferers as unlucky. He strongly denied he ever abused the choirboys.

“The pedophilia crisis remains the greatest blow the church has suffered in Australia,” Pell writes in his diary. “Whether anyone in the mid-nineties knew the extent of the problem, they didn’t say so publicly, or to me privately. We thought the Melbourne Response would finish its work in a couple of years.”

The book begins Feb. 27, 2019, on Pell’s first day in jail, where he used to be placed in solitary confinement primarily to offer protection to himself from other inmates. A diligent reporter with a large number of time on his hands, Pell describes his day by day routine in all its tedium: the humiliation of strip searches, the profanities shouted by prisoners he never sees, the requests for a broom to sweep his cell that go unmet.

But Pell also appreciates the occasional joys: the tea kettle and TV he’s allowed in his cell, an additional glass of milk from a guard, the sun right through his day by day hour of outside exercise. He lives for visits, phone calls and letters from friends and strangers alike offering toughen and prayers — and, from a handful of prisoner pen pals who offer advice on coping with detention.

The reader also gets to realize a man who, a minimum of to outsiders, has been depicted as a monster or martyr in equal measure. It turns out Pell, a former rugby player, is besotted with his nieces and nephews, has a object for Winx, a champion thoroughbred, and likes to play Sudoku but finds the challenging games at the end of the game book too tough.

Pell watches a large number of TV — 6 a.m. Mass in the morning since he can’t celebrate on his own — in addition to his beloved rugby matches and news coverage. He weighs in on everything from the failed marriage of Charles and Diana to U.S. President Donald Trump, who he says is “a bit of a barbarian, but in some important ways, he’s ‘our’ Christian barbarian.”

He meticulously chronicles meetings with his lawyers, positive coverage of his case in the Australian and U.S. media and details of his legitimate strategy, insisting that it’s not “antivictim” to require sufferers to prove their cases in court.

The book offers quite a few gossipy insights into the Vatican’s inner workings and Pell’s own “thwarted and inconclusive” efforts at reforming the Holy See’s finances. It makes some not-so-thinly veiled criticism of the present pontificate and its emphasis on the church as a field hospital for wounded souls, as objected to a college of orthodoxy which Pell champions.

Pell laments, as an example, that at two of Francis’ big meetings on the circle of relatives, “some voices loudly proclaimed that the church used to be a hospital or a port of refuge. This is just one image of the church and far from the most useful or important, because the church has to show how not to develop into sick, how to steer clear of shipwrecks, and here the commandments are fundamental.”

He closes on a daily basis with a prayer, for his friends, circle of relatives, prisoners, guards and sufferers of abuse.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)

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