Barney Zwartz reviews 'Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell' by Louise Milligan

This book has been withdrawn from sale in Victoria while Cardinal Pell faces charges of historical sexual abuse in that state. A committal mention hearing is scheduled to begin on 6 October 2017.

George Pell is the most polarising religious leader Australia has had in recent decades, certainly since Daniel Mannix – perhaps since Samuel Marsden. For most of his career he has been loathed or adored for his sternly inflexible defence of a Catholic orthodoxy predating the second Vatican Council, his robust and sometimes courageous interaction with opponents inside and outside the church, his relentless determination to crush dissent and doubt, often felt as bullying by those responsible to him, and his fierce ambition.

Enjoying the good fortune (or political wisdom) to be a traditionalist and clerical authoritarian under two like-minded popes in John Paul II (1978–2005) and Benedict XVI (2005–13), with whose theology and ecclesiology he was strongly aligned, Pell was promoted rapidly. He was given his highest Vatican post under Pope Francis, who enlisted him to reform the Vatican’s murky finances and help tackle an obstructive Curia. Amusingly, when Francis was elected in 2013 and took everyone by surprise by repudiating the privileges of office and encouraging prelates to live more simply, Pell (whose wine cellar is rumoured to be remarkable) was swift to tell a journalist in Rome that, unlike the Jesuit Francis, he had not taken vows of poverty.

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Published in October 2017, no. 395

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