Dinner with Dr George Cardinal Pell
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Dinner with Dr George Cardinal Pell

Dinner with Dr George Cardinal Pell

Cardinal Pell represents a long tradition in the Australian Catholic Hierarchy. From Archbishop Daniel Mannix publicly arguing against conscription in the 1st world war, to Bishop John Cullinane taking drastic action to ensure federal funding to Catholic Schools in the Goulburn strike, the Australian Catholic church has often had strong activists among its leadership.

Cardinal Pell represents the Conservative idea that there is a place for Religion in leadership. His Eminence clearly never decided to remain aloof from Australian politics. His observations are astute and often cutting. He’s a man of principle and a fan of politicians with conviction. He has no time for populists. Let me take as an example former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Quite frankly, Rudd couldn’t decide whether he was Catholic or Anglican. It depended on the company. This was symptomatic of Rudd’s general insincerity.

Whilst His Eminence never held back from offering a critique of some of the politicians we discussed, he would nevercondone complete irreverence. When discussing former Prime Minister Gillard, he thought she deserved a lot of the criticism she received. He qualified this by saying that some comments were unwarranted. People should respect the Prime Minister and the office, regardless of who holds the position.
When it came to Coalition politicians, he was quick to note the dominance of Catholics on the front bench. He sees this as a natural consequence of the sense of duty and justice imbued in students who attend Catholic schools.

While leader of the Church in Sydney, Cardinal Pell defended his flock at every opportunity.His Eminence noted that State Education Minister Adrian Piccoli’s swipe at independent and Catholic Schools was a dumb political move – as it attacked the Liberal Party’s long-time base as well as its values of choice.

It’s clear that His Eminence keeps his finger on the pulse of Australian politics. Just as he sees the importance of Christian leadership in the secular world, he values Lay leadership in the administration of the Church. This is why the Vatican’s new Council for the Economy is comrpised of not only eight Cardainls or bishops, but also eight lay experts of different nationalities with strong professional and financial experience. Cardinal Pell sees this as part of a strategy, purposefully galvanising the support of Lay Catholic professionals and business leaders to help the Church. He is keen to ensure that Catholics end up at high levels in all areas of society so that the Church can draw on them.

The Church doesn’t just need leaders in the clergy. It needs leaders in business, the arts and public life. His Eminence is not interested in seeing the Church siloed into exclusively ‘religious’ areas of public discourse.

Necessarily then, as with any leader who hopes to be effective, Cardinal Pell is a political operator. This is not in and of itself a bad quality. In person, His Eminence is a man aware of his own power, certainly not in a conceited way. He is conscious of it and cautious as to how he uses it.

He has always used it to fight for his flock. However his reception in the Australian media is tainted because, quite simply, he was a conservative Catholic Archbishop. His station lent itself to the superficial narrative of ‘stuffy, obstructive and backward leadership’ as portrayed by mass media. For those of us who dined with him, we can only hope to one day reflect his well rounded mode of leadership.

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