Australia's Cardinal-Designate on His Priorities

Archbishop Pell Says He’s «a Loyal Son of the Second Vatican Council»

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SYDNEY, Australia, SEPT. 30, 2003 ( The morning after being named a cardinal, Archbishop George Pell of Sydney gave a press conference. The Archdiocese of Sydney released a transcript of the conference, which ZENIT excerpts here.

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Archbishop Pell: Well, it is a signal honor to be appointed a cardinal of the Catholic Church. The ancient College of Cardinals reflects the unity and universality of the Catholic Church and both of these are great blessings. As archbishop of Sydney, my appointment recognizes the contribution of the Catholic community to Australian life and I will continue working to maintain and deepen this tradition of service and of worship. And I’m happy to take questions. …

Reporter: Thank you, Your Eminence. I’m wondering with your promotion … do you intend to use your promotion as an opportunity to speak out more vocally on the slate of issues such as the treatment of asylum seekers in detention centers given, particularly given this is a worldwide issue and you have a worldwide role now …

Archbishop Pell: I’ve consistently spoken on this issue both publicly and privately. It’s a difficult issue. I’ve said many times I think the policy of the government is too hard and too tough. But I also recognize the reality of Australian public opinion, the constraints on the government, but it’s certainly not our finest hour.

Reporter: Your Eminence […] how does a former AFL footballer … become a cardinal?

Archbishop Pell: Well, I mean cardinals have got to come from somewhere. And I wouldn’t think being a supporter of the AFL is any impediment to promotion in the Catholic Church. But I’m sure that my story today is repeated amongst the overwhelming majority of the 31 new cardinals. That is, local boys, people who worked as priests and bishops from right around the world and who are now called to this office.

Reporter: What does Pope John Paul II [want of you as cardinal?]

Archbishop Pell: Well, I hope I preach Christ. I certainly try to, to try to explain the Christian teachings are true and beautiful and useful for people in this life and the next. I’m a loyal son of the Second Vatican Council and I stand with the Pope. I don’t run around making up teachings. I only teach what the Church teaches. …

Reporter: What do you say to some of those concerns that were raised this morning on radio that your appointment is a symbol that the Church is moving away from liberal theology and towards neo-conservatism, and that there is some sense of disappointment in that? What do you say to that?

Archbishop Pell: Look, I just repeat what I said. I preach the truths of the Gospel without apology. I … teach what the Second Vatican Council teaches. I don’t make up teachings. I stand with the Pope. I’m happy and proud to continue to try to do that, and convince people that this is worthwhile and useful. I mean, the modern pagan mix in our society is not making people happier or more productive. I think that the set of Christian teachings does produce human flourishing, to the benefit of humans and I try to explain that. …

Reporter: [Now that there are three Australian cardinals who are eligible to vote — at least for the moment — if the opportunity arises to vote for a new Pope, who do you think should be the new pope, given that there is now a significant Australian bloc?]

Archbishop Pell: I think it would be inappropriate for me to be surmising about who I think should be pope and I’m happy to talk about the priorities for the Church and for Christianity in this country. We’ve got to try to keep the Australian community as good as it is with compassion especially … practical compassion especially for the battlers.

We’ve got to work hard to try to bolster marriage and family life. We’ve got to try to explain to those many good Australians who feel and are decent people and feel you don’t need God. We’ve got to explain the importance of God and the afterlife. And that one of the great priorities here, of course, is for us to explain that to … to preach Christ to young people, to middle-age people. That’s a great priority and challenge.

Reporter: [Do you ever think about who the Gospel can be made more relevant for the needs of contemporary people?]

Archbishop Pell: Look, I’m continually thinking about that. One great Protestant theologian last century, a man called Karl Barth, said that when you’re writing a sermon you should have the Gospels in one hand and the newspaper in the other and I’m continually trying to present the age-old truths of Christianity in a way that modern people can understand them.

Christian teaching comes at a cost but I believe in the long run it makes for not just for happier but for better people and sounder and stronger families and community life. The whole Christian tradition of service for the poor, the idea of universal human rights, they’re unthinkable without a background of Christianity.

Reporter: [A question about homosexuality … ]

Archbishop Pell: Look, I … my compassion, my sympathy is extended to every group within the Catholic community and in the Australian community. I have to explain to all and try to follow myself the Christian moral teachings.

Christ didn’t run around condemning people but he did urge us to sin no more and he urged us to treat one another with respect and compassion.

Reporter: Can I ask you are there certain issues that you feel the Church has to confront particularly [in more recent] years, for example, the crisis in vocation [to the ministerial priesthood]? Is it time that the Church gave serious consideration to allow in married priests?

Archbishop Pell: The vocations to the ministerial priesthood is a significant challenge and in some parts of Australia I think we’re making significant progress to answering that challenge. The discipline that in our part of the Catholic Church that priests are not allowed to marry, or most of them, is obviously something that’s not mandated from scripture and it could change. I don’t believe that it would strengthen the Catholic Church to change that particular discipline.

Reporter: Why not?

Archbishop Pell: Well, I would suggest you have a look at the Anglican Church and the Protestant churches. … Since the Reformation, they’ve had married clergy and in many, perhaps most cases, their pastoral situation is weaker than our own.

Reporter: Do you hope to use your promotion to reach out more to the people of other faiths including non-Christian faiths?

Archbishop Pell: I certainly am more than happy to continue to do that. I think mutual respect, tolerance, maintaining and building a cohesive Australian society, a multifaith society is a very important task for all leaders and for religious leaders too.

Reporter: Just one more question. What do you say to the criticism that you are [a conservative]?

Archbishop Pell: Well … I mean, Our Lord, Christ, lived 2,000 years ago. I think it’s very difficult for anyone who claims that they’re a Christian to say that they’re other than trying to conserve Christ’s teaching because we don’t believe that Christ is just another prophet or a great religious poet or a philosopher. We believe Christ is the Son of God, and that what he explained to us basically embodies the Maker’s instructions. …

I’ve got no mandate from the Church to correct or improve Christ’s teachings, but I’ve got to try to understand them more deeply, explain them. There are many things that weren’t issues in Christ’s time.

Reporter: Your Eminence, was this a long-held ambition to be a cardinal, and what other posts do you think you might be able to [perform, now that you are a cardinal]?

Archbishop Pell: It was never an ambition of mine to be a cardinal, and I’m more than happy to be staying in Sydney.

Reporter: Could we ever have an Australian pope?

rchbishop Pell: We could, but that’s highly unlikely.

Reporter: Why is that?

Archbishop Pell: Well … I mean, we’re a very small country. There are more Catholics in Mexico City than the entire population of Australia. And let … I can’t hypothesize on the future, but let me just speak hypothetically. We’ve got the Melbourne Cup in a month or so, and a little bit of form on a country course doesn’t signify that you should be a major challenger for the Melbourne Cup.

Reporter: Dr. Pell, do you think that feeds in with what Pope John Paul seems to be saying, that they’d like you to exert your influence in Australia — here, rather than in Rome like other cardinals [are asked to do]?

Archbishop Pell: I hope that’s the case. And certainly, I’ll continue to try to preach Christ as effectively as I can.

Reporter: You mention [moral authority] and the moral vices, [you have talked in the past about] a tax on divorce, a ban on gambling [and so forth]. Can you give us a taste of what you might want to propose in future, given you’re being entitled now [to a greater moral authority]?

Archbishop Pell: Well … I mean, here in Australia, I’ll keep on keeping on. I’ll continue to preach every Sunday in the cathedral. I have a small column in a Sunday newspaper. I’ll keep that up. Obviously, gambling is a concern. The rate of expenditure on gambling in New South Wales is the equal highest in the world, with the area around Las Vegas.

Now, Catholics don’t believe that gambling is intrinsically wrong, but we do worry about the damage that’s done by … to families, especially, and to individuals, to family assets, long-term assets, by gambling addicts. We’re worried about marriage break down. It’s another thing to be able to suggest what we might be able to do together to significantly improve that.

But every decent person has got to be concerned that … 40 or 50% of the marriages currently taking place are breaking up. That is a worry for the spouses involved and also for the kids.

Reporter: Do you share one of your colleague’s concerns that clubs and Catholic clubs are putting enough of their profits from gambling back into the community?

Archbishop Pell: No, I think the Catholic clubs have a record of generosity. I have urged their managers, and I’ve met with them a few times since I’ve been here, to be especially vigilant with problem gamblers. I’m not complaining myself about the percentage of money that goes into the community. I do know that they are regularly generous to the Catholic community.

Reporter: Your Eminence, if I can just return to the point you raised earlier about the treatment of asylum seekers, you said that it wasn’t Australia’s finest hour. What concrete changes would you like to see made to government policy in that area to ensure that asylum seekers are treated more humanely?

Archbishop Pell: I don’t like the idea of women and children being locked up. I certainly don’t like them being locked up for years. I think if it is unfortunately necessary for them to be incarcerated that the processes should be as quick as possible.

I don’t like them being sent overseas to places like Nauru. I have been out to the internment center here. There’s no doubt that the conditions inside are comparatively humane. The youngsters are able to go out into the local schools if their parents will allow them. But the whole process is too tough.

Reporter: So changes are needed?

Archbishop Pell: Yes, I’ve said that publicly and I’ve said that privately to the Australian leaders.

Reporter: Given though that you now have a significant position in the worldwide Church, would you like to work with other cardinals in some other countries where this is also a significant problem to try and campaign for changes worldwide?

Archbishop Pell: Well, I’ve got a limited amount of time and energy, but if I could do something that was likely to be practically useful in that area I’d obviously be happy to do so.

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