Cardinal Pell discusses renewal in Australia after World Youth Day
Exclusive Interview

Cardinal Pell discusses renewal in Australia after World Youth Day

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney
Cardinal George Pell of Sydney

.- Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia recently visited one of his priests who is serving in the Peruvian jungle. While the cardinal was in Lima, CNA was able to ask him about his views on the Church in Australia post-World Youth Day, the hopes of Pope Benedict for liturgical renewal, the effectiveness of condoms in fighting AIDS in Africa and many other topics.

The full interview with Cardinal Pell is published below.

CNA: I would like to start by asking you to talk about the Church in Australia. As you’re probably aware, we’ve heard a lot in the United States and in the English-speaking world, about either a rebellious pastor against his bishop or a diocese that is not in full compliance with the teachings of the Holy See.

What is the real situation of the Church in Australia from your perspective?

Cardinal Pell: These two incidents are not typical of all the Church in Australia. I’m surprised to hear in Peru that there is trouble in Toumba. It was a surprise to me. Apparently the bishop has some differences with the Holy Father, and I’m sure that between them, that matter will be resolved in some way. The great mass of Catholic Australia is loyal to the Catholic practice, loyal to the Holy Father and loyal to the bishops. For many years this parish in Brisbane has been a difficult parish, and I suspect that it has become less and less and less Christian. I think the priest said, “only a tribal god would want somebody to pray to him” and the god that he believes in is a common god. Like the god described in the Asian mystical writings. So really, it is not a struggle about the nature of Catholicism, but it is a struggle about the teachings of Christ, the centrality of Christ’s idea about God. It is a struggle with a type of Gnosticism and I fully support the archbishop as he struggles with this difficult parish.

CNA: How significant was World Youth Day in shaping the present and the future of the Church in Australia, especially in your Archdiocese, which was the host for the event?

Cardinal Pell: It is a little bit early to say, because we are only less than 1 year after World Youth Day, but in Sydney, we worked very hard. One of the Auxiliary Bishops, Bishop Julian Porteous, he trained 600 leaders and they went out into over 50 shopping centers around Sydney inviting young people to come to the World Youth Day. So, I think there were 400,000 people at the final Mass, the biggest gathering in Australian history, not just religious history, but all Australian history. Most of those were young people, that gives you a better idea of the vitality of Catholic life. We have had an increase in the number of youth groups, the confidence and the morale of young Catholics, in the Church and in Christ has risen. One priest told me he received 25 people, members of 3 or 4 families into the Catholic Church because they had been hosts to overseas pilgrims at the World Youth Day. I know of some dioceses where there was very little youth work, and now they have teams of animators working. So, there are many good signs and certainly in some places, two already, an increase in vocations.

CNA: Your eminence, you have to fly frequently to the Vatican. In your travels in Europe, in general, how do you see the situation of the faith in Europe, which was the birthplace of the faith in many of our countries, like Latin America, the United States, and even Australia?

Cardinal Pell: The situation in Europe is very mixed. For example, the Church is still very strong in Poland. There are many strong elements of the Church in Italy. There are other places the Church has collapsed in Holland, although it is starting to recover and to return. In some parts of [former] East Germany, 70 to 80% are not baptized, and it is interesting that in East Germany, the population has collapsed. In some suburbs, the houses have been left empty and the suburbs have been turned into parkland. But the Church in Bavaria, southern Germany, is quite strong. So there are major challenges with secularization. Spain has a big battle on its hands, and not just Zapatero, but with the forces of secularism behind Zapatero, which enable him to do those things. The Church is also very strong. The new movements are very strong in Italy and Spain, France, many challenges, but also oases of great vitality.

CNA: There are some people that say the promise of Jesus that the gates of Hell will not prevail were not made about a geographical church, therefore, one day, sooner rather than later, Europe could end up being like Northern Africa where the Church has completely disappeared. Are you optimistic?

Cardinal Pell: I try not to be on any side, I try to be a realist. Europe will not be like North Africa, because as I was reading in a book, there are many more good young Catholics in the movement than good young Muslims and the presence of the Muslims for future peace and cooperation is a major challenge. But the other great challenge is secularism. We should not underestimate the capacity of European Catholicism to recover and to return. Many, many Catholics there are well aware of these challenges and are working hard to combat them. So, not in our lifetime, will Europe be like North Africa.

CNA: You are a member of several dicasteries, and until very recently you were a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 10 years. Now you are a member of another very important dicastery, which is the Congregation for the Divine Worship.

What would you say are the main challenges or the main desires of the Holy Father related to the Liturgy?

Cardinal Pell: Perhaps I could mention two of his ambitions. First of all, he wants to emphasize the vertical dimension of worship. In other words, that when we celebrate the Mass and the Sacraments, its not just a community celebrating itself, we are worshiping the One True God and Jesus His Son. This is central to the Holy Father’s idea of the Liturgy.

The second point he wants to emphasize is that certainly with the Second Vatican Council, there has been development, also liturgically, [by] making use of the vernacular, which is overwhelming approved in the different countries, but there is a basic continuity, the tradition continues. Many of the traditions of piety continue to be useful with the young people, for example, at the recent meeting of the Congregation for Worship. The theme was the worship of the Blessed Sacrament. Now 30 years ago, this was taboo in certain Catholic circles. It was a sign that you were old fashioned pre-conciliar, in the English-speaking world at least, also in other places. Now with our young people, they are often not theologically well instructed, but they love adoration, because, I think, they understand the need for adoration, for worship, but also because they lead busy, noisy lives and they come to love the silence, the silence of worship and prayer. ... I have said publicly, as a priest long ago, immediately after the council, I never imagined that in 40 years we would have an hour of adoration in St Peter's led by the Holy Father. Life is full of surprises. This is a very good surprise; it is a good return to our fundamental sources.

CNA: Because of your duties at different dicasteries, you have the opportunity to interact with the Holy Father, and you knew him before when he was the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Because of his trip to Africa and his statement about AIDS and the way that the Church has to fight against AIDS, he has been again portrayed as a man that is stiff, that is not in contact with reality of the world, that he is too dogmatic, and some other adjectives have been applied to him.

How would you describe the real Benedict XVI?

Cardinal Pell: Well anyone who knows him, and the young people, the people who see him celebrate the big public Mass know that he is not stiff. He might be somewhat reserved, but he is very friendly and very affable, in the best sense of the world, he is a cultivated Christian gentleman. He is enormously well informed. I think he is the best living Catholic theologian. He knows, for example, he knows an enormous amount about the Australian Church; I would be very surprised if he did not know an enormous amount about the Peruvian Church. He is extraordinarily well informed, also with a fantastic memory.

Now, on the matter of AIDS, anyone who follows the Christian teaching will be criticized. For example, let me mention a couple of facts. In South Africa there are condoms everywhere and AIDS is rampant. Up in Uganda the situation is somewhat better because they were following the ABC [approach]. A: abstinence for unmarried people, B: be faithful for married people and C: condoms only for drug addicts or prostitutes. This was a government, not a Church doctrine. In Asia, in Thailand, not a Catholic country, condoms everywhere, but AIDS is much more prevalent there than in the Philippians, where the Catholic teaching is for abstinence. I remember traveling to Australia with a secular health worker from West Africa, he was not a Catholic and not particularly sympathetic, but he said, “this talk about condoms solving all these big problems is ridiculous because in many isolated parts of Africa, they cannot get condoms, they cannot afford condoms, they are low quality condoms, and they often don’t know how to use them properly, it is in no sense an effective measure.” AIDS has a dimension of a spiritual crisis, and you cannot solve a spiritual crisis simply with a rubber device, it calls for the heart to be involved, personal discipline and decisions. If people followed Christian teachings—fidelity within marriage, no sexual activity outside of marriage— there would be no spread of AIDS.

CNA: What does the priesthood, as a vocation, mean to you?

Cardinal Pell: Well, my priesthood is very important to me. It is something that is different than my baptismal responsibilities because it is conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. We believe that Jesus at the Last Supper, when he said to his Apostles, “Do this in memory of me,” that he ordained them as we now call them priests, and also in the New Testament, we have Paul writing about the “laying on of hands,” the ceremony, that the ministry of the priesthood would be continued.

I think priestly identity is enormously important to the priests, that they understand that their role in the Church is unique because not only must they follow their first duty of preaching the Word of God, but also they must celebrate the Sacraments, celebrate Baptism and Eucharist, but also all the other Sacraments, the great Sacrament of Reconciliation, of pardon, of giving God’s forgiveness. These bring immense dignity to the office, but also immense responsibilities. Now, unfortunately, many of us priests are pretty ordinary, but our ordinary lives are in contrast to the dignity of our office. It is not a temporary vocation, it is a permanent office in which we are called and we believe in our heart of hearts, that we are marked by this ordination to the ministry of the priesthood. So we try to do what Jesus did.

CNA: You just recently visited some of your priests who are working as missionaries in the Peruvian jungle in the Amazon, how do you see them, as priests, making a difference compared to any other (non-priest) health or social worker in that very difficult area of work?

Cardinal Pell: We visited Fr. Juan Anderson, who is a Sydney priest who has worked in the parish of St. Rose of Lima in Iquitos for 20 years, and all I would say to people that ask me the difference, would be to ask them to go to his parish and see the difference that he has made, see the vitality and the faith and the goodness of the people there. His parish is producing vocations, he has a small group of acolytes, servers, adults, who meet every Saturday afternoon for an hour or an hour and a half and they’ve been doing this for 16 years, some of them become seminarians. We met two of them who are becoming doctors, they’re doing their 5th year internship in the hospital. They have different sorts of social works in the parish to further educate the women in sewing and things like that; the very vital liturgy committee, [the] youth committee. In my very small group, there were three of us from Sydney, we were very impressed by the happiness and vitality of the children in Iquitos, and they’re livelier than they are in Lima, at least livelier than the ones we met in Lima. That would be an example of the vitality and friendliness of the people from the jungle. I think their goodness and kindness is also the result of generations of Christianity, of the following the teachings of Christ. Fr. Anderson kept us very, very busy. We were at many Masses and celebrated many Sacraments. On Saturday, I baptized 50 young soldiers, and then we confirmed them and about 50 others. On the Sunday, I baptized 55 babies and blessed 4 marriages, and the couples were very happy. They were there with their children, and they were very happy to receive the blessing of the Church. It was a wonderful visit and it was a wonderful visit, and it was wonderful to see the local people that loved Fr. Anderson.

CNA: What would you say to a young man that is considering the vocation to the priesthood?

Cardinal Pell: I would say consider carefully that the vocation to be a good layman and the vocation to be a priest are two very honorable vocations. It is important to try to workout why you want to be a priest. If a person has a real vocation from the Lord, and it is true there are difficulties, every life has difficulties; I can say as an older man, I have received 100 fold.

Priests, who work and serve their people, try to pray regularly, celebrate the sacraments, work hard, they receive immense consolation from their work, from the friendship of their people, and from seeing their people grow, and seeing the goodness of their people. The priests’ ability to help people when they are sad and sick, when they are in the difficulty, the Church does great work. This morning we went to the sisters of the Divine Plan, the sisters of the Sodalitium. We visited their center for handicap children—wonderful work. The children were alive and happy and smiling as they were served by all the lay teachers, as well as the nuns, and in good facilities. That’s one beautiful example of the Church at work.

Latest Videos:

Follow us: