Pell About Prison: “I Need Not Cooperate in an Expensive Charade”

Cardinal Pell wrote on FirstThings.com (July 8) about his thirteen months ordeal in solitary confinement: ten in Melbourne "in a green prison uniform," and three in Barwon prison, dressed in “the bright red colours of a cardinal.”

His Melbourne cell was about 15 square meters. It had a bed, low shelves with a kettle, television, eating space, a basin with hot and cold water and a shower recess “with good hot water,”

“Unlike in many posh hotels, an efficient reading lamp was in the wall above the bed,” however the windows didn't have clear glass, “I could recognise day from night, but not much more, from my cell.”

He heard but never saw the eleven other prisoners of his unit. Pell’s time was generally without banging and shouting inmates, often destroyed by drugs, although he used to marvel at how long they could bang their fists, "A warder explained that they also kicked with their feet like horses.”

Some prisoners flooded their cells or fouled them. On his first night, Pell thought he heard "a woman crying" and another prisoner "was calling for his mother.”

The Cardinal was rarely mistreated. Only once an inmate spat at him through an open aperture calling him a black spider “and other less-than-complimentary terms.”

On a few other occasions, Pell overheard fierce arguments over his guilt, “Opinion as to my innocence or guilt was divided among the prisoners, as in most sectors of Australian society, although the media with some splendid exceptions was bitterly hostile.”

Pell was told by an inmate who had spent decades in prison, that he was the first convicted priest he had heard of who had any support among the prisoners.

On many mornings, Pell heard the Muslim prayer chants and, among Muslims, seldom cursing or blasphemy, “I suspect the Muslim prisoners do not tolerate blasphemy.”

After he lost the appeal to the Supreme Court, he considered not appealing to the Australian High Court, “If the judges were simply going to close ranks, I need not cooperate in an expensive charade.”

However, the director of the Melbourne prison - "a bigger man than I and a straight shooter" - urged me to persevere.

Pell possessed one volume of the breviary which was out of season, received Holy Communion each week, could attend five times Mass, yet never celebrate himself. He understood that his “suffering need not be pointless,”

“I never felt abandoned, knowing that the Lord was with me — even as I didn’t understand what he was doing for most of the thirteen months.”


It is the tendency of people who are liberal in theology to be illiberal in everything else.
So glad he was advised to keep going and hope that his upcoming book is an international best-seller. The Church would fare so much better if we had more of his ilk in leadership.