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Pell’s Posthumous Coronation

By David Ayliffe

I was confused by the funeral of Cardinal George Pell. At times I thought it could have been a Coronation.

And Hell’s Pells, Tony Abbott, what an amazing man!

From making a knight of a prince, to seeking sainthood for another, Tony never misses an opportunity to sweetly surprise us.

The syrupy gushings about Pell from the Abbott, were indeed lovely and poetic:

“So I will hold on to him in my heart,

from love of a friend and mentor,

and as a gentle child for virtues sought but not yet attained.”

Lord Byron would have been moved.

“And in these times, when it’s more needful than ever,

to fight the good fight,

to stay the course and to keep the faith,

it’s surely now for the Australian church

to trumpet the cause of its greatest champion.”

Not satisfied with this, he went on to demonstrate his vision for a new church where Pell could be enshrined forever.

“There should be Pell study courses,

Pell spirituality courses,

Pell lectures,

Pell high schools,

and Pell university colleges.

Just as there are for the other saints.”

“If we can direct our prayers to Mother Teresa,

Thomas Becket and St Augustine, why not the late Cardinal too,

who has been just as pleasing to God, I’m sure,

and has the added virtue of being the very best of us?

“May God bless him.”

May God bless him indeed.

And the mourners cheered in a respectful way.

Thank heavens I am not a psychologist, because I fear I would read too much into this. Yet it did make me think quite deeply. What sort of saint would this Pell that Abbott venerated so well make? I’m sure he would be the silent kind. Very silent. St George Pell, Patron Saint of the Silent kind

Silent saints reflect the need the traditional church has for silent reflection and even silent obedience, and sometimes, just silence. Sorry, I need another word than “just”.

If the claims of one former student, we shall call The Artist, are to be believed, St John’s College at Sydney University made a meal of Silence in 1985. That was the year that the 18-year-old artist and another gay boy were viciously hazed by unknown, or unnamed assailants. They were lucky if not blessed not to have died from the experience, his story claims.

Silence could have well kept the secret except for the courageous and creative labours of the survivor artist whose work is displayed currently on a Facebook page called “Silentium” (Latin for Silence). The page retells the story through an Archbishop of Sydney’s Mitre (non-religious might refer to it as the funny hats of princes of the church), embroidered especially through many hundreds, if not thousands of hours of minute detail and labour.

Through comments The Artist has placed on various photographs of the Mitre a horrible story is told. It relates that blindfolded and stripped naked the two 18-year-old boys were abused and raped in various ways and finally taken for a three-hour drive in the boot of a car to be dumped naked in a ditch in the middle of the night in a New South Wales national park.

This of course was simply “hazing”. Look it up in the dictionary. Something practiced in various colleges and schools at different times through history – and in military barracks too. A way to demonstrate power. To create fear. To change behaviour, the victim’s behaviour and demonstrate the false machismo of the offenders.


Image from columbiamissourian.com


When you look it up you will discover that by definition, hazing is the practice of putting someone in physical or emotional distress. Reading through The Artist’s words I think they did it well.

“There’s no such thing as harmless hazing,” says Elizabeth Allen, a professor of education at the University of Maine.

I agree.

So why the Mitre?

When the boys made reports to the police The Artist says he was summoned to the principal’s office only to find a predecessor of George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney Edward Clancy sitting there. (Cardinals Pell and Clancy are now finally together comparing notes in the crypt of St Mary’s).

Quoting from The Artist‘s words on the Silentium page:

“He glared at me and asked me if I was sure I wanted to proceed with pressing changes against the two senior students (who had tortured, raped, and left me for dead in that ditch up north). He told me I would be destroying their careers. “These are the doctors and lawyers of tomorrow” he said – A phrase that has always stuck in my mind.”

His next sentence: “I was ushered out”.

That was all.

“I was ushered out”.

Audience over.

Image from Silentium Facebook page

Intent on proceeding with the charges he was to discover soon after that the police file had been destroyed. Sound familiar to anyone?

Hard to understand for me. I like to think that Christian leaders would act – well, I don’t know, with kindness, care, compassion. I just don’t get it, but then as a cult survivor myself I understand how narcissism and megalomania are particularly strong when they appear to be authorised from above. Then I think of the people tying ribbons to remember the child victims of pedophile priests on the fence around St Mary’s Cathedral. And I think of the faithful servants of the Church who steadfastly removed them one by one – no doubt they were offensive to the dead Cardinal and his followers and some former Prime Ministers, and to the current Archbishop of Sydney too. Somehow, I think the ribbon bearers, (as opposed to the ribbon tearers) would understand how the police file came to be destroyed. They saw each ribbon representing the pain and suffering of individual children, many of whom had suicided because of the actions of God’s priests. The Cathedrals servants only saw ribbons. The protesters would understand the mysterious manifestation of the Archbishop in the office of the Principal. They would know well how silence echoes through the years. Particularly silence when the powerful have the voice.

More than this, I also believe they would understand the other claims of The Artist better than me. That students, boys and girls, in the dining hall jeered when those two victim survivors came in for meals. More important to their student peers, was protection of the Church, and the College that had produced most of the Archbishops of Sydney and many Catholic leaders in society too. The cost of a little pain for two queers not worth mentioning compared to the glory of the College and their own careers – even though the police who rescued them from the national park told them that two people had died of exposure only a week ago in that area. I wonder whether the people who died were wearing clothes on their cold last night, unlike the other two boys?

So if The Artist who laboured so long is to be believed, and I have no reason not to believe him I am left wondering where the students and staff are today. Whether those, as he claims, who pissed outside his door every night for 12 months are now, and did they ever have a twinge, just a twinge of guilt when they became parents and perhaps imagined something like this happening to their sons or their daughters? Or perhaps they didn’t give it another thought.

Now I don’t know the names of students who would be recognised in the 1985 Year Book of St John’s College, aside from two named on the Silentium page. I would love to but I imagine that some of the others in that year have had good if not illustrious careers and that they have much to celebrate in their lives. Silentium doesn’t really accuse them of anything, except silence. The sort of silence that the Church and institutions always use to protect the powerful when challenged by the powerless.

You can’t go to jail for silence. I don’t think you can be charged legally with silence, except by your inner accuser, if he/she has survived the years.

Ah well. For the time being the Silentium page is there still and you can visit it and see for yourself the story it tells. Be quick though, I suspect some powers might seek to close it down.

More important than Silentium, ribbons removed from fences, charges that disappear from police records is the fact that Cardinals Pell and Clancy are resting in peace, although if Tony Abbott has his way, and there is some kind of life after this, Pell may be busy again. A Saint answering, or not answering the prayers of the faithful.

No doubt some of those who he would be happy to not answer should they be foolish enough to pray to him would be the queer refugees in Africa that we have been trying to support – they face daily threats such as The Artist received and there are many unsolved and uninvestigated murders for Saint George to overlook.

On the Mitre The Artist changed the Archbishop’s motto, “Fides, Mundum Vincit” (Faith conquers the world), to “Silentium Mundum Vincit” – Silence conquers the world.

In the poem I wrote about this when I first came across the Facebook page I also changed the College Motto as the poem finished.

“The sins of the fathers,

Silentium Silentium,

Nisi Dominus Frustra,

Labours in vain.“

The college motto Nisi Dominus Frustra means “Except the Lord in Vain“, a shortened version of a verse from Psalm 127: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

The poem’s last line removes any reference to God or the Lord, as if he/she exists, surely they could have no part in any of this. Strange how some Christians interpret their faith and the message of the Christ to put the needs of the poor, the marginalised and the disenfranchised above the needs of the powerful. Strange how some others choose differently.

My podcast “No Sex Please – I’m religious” explores religious celibacy, sex shame and stories of those abused, features on YouTube and on Streaming apps.

If you are really interested to know more please visit my “No Sex Please – I’m religious” website www.nosexplease.com.au where you will see the rest of the poem Silentium there too.


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  1. Douglas Pritchard

    You gotta feel sorry for Tones.
    He just got his champions mixed up.
    He chose George, which was more than a bit balmy.
    “Mad Monk”, well they got that right.
    Then there was his “shirtfronting” of Vladimere which was all so much froth.
    And then Zilensky came along and stole his thunder.
    Upstaged by a comedian.
    Poor old Tones, and these days he is having to really fight to get an audience.
    George gave him the pulpit, and we got to like him even less.
    Poor old Tones, now back to oblivion.

  2. John Foster

    Would it be appropriate to make our Saint George the Patron Saint of Pedophiles and Hazers?
    I’m sure there still an opening for that Sainthood!

  3. New England Cocky

    Smellie Pellie goes to Hellie ….. according to their Good Book. Now let Australian governments get serious about controlling the priestly pederasts by removing all government funding from any institution that has employed or protected kiddie fiddlers.re will be a better response from crushing their fingers in thei hip pocket than wailing in the aisles.

  4. Stephen S

    I have lovely Catholic friends, but organisationally they’re a regressive right-wing group that supports over-population and runs the most successful sex-crime gang of all time. There’s no doubt Pell was an enabler – but Abbott couldn’t care less. He wasn’t personally raped by a church elder, so he can’t see any problem.

    They may dislike women and gays, their flocks may be declining, but under Papa Albanese, their costly freebies and concessions are safer than ever.

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