Pell’s Toll

I don’t want to spend a lot of time delving into the intricacies and contradictions of this topic, but I do have a few thoughts I want to express about Cardinal George Pell, his child sex abuse conviction, and the influence he’s had on Australian political direction. Until his downfall, Pell embodied that dangerous mix of religion and “rightwing conservative” politics.

It has now been revealed in Australia, that the nation’s highest ranking Catholic was found guilty in December 2018, of sex offenses against children. The verdict had been suppressed here until two or three days ago, even though it was revealed elsewhere in the world.

I remember local newspapers expressing a grievance for being prevented from reporting about a prominent Australian’s conviction of serious offences. They were prevented by a court order from reporting on the case and its outcome.

Now the news is out.

Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of engaging in forcible sexual acts against two choir boys after mass in the 1990s. Pell is one of the Pope’s most senior men. I recall something about him being the third most important person in the Roman Catholic Church.

Of the two victims, only one took this case to court, the other had died of a drug overdose many years ago. His family now say they finally understand why their son had such a troubled life, spiralling into a fatal relationship with drugs; although throughout his life he had always denied he’d experienced any sexual abuse.

The case against Pell therefore relied on the testimony of one man who gave evidence on behalf of himself and his childhood friend. While not intending to defend Pell or discount the validity of the guilty conviction, I find myself troubled a little by that. How much actual evidence was there apart from that one person’s testimony? I assume there was a lot more than that single thing, but I’ve come across nothing yet in the news reports I’ve seen.

My unease is exacerbated by the many cases I’ve read and heard about recently, where there have been clear miscarriages of justice and the innocent have been given long prison sentences on very flimsy evidence, or have had their lives ruined by false claims against them that they were never allowed to challenge in court. For various reasons the courts, and the media, do get things wrong, particularly when evidence is sparse and circumstantial.

On the other side of the equation, if Pell is innocent, it astounds me that his defence team tried to minimise the sentence he’d be awarded, by trying to underplay the seriousness of the crimes of  which he’d been found guilty. Describing the crime as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”, didn’t seem to be the tactic of a genuinely innocent man.
In the many cases of wrongful conviction that I referred to earlier, there was an ongoing insistence of innocence, with no desperate backing down, in the hope of getting leniency in sentencing.

One of the complicating factors of this case is that Pell was a senior member of an organisation with a woeful record of sexual abuse against minors committed by its leaders. Equally woeful is the response taken when the abuse has been exposed. The response primarily sought to protect the RC Church and its guilty clergy rather than bring about justice for those who had been abused.

Cover-up was the chosen course. And that ongoing history places some guilt upon ALL of those in leadership who enabled it. Whether they personally abused a child or not, if they actively played a part in that cover-up they should share the guilt.
Pell himself gained a reputation for making things harder for those who sought some kind of recognition and recourse from the church. Is Pell a good man, innocent of the sex crime but reaping what his church had sown? Some are suggesting that’s the case.

After the revelation of the guilty verdict, some of the more rightwing commentators of the local Murdoch press have spoken out against the court’s decision, claiming that Pell is a scapegoat. Additionally some of the more rightwing Government ministers have expressed similar views. And two former prime Ministers have expressed their support for Pell. John Howard (PM from 1996 to 2007) wrote a glowing character reference for Pell after the conviction and before sentencing, describing him as  “a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character“. (my emphasis – onesimus)

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Pell continues to maintain support from those people. He has been a strong voice of right-wing conservatism, and his influence on the political paths of a few domineering members of Australia’s current government is evident, in particular the climate change deniers who have crippled Government climate and energy policy since they came into power in 2013.

Some time ago, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (a Pell supporter) gave a speech decrying those who sought action to address climate change. His speech was a barely disguised repetition of one previously given by Pell. (see below)*

Now that Pell’s conviction has been made known, it will be interesting to see whether his political influence, enacted by his polictial acolytes, will gradually be undermined.



Pell said some of the “hysteric and extreme claims about global warming” were “a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear” of the “immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature”.

“In the past, pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods,” Pell said. “Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.”

This week, Tony Abbott made a curiously similar speech.

Addressing the climate-sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation in London, Abbott returned to his own scepticism about whether climate change is occurring to worrying degrees. He adopted his private confessor’s argument and his style.

“Environmentalism has managed to combine a post-socialist instinct for big government with a post-Christian nostalgia for making sacrifices in a good cause,” Abbott said.

“Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect.”

Also of interest, a dissenting right wing commentator’s view.

Broadcaster Ray Hadley criticises Howard and Abbott for supporting Pell.



A Gift and a Promise

A gift and a promise.

For whom are they intended?

upended bible

Article from Sydney Morning Herald 26 Feb 2019

Highlighted parts of the article:

God’s sacrifice of Jesus to express his love on Earth was the favourite Bible passage of many Christians. But that is changing, as messages of hope and prosperity on social media find greater resonance with the younger generation.

“Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster boy text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11”

The passage which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” has been eclipsed in the UK by the offer of hope and prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11.

It reads: “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 is also the favourite in nine other countries including Canada and Australia.

“Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings… We find that Millennials tend to share therapeutic messages – it’s far more about their own identity”

A disturbing example of the way scripture can be adopted and misapplied when context is thrown out.

A section of scripture declaring God’s sacrificial act of love for the world, that made salvation available to ALL who believe, has been pushed aside to favour a verse declaring a promise to a select and specific group of people, NOT just any individuals who choose to claim the promise.

That newly favoured text from Jeremiah is being personally appropriated by people who are not addressed in the context of that verse.

The promise “to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” is not a universal promise.
It was a promise in a prophetic context addressed to a people who had survived slaughter and destruction, who had been taken captive by an invading army, and exiled from their homeland.

It is a promise to THOSE people, that their exile would last 70 years, and then they as a people – not necessarily all individuals – would be returned to their land.

This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’ (Jeremiah 29)

While that return did occur as promised, the complete fulfilment of the prophesied promise, is still to come, when Israel as a whole recognises their Messiah, and He returns to rule over the earth from Jerusalem.

The 70 year exile to Babylon referred to in Jeremiah preceded the promise being so casually adopted and misappropriated today. The promise was not made to those who hadn’t suffered significant cost.

So, what is wiser? To claim a promise not intended as an individual promise to me?

Or to focus on the importance of God’s gift to the world, a gift anyone can receive through belief, trust, faith in Jesus?

And which promise is it wiser to proclaim to the world?


The following is a still image from a video I took last night. Unfortunately this site won’t allow me to post the video file. Maybe if I had a YouTube account and posted the video there I’d be able to share the whole thing.

The video shows the white dot portrayed below, dancing around the screen at speed. The dot is a bright moving light I saw and recorded last night not long after sunset. What could that rapidly dancing light be?  A UFO, suggesting “we are not alone”?


The straight answer is no.

The light wasn’t an unidentified object, and it wasn’t actually dancing around in the sky. All of the movement came from my inability to hold the camera still, amplified by my use of the zoom lens.

What I had tried to film was the International Space Station (ISS).
I had recently registered with NASA to get notifications of when the ISS was visible above my town. Yesterday I received an email giving me the time and trajectory related to a potential sighting.

At 8.30pm Gloria and I went into the backyard and tried to work out where it would be first seen, and we concentrated on that part of the sky, just above our neighbour’s house. After a few minutes Gloria’s attention was distracted by a moving light significantly to the left of our chosen spot.

That was it.

It was surprisingly bright and moving quite quickly. We were able to watch it for around 6 minutes, moving from NW to SE at a comfortable viewing angle. The NASA advice had said it would be approximately 70 degrees – almost perfect, needing only a small backward tilt of the head.

It was a very exciting experience.

I have been interested in space exploration and travel since childhood,  when the Apollo missions leading up to the moon landings were big news. But that interest always had to be from a distance, not having any opportunity to observe any of it first hand. (I do have vague memories of seeing a Gemini capsule on display some time in the 70s, but I’ve not been able to find out any details to corroborate my “memory”.)

Last night that interest came much closer to home, seeing with my own eyes the large space facility orbiting the earth. It’s been there for many years, has certainly been visible countless times during those years – but not knowing where or when to look robbed me of the chance of witnessing it fly over.

The conditions were excellent for a perfect viewing. It was just after sunset, meaning we were in partial darkness but the ISS was still in full sun reflecting a lot of light, and  the trajectory was just right to give a comfortable and lengthy view. I’m looking forward to the next email advising when I can see it again.

It’s a shame about the video – it would have been a much more impressive (though deceptive)  illustration of the experience.
If I can get hold of a suitable tripod for future use, next time I might be able to get a better record of the station’s journey above my house. One that shows its actual movement, and not the erratic dancing captured last night.

A few stats.

Currently on board is a crew of three. Anne McClain (USA), David Saint-Jacques (Canada) and Commander Oleg Kononenko (Russia). The current mission is “expedition 58”.

crew portrait exp 58

The ISS orbits the earth at a height of 400km (250 miles), travelling at a speed of  27,600 kph (17,150 mph). A full circuit of the earth takes about 90 minutes.

Essential websites for ISS spotting.

Spot the station:

Live TRacking Map: