Cardinal George Pell – Part of the cover up or part of the problem

Cardinal George Pell – Part of the cover up or part of the problem


Things have shifted radically for the beleaguered Cardinal George Pell whose rapid ascent in the Catholic Church hierarchy seemed unstoppable. While accusations of high-level cover-ups into paedophilia have dogged him in recent years, he has been able to successfully navigate any investigation with a combination of admitting the culpability of the Church, whilst never quite acknowledging personal failings. Media coverage has reached boiling point as now Pell himself has been accused of sexual assault on a number of occasions, casting doubt into media branches and readers alike. How far does the corruption extend? Was he apart of an era when morals were different or is he a practiced political player who not only hid the crimes of others but also committed them himself?

Opinions in the media are polarised. This is made evident through a number of core articles, which all characterise Pell differently. David Marr’s, ‘Cardinal George Pell named as financial watchdog for Vatican’ published in The Saturday Paper, criticises the slippery nature of Pell. The Herald’s, Andrew Bolt staunchly defends Pell in his article ‘Cardinal George Pell is the victim of a vicious witch hunt’. Playwright, musical comedian and social commentator Tim Minchin produced a satirical song calling for George Pell to get on a plane, ‘come home’ and face the music. The Boston Globe’s article “Cardinal admits ‘scandalous’ response to abuse allegations”, attributes more blame to the Church than Pell. Both writers Nicole Winfield and Rod McGuirk focus on Pell’s admission of the intense level of child abuse that has occurred within the Catholic Church under his watch and the damage it has caused.

Child abuse allegations surrounding George Pell have once again cast the media spotlight onto the Australian Catholic Church. Former students of notorious St Alipius parish have made claims that Pell inappropriately touched them on a number of occasions whilst they swam at Ballarat’s Eureka pool.

In the past there have been inquires into George Pell’s knowledge of paedophilic actions within the church and most particularly in the case of the now infamous Gerald Ridsdale, who in 1993 was convicted of thirty counts of indecent assault against nine boys between the years of 1974 and 1980. On many occasions the media accused Pell of assisting in covering up Ridsdale’s actions within the Ballarat parish. The allegations against Pell as a perpetrator are relatively recent.

These claims have only added to the rising concern of the depth of child abuse in the Catholic Church and with Pell’s senior role in The Vatican, that pressure is not limited to the Australian Catholic Church but through Pell has made its way to the heart of the Vatican.


George Pell was considered the ‘favourite son of Ballarat’ (Milligan, 2016) and pursued a successful career within the Catholic Church. First becoming Archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney before moving to the Vatican to serve as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Reporting directly to the Pope, Pell is ‘one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church’(Milligan, 2016). Despite holding a position that no other Australian has before, this has not lessened the demand for justice from the individuals and families affected by the clergy abuse.

David Marr’s 2014 piece, entitled ’George Pell named as financial watchdog of the Vatican’ initially creates the perception of a very neutral grounded article, but ultimately attempts to position the reader against any thought of support for Pell. His central claim is that Pell is a ‘bad apples man’ and essentially his only motivation is professional vanity and personal gain. Marr’s work academically picks apart the poor judgments and ill-advised actions of Pell, revealing a number of reasons why the figurehead of the Australian Catholic Church should not be glorified or hailed for his new role in The Vatican.

Marr begins the article with an insight into the context surrounding Pell, utilising a string of positively emotive language, such as ’pleasure to the faithful’ and ‘basked in the glow of Rome’s approval’. Marr continues his heightened praise stating ‘no Australian has ever been promoted as high in the pantheon of their faith as this 72 year old boy from Ballarat’. This is done with irony in order to create a glorified perception of Pell. Marr initiates the dichotomy in the second paragraph through explicit evaluation of Pell, stating ‘Rome isn’t calling him home to be a theologian. He isn’t one. Nor is he being honoured as a bishop of exceptional pastoral abilities’.

Marr goes on to assert further judgment which not only influences the reader’s perception of Pell and the Catholic Church but create the basis of his negatively driven viewpoint. Marr asserts that under Pell’s rule there was ‘secrecy imposed on victims…deep reluctance of the church to hand priests over to police’ and ‘failures in both Melbourne and Sydney… to systematically investigate the extent of abuse in the ranks of his church,’ (Marr, 2014).

Marr backs up his evaluation with facts pertaining to the case of Ellis vs. Pell. Ellis, a former alter boy and victim of child abuse sought $750,000 for the damage caused when he served in a parish in the Western suburbs of Sydney. Instead of choosing to settle the church spent over $1.5 million in lawyer’s fees to win the case. Evidence collected by the organisation Broken Rites states Pell ‘instructed his lawyers to crush this victim’ (Broken Rites, 2015). Ellis vs. Pell reveals the extent the Catholic Church was prepared to go to save face and in Marr’s eye perfectly sums up Pell as the ultimate politician who can expertly mold the truth for his own personal advancement and protect the institution he served.

Marr continues to cast further doubt into the mind of his readers as he refers to outside sources in order to back up his viewpoint. Anti-abuse campaigner Chrissie Foster had ‘two of her daughters raped by a Melbourne priest in the 80’s’. One is now dead and the other permanently disabled. Marr quotes Foster, stating ‘Pell has been central to ensuring the church’s assets have been protected here in Australia by denying justice to victims and now he is being rewarded with a promotion’.

Marr’s work aims to negatively evaluate Pell on the grounds of his poor ethical and moral actions as the figurehead of the Catholic Church. He achieves this through a combination of facts, outside sources and his own personal assessment, which help lead the audience to their own attitudinal conclusion.

MacCallum’s views article ‘Pell and damnation’, published in The Monthly takes a similarly negative standpoint on Pell to Marr. Yet in contrast he uses overtly explicit evaluation in order to characterise Pell. In MacCallum’s first two paragraphs he employs a number of emotionally weighted and sarcastic words. ‘Pity poor, persecuted Cardinal George Pell… the helpless and hapless victim of a lynch mob’. MacCallum’s initial sarcasm provides the audience with a firm understanding of what is to come.


MacCallum quickly alludes to ‘mildly scurrilous’ polemic created by Tim Minchin in order to provide support in his evaluation. Essentially aiming to reveal to his readership that Pell’s actions are widely considered as unacceptable and immoral. Minchin’s song ‘Come home’ speaks out against Pell’s refusal to leave The Vatican and be interviewed by Royal Commission about recent child abuse allegations made against the Catholic Church. Minchin calls Pell a ‘pompous buffoon,’ ‘arrogant’ and having ‘ethical hypocrisy’ (Minchin, 2016).

MacCallum further makes his point clear through the use of emotionally driven language within some unfavourable, evaluative statements. Some of the abuse victims “were paid ‘niggardly’ and ‘grudging’ amounts of compensation in return for their silence: the whole idea was to protect the church against further scandal”. This comment is supported by Minchin who in his song says ‘years later when survivors despite their shame and their fear, stood up to tell their stories. You spent year after year working hard to protect the churches assets’ (Minchin, 2016).

MacCallum ends his piece with some explicitly evaluative statements. Once again referring to Tim Minchin, MacCallum sarcastically speaks of the ‘vulgar’ words like ‘scum’ and ‘coward’ to which Minchin calls Pell in his polemic. MacCallum chooses to close his article with an open critic on Pell’s character, with an ‘elegant’ poem.

‘I do not love thee, Cardinal Pell,

For child molesters burn in hell,

And those who shelter them as well:

You’ll frizzle nicely, Cardinal Pell’ (MacCallum, 2016).

In direct comparison to both Marr and MacCallum, Andrew Bolt’s article ‘Cardinal George Pell is the victim of a vicious witch hunt’ in the Sun Herald chooses to paint Pell in a very different light. Bolt’s opinion piece takes aim at those who are so quick to judge and vilify an innocent Pell. As one can gather from the headline, Bolt’s central claim is that ‘George Pell is the victim of one of the most vicious witch hunts to disgrace this country’. When describing the circumstances surrounding Pell, Bolt employs negatively guided words such as ‘shameful’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘frightening’ in order to make is standpoint clear.

Bolt alludes to the ‘snarling glee’ of Tim Minchin as he sang a ‘hymn of hatred’. Differently to MacCallum’s point of view, Minchin’s use of dissentious words such as ‘scum’ and ‘coward’ do not accurately characterize Pell in the eyes of Bolt and are only said to vilify him.

Bolt goes on to provide his readers with a number of factual statements in order to implicitly align them with his way of thinking. With reference to allegations of Pell’s attempts to cover up abuse within the church Bolt states, ‘in 1996 he (George Pell) became the first senior person here, in church or in government, to confront the horror of sexual abuse in children…No bishop of any other church had done anything like it’ (Bolt, 2016). This positive evaluation from Bolt’s acknowledges the credibility and reliability of Pell’s actions. In relation to a sexual assault proclamation made against Pell, Bolt mentions that when a former child victim claimed that ‘in 1969 Pell heard him pleading for help but did nothing’, that Pell produced his passport, showing he’d been in Rome that year’ (Bolt, 2016).

Throughout the rest of the article Bolt chooses to use a plethora of emotionally weighted words such as ‘dehumanization’ and ‘sociopathic’, which encapsulate the actions and views of his detractors in an attempt to reveal the inappropriate extremism of their opinions.

It is interesting to observe that Bolt turns the mirror on Pell’s naysayers at the end of his article with a final explicitly evaluative comment. ‘Shame on every coward who joins this vicious mob. You claim you stand for good, yet you show such gloating evil’ (Bolt, 2016).

In stark contrast to Marr, MacCallum and Bolt, Winfield and McGuirk’s news article ‘Cardinal admits ‘scandalous’ response to abuse allegations,’ published in the Boston Globe presents a neutral standpoint on allegations made against Pell but does lay blame upon the Catholic Church itself. This could be seen as an implied targeting of Pell as he was the figurehead of the church at the time. As the article was published shortly after the release of ground breaking film Spotlight which centres around the investigation of The Boston Globe into systemic and high-level child abuse within the Catholic Church, it is not surprising that it focuses on the negative effects child abuse has had on former victims.


Winfield and McGuirk outline their central claim through a quote from George Pell who in a testimony with the Royal Commission, admitted the Catholic Church ‘has made enormous mistakes’ (Winfield and McGuirk, 2016). Early on they explicitly evaluate the Catholic Church stating the two-dozen Australian abuse survivors who travel to The Vatican to witness Pell’s testimony was ‘a significant show of accountability in the church’s long-running abuse saga’ (Winfield and McGuirk, 2016). Apart from this comment there is little explicit evaluation seen in the article.

Instead, the utilisations of facts are again used to implicitly position the reader against the actions of the Catholic Church. Two statements exemplify this; both pertain to the harmful effects of abuse. The first speaks of the deeply Catholic city of Ballarat, which has been ‘devastated by the disclosures about the huge number of abuse victims there, scores of whom killed themselves. The second, a quote from former victim and nephew of Gerald Ridsdale, David states that Ballarat has ‘the highest suicide rate among men in Australia…and it all stems from that abuse’ (Winfield and McGuirk, 2016).

All five texts discussed provide substantial insight into the varying opinions that have developed surrounding, not only the claims of the level of child abuse cover ups within the Catholic Church but also allegations made against religious figurehead George Pell himself. Both Marr and MacCallum’s opinion piece in combination with Minchin’s polemic all took a firm opposition to George Pell on the grounds of his ethical and moral misconduct. In stark contrast Bolt’s article strongly objected to the vilification of ‘an innocent man’ (Bolt, 2016). Differently Winfield and McGuirk applied a more neutral approach outlining the facts while not shying away from the gravitas and highlighting the serious impact on individuals and the community. All texts employed an integration of emotively weighted language, explicit and implicit evaluations and characterizations, in order to not only portray their viewpoint to the reader but also convince them of its legitimacy.

Mac Harrison




– Bolt, Andrew. “Pell Is The Victim Of A Vicious Witch Hunt”. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

– “Cardinal George Pell Instructed His Lawyers To Crush This Victim — And Other Victims”. Broken Rites. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

– MacCallum, Mungo. “Pell And Damnation”. The Monthly. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

– Marr, David. “Cardinal George Pell Named As Financial Watchdog For Vatican”. The Saturday Paper. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

– McGuirk, Rod and Nicole Winfield. “Cardinal Admits ‘Scandalous’ Response To Abuse Allegations”. Boston Globe. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

– Milligan, Louise. “George Pell Investigated Over Multiple Allegations Of Sexual Abuse”. ABC News. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

– Minchin, Tim. “Come Home (Cardinal Pell) – Tim Minchin”. YouTube. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.







One thought on “Cardinal George Pell – Part of the cover up or part of the problem”

  1. you really needed to use the features of the blog by hyper-linking your references to the sources as you mention them.
    this piece of yours is now public, but readers will know that you have not bothered to provide links to sources, as is conventional in online news media.

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