Image Description: an image of Cardinal Pell giving a speech.
CW: Sexual abuse in the Church
A demonstration is planned outside three events that the Newman Society, Oxford’s Catholic society, are hosting on Saturday, to protest the invitation of the controversial Cardinal Pell.
The Cardinal has been invited to a Pontifical High Mass tomorrow morning. He will then give the 2021 St Thomas More Lecture which will be held at Examination Schools, which will be followed by a five course dinner at the University Chaplaincy. Tickets for the lecture and dinner have sold out.
The organiser of the protest states that they are a practicing Catholic, who lived in the Chaplaincy for two years while completing their DPhil. In the event description on Facebook, they say that they are “stunned and appalled” that the society has invited the Cardinal, which they say is “shockingly entitled “The Suffering of the Church in a Post-Christian Society””.
The protest will begin at noon at the Holy Rood Church, with a silent candle-lit protest to respect the sacrament during the Mass. The protest will continue at 4 outside Examinations Schools, and outside the Chaplaincy for the beginning for the black tie dinner. The Chaplaincy is allowing protestors to use the bathrooms at Campion Hall, and will host the protestors for tea and talk once the dinner is underway.
When asked for comment, the organiser said:
“The Cardinal is not just giving a talk, but a five-course, black tie dinner is being held in his honour. This isn’t a matter of freedom of speech or an opportunity for education or debate. Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that “Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy, but he also considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.” As such, the invitation extended to him was unnecessary, deliberately provocative, and totally insensitive to the anguish of some of those whom the Catholic Church has most harmed.”
“As I said in the open letter I sent to the Chaplaincy, that this talk should furthermore be entitled ‘The Suffering Church in a Post-Christian World’ is provocatively callous. Foremost in the Church’s mind should be the suffering that has been inflicted as the result of its actions, not its own suffering when these sins are brought to light through the courage of survivors. Cardinal Pell has not only been found to have enabled this suffering, but he has personally added to it in the form of numerous documented incidents of cruelty to victims and minimisation of the scale and impact of institutionalised sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.”
“I’m a practicing Catholic who lived in the Chaplaincy for two years while I was finishing my doctorate in Theology, and I believe that our priority must always be to stand in solidarity with victims of sexual predators.”
The Newman Society have argued that Cardinal Pell, who inaugurated the St Thomas More lecture in 2009, should not be removed from society after his exoneration by the Australian High Court, and pointed to his reception by the Pope in October 2020 as a sign that the Cardinal remains in good standing within the Catholic Church. The society’s statement also states that the title of the lecture allows for discussion about the suffering of the church institutionally and on a personal level, without negating the experiences of the victims of sexual abuse.
“The Newman Society’s St Thomas More Lecture is an annual event, which was inaugurated by Cardinal Pell when he was Archbishop of Sydney in 2009. His Eminence is an alumnus of the University, having graduated with a DPhil in 1971, and is a Patron of the Society.”
“The Newman Society and our members deplore the scourge of sexual abuse which has afflicted Holy Church in recent decades. Our Holy Father has repeatedly expressed his own sadness at the way some clerics have used their office to perpetrate this great evil against the little ones whom Our Lord loves so much. As important as recognising past failings and ensuring that they cannot happen again, however, is the recognition of the centrality of justice to our society. This virtue works two ways, ensuring punishment for the wicked, but also sparing the innocent. Cardinal Pell’s convictions were unanimously quashed by the High Court of Australia, and it would be wrong to exclude him from society on the basis of accusations which the Australian judicial system has shown to be false. As for those allegations which have not been subject to trial in the judicial system, the Society is unable to make its own judgement on these, but is instead guided by Holy Church. In particular, the reception of Cardinal Pell by the Holy Father in October 2020 is a sign for us of the good standing of the Cardinal within the Church. The conversations surrounding this lecture remind all of us of the need of the Church to ensure all, clergy and laity alike, safeguard the
most vulnerable. The Society shares the pain of those protesting, who seek to ensure the horrors of the past years are never repeated and that justice, insofar as it is achievable, is sought for all victims of abuse. It is on the basis that Cardinal Pell has been exonerated, and received in good standing by members of the Hierarchy, that the Society is confident in its position to mirror those shepherds of the Church by welcoming the Cardinal and inviting him to give the St Thomas More Lecture.”
“As Pope Francis and many other prelates have reminded us in the run-up to the Synod on Synodality, the Church is so much more than an earthly institution: she is the earthly Body of Christ. In the post-Christian society seen in this country and throughout the West, we find that many of the individuals who make up that sacred Body are indeed suffering for their faith. Cardinal Pell’s experiences are a particularly stark example, but ordinary Christians suffer in less obvious and less visible ways. Furthermore, the Church as an institution suffers as society becomes more and more opposed to her teachings. Thus, the title ‘The Suffering Church in a post-Christian Society’ allows for the discussion of the very real suffering experienced by the Church institutionally and on a more personal level, without in any way negating the suffering experienced by victims of abuse in the Church.”
The Chaplaincy commented on the matter, stating that although it was clear that the title of the talk might bring up some issues facing Catholics today, they hoped that the presence of the Cardinal would not obscure the scandal of child abuse within the Catholic Church.
“The Chaplains of the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy are committed to offer support to those in Catholic community here in the University who have been affected in any way by child abuse in the Church. It is likely that Cardinal Pell, in delivering this year’s annual Thomas More Lecture, ‘The suffering Church in a post-Christian society’ will draw attention to some of the issues faced by Catholics in western societies. It is the hope of the Chaplains, as we believe it is of the community of Catholic University members, that his speech, and his presence here in Oxford, will do nothing to obscure the scandal of child abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy and others, but will rather heighten our awareness of the continuing need to safeguard children and the vulnerable, and to support those who have suffered the terrible pain of abuse.”
Image Credit: Catholic Church England and Wales via Flickr