Catholics Fear Shift Back to Dark Age

By Greg Ansley
New Zealand Herald [Australia]
September 30, 2003

CANBERRA - Australia's guardian of traditional Catholic values, Sydney Archbishop Dr George Pell, has been named as one of 31 new Cardinals in a decision that has re-opened wounds in the Church.

The elevation was long expected: every Archbishop of Sydney since 1946 has become a Cardinal and Pell moved from Melbourne in 2001 in the belief that he would follow his predecessors.

"I was in many ways reluctant to leave Melbourne, but I did realise the consequences of coming to Sydney," he told ABC radio yesterday. "I couldn't say it was a big surprise."

But the announcement by the ailing Pope John Paul II, which will for a short time give Australia's five million Catholics three senior representatives in Rome, has been met with dismay by critics who believe Pell represents a shift back to a darker, more conservative church.

All but a handful of the Pope's appointments were "cardinal electors" - under 80 years old and therefore eligible to enter the conclave to elect a successor from among themselves after the Pontiff's death.

He has now appointed 96 per cent of cardinal electors and the new names further increase the chances the next Pope will also be a theological conservative who will not tamper with rulings such as bans on contraception and women priests.

Pell moved to Sydney with a reputation as a conservative hardliner, and followed earlier complaints from Sydney Catholics of a crisis of faith that led to a Vatican instruction to tighten doctrinal and moral teachings in Australia's biggest city.

Although announcing on his arrival that he would not be conducting a holy war against those who disagreed with core teachings, Pell made it clear that Catholic institutions would hold a firm line on such issues as homosexuality, drugs, contraception and the ordination of women priests.

Importantly for Sydney at the time of his move from Melbourne, Pell was a key figure in the Church's refusal to allow the Sisters of Charity to open a safe injecting room in Kings Cross, a trial that under different management is now considered to be a success.

Pell was later to suffer personal agonies when he was forced to step aside last year to allow an investigation of allegations - later proved false - that he had as a young priest in the 1960s sexually assaulted a 12-year-old boy. Until they were disproved Pell's eventual appointment as a Cardinal was at risk, but he said yesterday that when he was exonerated the doubts had been dispelled.

He also said the Church needed to face up to the truth of sexual abuse within its ranks, however unpleasant that might be.

But his elevation to Cardinal was attacked by the Catholic gay and lesbian Rainbow Sash Movement, and by the Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra, Pat Power, a leading progressive within the Church.

Power questioned Pell's attitudes on core values such as human dignity, the primacy of conscience, the theology of communion and the need for dialogue in the Church.

The appointees

* Only six of the new cardinals are Italian, increasing the possibility that the next Pope will be from outside Italy.

* Under normal circumstances, only 120 "cardinal electors" can enter a conclave. They lose that right when they turn 80. But the Pope went over the 120 limit.

* One cardinal was secret. Popes do this when identifying him may compromise his position. The number of cardinal electors rises to either 135 or 136, depending on his age and on his ability to vote.

* Of the cardinal electors, five are in their 50s, 13 are in their 60s and eight are in their 70s. The total number of cardinals rises to 195.


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