The persecution of a cardinal, 21st-century version

Angelus News

August 29, 2019

By Msgr. Richard Antall

The great author G.K. Chesterton was once challenged about his skepticism of the judicial system in Great Britain. He replied that Christians often have doubts about official justice because they remember “the unfortunate experience” of their founder with the same.

That skepticism is my response to the latest of Cardinal George Pell’s various legal setbacks in Australia. Although a Vatican statement said something about not disrespecting Australia’s system of justice, I feel no such constraint. What I see is a case of scapegoating and persecution that is not ideological — which is what makes it more frightening.

If someone persecutes the Church saying bluntly that it is because religion is nonsense or that Christ really could not have been both God and man, there would, at least, be a clarity of ideas. The Church is accustomed to such persecution. But if, instead, the persecution pretends to be neutral about religious belief and then makes up incredible charges against a cleric whose position makes him a stand-in for the Church and religion, it is more vicious and insidious.

We have seen such things before, especially in the 20th century. The big change is that it was not the secular, Westernized, capitalist state that was doing the punishing, but the Communist regimes of various totalitarian states. The Hungarian Communists went after Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty not because he was a believer, they said, but because he was a fascist and a monarchist and the biggest landowner in Hungary who had participated in a conspiracy against the People’s Republic. He was physically tortured until he signed a false confession and spent years in prison, sequestered in an embassy and then in exile.

Cardinal Josef Slipyj, a Ukrainian Catholic archbishop, was accused of being a Nazi collaborator, and was imprisoned for 18 years and then sent into exile. Another cardinal, Blessed Aloysius Stepinac of Croatia, was tried, convicted of treason, and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Later he was restricted to house arrest.

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