Cardinal's Prison Diary Explores Suffering, Solitary Lockup
By Nicole Winfield
November 30, 2020
|FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Cardinal George Pell prepares to make a statement, at the Vatican. Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted and then acquitted of sexual abuse in his native Australia, reflects on the nature ... more >|
ROME (AP) - Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted and then acquitted of sexual abuse in his native Australia, reflects on the nature of suffering, Pope Francis’ papacy and the humiliations of solitary confinement in his jailhouse memoir, according to an advance copy obtained by The Associated Press.
“Prison Journal,” which recounts the first five months of Pell’s 404 days in solitary lockup, also provides a play-by-play of Pell’s legal case and gives personal insights into one of the most divisive figures in the Catholic hierarchy today. To his supporters and even some detractors, Pell is a victim of a terrific perversion of justice; to his critics, he is the symbol of everything that has gone wrong with the Catholic Church’s wretched response to clergy sexual abuse.
Due out Dec. 15, the book likely won’t budge anyone from either camp, but it is a fascinating read nonetheless. It is at times a spiritual meditation, a defiant assertion of innocence and a morbidly voyeuristic view into the daily grind of prison life - all of it narrated by a man who for a time was one of the most powerful Catholic cardinals in the world.
“Prison Journal: The Cardinal Makes His Appeal” is the first volume of a set being published by Ignatius Press, the U.S.-based Catholic publisher, which has made no secret that it hopes sales will help Pell pay his sizeable legal bills.
Pell left his job as the Vatican treasurer in 2017 to face charges in Australia that he sexually molested two 13-year-old choir boys in the sacristy of the Melbourne cathedral in 1996. After a first jury deadlocked, a second unanimously convicted him and he was sentenced to six years in prison. The conviction was upheld on appeal only to be thrown out by Australia’s High Court, which in April found there was reasonable doubt in the testimony of his lone accuser.
Pell’s trial took place against the backdrop of Australia’s reckoning with decades of child sexual abuse brought to light by the years-long Royal Commission inquiry into institutional abuse, which found that 7% of Australia’s Catholic priests raped and molested children. For many of his supporters, Pell was convicted as a scapegoat for all the church’s sins.
Pell, though, had been dogged for years by allegations that he mishandled cases of abusive clergy when he was archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney. Specifically, he was accused of creating a victims’ compensation program in Melbourne mainly to protect the church’s assets and of using aggressive tactics to discourage victims’ lawsuits.