If there’s a higher purpose to Cardinal George Pell spending 405 days in jail on false charges of child sex abuse, it’s his Prison Journal, now published by Ignatius Press.
I don’t know a more inspiring and profound book by an Australian.
On every page of this journal, a first volume covering Pell’s first 20 weeks in jail, they’ll see Pell is not the cold monster the media painted.
He is instead that most mysterious and threatening thing: a devout Christian who believes in sin and judgment, wryly adding: “God will not be inclusive.”
Yet Pell is no brimstone Christian but a heavyweight boxing champion’s son who marvels over love and forgiveness.
Consider: Pell was ruined. Convicted as a paedophile.
Yet in his daily journal there is only forgiveness for his troubled accuser, who, Pell says, did not want Pell retrialled after the first jury was deadlocked.
Pell is human, though, and admits forgiveness “takes more of an effort for anyone I suspect of shaping his recollections, or worse”.
But most of the journal is not about Pell trying to clear his name. (He was exonerated this year.)
Instead, he meditates on his faith and church history to show there’s no battle today that Christianity has not helped people face in 1900 years.
Take our cancel culture. Pell quotes St Augustine: “As for men without hope, the less attentive they are to their own sins, the more they pry into those of others.”
Pell may be strong against sin, but is slow to condemn and quick to help. He urges friends to protest against the harsh punishment of Jaidyn Stephenson, the since-discarded Collingwood player who confessed to gambling on games.
He pities Princess Diana as the victim of a “marriage of convenience” — “intolerable for a young, inexperienced bride”.
He rings former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, dying of leukaemia. He advises fellow prisoners asking for help. He offers a daily prayer.
Read this, and you’ll wonder how anyone thought Pell could rape two boys.
You’ll also be inspired by his strength in surviving such humiliation, and curious about the faith that fed him.
Pell says he fears his downfall will hurt his church, but worshippers tell him that seeing him persecuted for his church made it stronger.
As Christ suffered, so, in a smaller way, has Pell. And triumphed, too.