The Late Pell Advocated that the Synod Must Make Jesus Central Discussion Point
Cardinal George Pell called on synod participants to focus on Jesus, not politics, before his death in January 2023, and now, two weeks into the Synod on Synodality, the editor of his most recent essays said Pell could be the “silent father” of the synod.
The new book, edited by Fr. Robert Sirico, is a timely critique of the synod by the late Cardinal Pell, expressing his opposition to Pope Francis’ ongoing Synod on Synodality. When discussing Pell’s life and the book with CatholicVote, Sirico said that even months after his death, Pell remains a key player at the synod.
If you read what Pell said, he expressed concern about the repercussions of the Synod; he foresaw the confusion that would be happening. I compare him to John Henry Newman. Newman was referred to as the silent father of the Second Vatican Council because he was a reference point for the fathers of Vatican II. I think that Pell can be the silent father of the Synod.
Synod on Christ
Sirico said that Pell expressed in both writing and to Sirico personally that he believes the synod is forgetting to address the most important topic: Jesus Christ.
“A lot of what the synod is distracted by is the hot button issues: blessing homosexual unions, women’s ordination, or communion for the divocced. These things are all very important to remember on the level of theology,” said Sirico. “What Pell points out, though, is the lack of reference to Jesus Christ and the role of the Church in the nature and transmission of divine revelation.”
In an essay published the day he died by The Spectator, Pell criticized the synod for not focusing on—let alone mentioning—evangelization.
“The (synod) document does not urge even the Catholic participants to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16–20), much less to preach the Savior in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2),” wrote Pell.
Life of Service
Pell passed away on January 10, 2023, from cardiac arrest after a successful hip surgery in Rome. He served as the Archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney and later as the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See.
Pell is remembered as one of the great conservative giants of the modern Church era.
“Several Cardinals have mentioned to me comments like, ‘Oh, I wish Pell were alive now because we would have a lot to say’ or things like ‘he was so courageous and bold’,” said Sirico. “He was unquestionably faithful to the Holy Father. The Holy Father appointed him to the second highest position in the church during that period of time in the economic secretariat. So they say that his presence now would have been very crucial, and that’s why I thought it was important to bring forth this book.”
After serving over 400 days in prison, an Australian high court unanimously overturned his conviction due to a lack of evidence after he was convicted in 2018 of allegedly molesting two teenage boys in 1998.
“If you read his prison journals, you see that he is gentle with his accuser and there’s no trace of bitterness. It was a period of prayer that whole year he was in prison,” said Sirico. “It increased his status among people and his credibility among the College of Cardinals.”
The book, titled Pell Contra Mundum, was released on September 16, 2023. Siricio includes three essays written by Pell, three essays commenting on Pell’s life, including one by renowned Catholic commentator George Weigel, and a personal reflection on the life and contributions of Pell by Sirico. Prior to the book’s September 16 publication, Sirico sent the book to every Cardinal prior to the synod.
“This book was designed precisely to raise the profile of Cardinal Pell in the Synod so that participants can consider these points that Pell brings out in that article,” said Sirico.
Pell heavily critiqued the Synod on Synodality, calling it a “toxic nightmare” that is a manifestation of the “New Age good will,” which is “hostile” to apostolic tradition.
In the essay, entitled “The Catholic Church must free itself from this nightmare,” Pell sharply criticizes the “synodal way.”
So far, the synodal way has neglected, indeed downgraded, the Transcendent, covered up the centrality of Christ with appeals to the Holy Spirit, and encouraged resentment, especially among participants.
Hollerich warned that tensions would rise during the synod discussions this week, while synod retreat leader Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., said in a synod opening reflection that “the Holy See is founded on this passionate, angry, but real encounter” of direct disagreement.
Pell argued that the synod must clarify the Church’s teaching, a concern also shared by five cardinals who submitted dubia to Pope Francis before the synod began.
Pell argued that the synodal conclusions do not reflect the majority of Catholic laity.
“By an enormous margin, regularly worshipping Catholics everywhere do not endorse the present synod findings. Neither is there much enthusiasm at senior church levels. Continued meetings of this sort deepen divisions, and a knowing few can exploit the muddle and good will.”
Pell criticized the synod for “deepening confusion” through its “neo-Marxist jargon about exclusion, alienation, identity, marginalization, the voiceless, LGBTQ, and displacement of the Christian notion of forgiveness, sin, sacrifice, healing, and redemption.”
In his editor’s note, Sirico noted the relevance of the book as the synod begins in Rome. He noted that it is important for Pell to remain a player in the Church even after his death.
This book, then, is an effort to ensure that the thoughts, and especially the concerns and warnings, of a man who spent the entirety of his life in faithful service to a precious legacy entrusted by Christ to his chosen disciples, bequeathed to his Church for the ages, and personally suffered for that legacy, remain a part of ongoing debates and discussions.
George Weigel said Pell “lived the good shepherd’s life” as he stood fast against opponents of the faith.
“He inspired a generation of younger Australian priests and bishops to be the good shepherds they were ordained to be, armoring their flocks against the toxicity of the post-modern deconstruction of the human and challenging all the baptized to be agents of building a culture of life through the power of the Gospel,” wrote Weigel.
Pell forsaw the confusion that the synod has led to, yet Sirico hopes that participants will heed Pell’s warning and center the conversation not on politics but on Christ.
“What Pell was frustrated with was the reluctance on the part of the organizers of the synod to engage the real issues,” said Sirico. “There’s no debate; there’s no real honest exchange of ideas. Pell didn’t have the Instrumentum Laboris because that was published after his death. But he saw what the synod was, and he thought that it was deeply confused and could allow anything.”
Kate Cavanaugh contributed to this piece