Cardinal George Pell has made the news for all the wrong reasons. If you’ve followed the news cycle on this, there are articles you may have cheered because they so closely resonated with your thinking. There are others that simply disgusted you – and let’s be frank – do these writers live on the same planet? Or perhaps this is one of the first articles you’ve read. Whoever you are, what follows are some personal reflections as I have engaged with the continuing fallout. In particular, I’ve asked myself: “What does the message of Jesus have to offer in each of these possible responses?”
I feel betrayed:
Perhaps you go to Mass every Sunday or identify as a Catholic for family reasons, but one emotional response could be that you feel let down by your leader. As social research agency McCrindle noted, this is not relevant only to religious institutions. Being let down and feeling betrayed is characteristic of our relationship with other institutions and industries, including banks, sports, aged care, superannuation, politics and more.
The Bible contains many stories of betrayal. It effectively documents the pain, turmoil and arduous journey to winning back lost trust. The Bible is, after all, a book about ordinary people. However, the Bible does have a twist. If you feel betrayed, the good news of Jesus is that Jesus knows the feeling of betrayal too. Jesus would say, I too was betrayed too and I understand your sense of loss, your sense of abandonment. This is reassuring. You are not alone. And yet, the story of Jesus doesn’t end with his betrayal. For, as we celebrate at Easter, rather than letting this betrayal by religious leaders, successors and his own followers crush him, Jesus moves beyond to offer eternal hope.
I feel defensive:
Perhaps you feel that Cardinal Pell has been hard done by, unjustly convicted and unfairly portrayed as a villain. You’ve read the pot-shots. You sense the weight of public opinion. You feel that this is a witch-hunt. He has done so much good and of course, an appeal has been lodged.
The good news of Jesus says you don’t need to be defensive because God is not blind to these events, nor is God swayed. God is a God of truth and justice. God promises to vindicate those who are righteous and those who are wicked will be punished. Indeed, not even death will be a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who are guilty or a bouncer for those who are innocent. Jesus confirms that all will be judged, the living and the dead, Pell, the media and me too.
I feel disgusted:
The human duty of care to protect those who are most vulnerable has been grossly breached and you feel it in the gut. Add the kick that Cardinal Pell was performing his role in the name of Jesus, and your blood boils. You are disgusted at religious hypocrisy.
You may be surprised but you have an ally in Jesus. Jesus’ blood boiled when he encountered religious hypocrisy. He didn’t hold back, calling it out in public, which turned quite a few heads. When he came to the heartland of religious worship - the temple - Jesus didn’t shirk away but kicked down tables, created havoc, when he encountered hypocrisy right at the centre.
And that’s one of Jesus’ strengths. He’s happy to go to the centre and expose the truth. However, he doesn’t do this for religious institutions alone, he also goes to the centre of each of us and exposes that too.
I feel ambivalent:
Perhaps the news about Cardinal Pell is not on your radar and has had little impact on you. Day-to-day life just rolls on. Kids need feeding. Mortgage needs to be paid. Boss needs pleasing. It’s big for some but there are more burning issues for you.
The good news of Jesus is that, while the news of Cardinal Pell is big, it isn’t the only news and the only picture. The good news is there is other news. A word of caution if this is you. As Stephen Covey distinguishes, we often suffer from the tyranny of the urgent (bills, mortgages, work), and fail to give necessary time and space for the important (family, purpose, meaning). The ‘important’ can be our biggest blind spot and the good news of Jesus helps us uncover that blind spot too.
Another article that may help you think through these issues further:
- Only Hope for Institutional Christianity Lies in Truth, Michael Jensen, Sydney Morning Herald, March 5, 2019
 Top 6 trends for 2019, McCrindle Blog, accessed at https://mccrindle.com.au/insights/blog/top-6-trends-for-2019/
 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, FranklinCovey, accessed at https://www.franklincovey.com/the-7-habits/habit-3.html
Written by Mark Leong, City Director - Sydney