Cardinal George Pell died yesterday. He was a former Archbishop of Sydney and of Melbourne and a senior advisor to Popes Francis, Benedict and John Paul II - the most influential Australian Catholic of his generation. Which eventually made him the most powerful figure to be convicted in the Church's child-abuse scandal - if only (see below) for a little while, but long enough for him to be incarcerated in "the Map", HM Melbourne Assessment Prison.
Sixteen years ago Mark and Cardinal Pell appeared together on radio. Well, not exactly "together": they were rather sealed off from each other. In the first part of "Counterpoint" on Australia's ABC, Michael Duffy talked to Steyn about matters musical, after which Cardinal Pell delivered his thoughts on Islam and the West - to which Mark subsequently responded. Two months before the publication of his own thoughts on the subject in America Alone, Steyn was impressed to find there was at least one other chap who grasped Christendom's deathbed demography, and understood it to be the most telling indicator of the hollowness of the secular West. Here is part of what Cardinal Pell said:
If democracy is a belief in procedures alone then the West is in deep trouble. The most telling sign that Western democracy suffers a crisis of confidence lies in the disastrous fall in fertility rates, especially in Europe.
Faith ensures a future. In 1950 Russia, which suffered one of the most extreme forms of forced secularisation under the Communists, had about 103 million people. Yemen, a Muslim country, had only 4.3 million people. By 2000 fertility was in radical decline in Russia, but because of past momentum the population stood at 145 million. Yemen had maintained a fertility rate of 7.6 over the previous 50 years and now had 18.3 million people. United Nations forecasts suggest that even with fertility rates increasing by 50 per cent in Russia over the next fifty years, its population will be about 104 million in 2050 - a loss of 40 million people. It will also be an elderly population.
But even if Yemen's fertility rate falls 50 per cent to 3.35, by 2050 it will be about the same size as Russia - 102 million - and overwhelmingly young.
Cardinal Pell should have been a powerful voice on the above subject. However, within a few years, he was in the crosshairs of Australia's ever more politicised "justice" system - which, in Victoria at least, has decayed into the crudely Leninist "who"/"whom" of the American courts. Here is what Mark wrote four years ago:
Melbourne: Cardinal George Pell, a Vatican bigshot to Popes Francis, Benedict and John Paul II, this week became the highest-ranking priest to be brought down by paedophile charges. I don't doubt there is a rottenness in much of the contemporary Catholic Church, and that evil clerics prey on children and leave them ruined. But, as in Ottawa, this case is of interest to me mainly because of what it says about the integrity of justice and its own vulnerability to politicization.
Pell was convicted in a retrial on the word of one unidentified witness, who says that in the mid-Nineties, as a thirteen-year-old-boy, he was sexually assaulted by the Cardinal after Mass in the sacristy of Melbourne Cathedral, with the door open and congregants passing by. Or at any rate that's what he said in the first trial. In the second, only a video of his testimony in the first trial was used. My old Telegraph boss Charles Moore comments:
Expert witnesses explained in court that Cardinal Pell, fully robed after the Mass, simply could not have performed the alleged acts because, as one report put it, it is 'impossible to produce an erect penis through a seamless alb'. I wouldn't know. But I do wonder how safe Pell's conviction will prove in a case so strangely conducted and so astonishingly politicised.
He is right on that last point. And so one of Pell's few defenders is described even by his own employer as "divisive columnist Andrew Bolt". Back when Pell was supposedly getting erections in his seamless alb, columnists were meant to be divisive - to stir things up, set people against each other with principled and iconoclastic stands. Now we are all supposed to get on board with the official narrative - or else.
As the Melbourne jurists eventually did. Their conviction was eventually overturned by the High Court of Australia, but by then the damage was done, and the Cardinal was a ruined man. Here is what Steyn had to say on Cardinal Pell and various related topics in Mark's Mailbox three years ago:
Rest in peace, George Pell.