The lonely Cardinal

Editorial Opinion: ‘Pell has failed the church and its victims’

This was a secular commentator, and sadly I think they’re right. Also sadly, the Cardinal has I fear lost a lot of respect in the past few days, from within and also beyond the Christian community – including from people like me, who’ve substantially respected him before. It’s the wrong response, and total silence would have been far preferable.

However I do have at least some sympathy for him. It is a tough gig indeed being at the top of any organisation, large or small, and the more so when questions of corporate liability for human suffering arise – usually with dollar signs attached. Its then that being in pastoral leadership is at its most invidious, because of massively conflicting responsibilities.

The leader is at once both corporate ‘CEO’ and responsible shepherd of souls. In our litigious age when suffering is measured in gold and silver, that places one between the rock of insurers, stakeholders and lawyers and the hard place of the innocent and helpless victims. Serving either means betraying the other.

I personally found myself in precisely that place about 20 years ago, though not on the same scale as Pell now finds himself in. Avoiding details, my church was pretty certainly morally responsible for an incident. As pastor my heart belonged to those affected. As local ‘CEO’ I was answerable to insurers, who demanded absolute avoidance of any admission of liability, on pain of uncovered losses which would have bankrupted us. The result: this pastor avoided the victims entirely, and they undoubtedly felt abandoned.

They say it’s lonely at the top; and they’re often right.

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Pensions and passions

One of my parishioners told me a true story today, arising from a recent conversation with a friend who presumably is a rare visitor to church. The friend had attended a church service recently (not ours), and was most curious about a particular ecclesiastical tradition she believed she had encountered. She was asking what “Pension Day” means in the church? This was no less a puzzle to my parishioner, despite the undeniable reality that Anglican parishes here in Melbourne are commonly over-blessed with mature members. I didn’t hear the details of how the puzzle in this case was solved. But apparently it was Ascension Day.

This reminded me of a telephone conversation about 15 years ago. It was a wedding enquiry from a couple whose ecclesiastical acquaintance was also slight. Presumably they were working from a calendar with religious feasts marked. They were most keen to be married on Passion Sunday, on the grounds that their relationship involved a not inconsiderable amount of passion. They didn’t supply details, but I think I got the general drift. Years later Dan Brown might well have paid handsomely for such an insight. However my mind was greatly exercised in a different direction … How to explain that the “passion” the church calendar had in mind was not of the pleasurable kind.

Now .. I can but wonder what the liturgically uninitiated (most people) would make of the Feast of the Circumcision. In fact … therein lies another rich memory. When I was at college one class was studying the Jerusalem Council’s deliberations about Gentiles and the church, as recorded in Acts 15. The assignment involved a role-play debate in teams, requiring some preparation of team strategy. Thanks to a PA system with outdoor speakers and a rather strong wind, shoppers down the street were treated to a public announcement: “Would the Circumcision Party please meet at 1pm in room 4.” To my knowledge there were no enquiries.

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