The first volume of Prison Journal by George Cardinal Pell, former Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, aged 79, was published by the American publishing house Ignatius Press on December 15.
In this book, written during the first part of his imprisonment, from February 27 to July 13, 2019, the Australian cardinal delivers his reflections, making the link between the injustice he suffered and the functioning of a Vatican he judged with severity.
On February 27, 2019, Cardinal Pell was transferred to a prison in Melbourne, Australia, convicted by the courts of his country for the crimes of pedophile assault in 1996, which he rejected outright. In his “tiny cell,” the prelate viewed his sentence as a “prolonged retreat,” writing a diary that proved to be “good therapy” for him, but also an “historical testimony of a strange time.”
Each evening Cardinal Pell wrote in his journal about his day, two or three short pages which almost always began with his reflections on the two morning readings of the breviary, one from the Bible and the other from the Fathers of the Church, and which ended with a prayer.
The Bible and the Breviary - along with Lauds, Vespers, and the Office of Readings - were two of the six books of his choice. He was allowed to keep no more than that with him in prison. He was not allowed to celebrate the Mass, so he watched Sunday Mass on television. He received a lot of mail, even from some of his cell neighbors.
The former Archbishop of Sydney and Prefect of the Secretary of the Economy would remain in solitary confinement for 409 days for his alleged crime. Released on April 7, 2020 by the Australian High Court, which unanimously recognized the inconsistencies in the charges against him, the cardinal then returned to Rome.
“Those who may have been involved in conspiracies and who wanted to bring me down? I pray for them,” George Cardinal Pell told an online press conference on December 16, 2020. In his Journal, the cardinal admits that he cannot prove the existence of a conspiracy against him.
At the press conference, he said, however, that he could perceive the “smoke” that was emanating from the case “as in a bush fire.” Combative in the face of the hostility of his opponents, the former member of the Curia however refrains from any resentment, claiming not to want to prosecute those who wrongly sent him to prison or defamed him.
In his cell, the cardinal says he followed the progress of his trial daily. Already, he was convinced of the existence of a conspiracy, even if, for him, it was primarily spiritual: “I am caught in a fight between good and the spirit of evil,” wrote the high Australian prelate. He also admits having “slowly, even reluctantly” began to feel “a odor of evil and, in fact, the presence of the Evil One in the accusations” leveled against him.
If his questions led him first to the properly judicial context which had put him behind bars, he makes several connections in the book with the struggle he waged in Rome as Prefect of the Secretariat for Economy: “All the major players in financial reform in the Vatican have been attacked, especially in the press, and a number of these senior officials in Rome believe my Australian problems are related to it.”
During the press conference, he insisted on the difficulties of the task that Pope Francis had asked him to lead in 2014: “Fighting for the reform of the Vatican’s finances is very difficult and exhausting: paradoxically, after six months (in Australia) and despite the charges against me, I felt much better than when I was fighting in Rome.”
At the Curia, he deplores a certain lethargy: “So many of our questions have never received satisfactory answers. In Rome, George Cardinal Pell denounces a form of intellectual decline.
In particular, considering that the staff of the Curia were not well trained in economics, he set up instruction specific to Rome for priests, religious, and laity: “Personal honesty and goodwill are no excuse for incompetence, which makes corruption so much easier.”
In his Journal, the Australian cardinal does not directly mention the former deputy of the secretary of state, Msgr. Angelo Becciu, whose disgrace he seemed to hail on September 24. But he reaffirmed, during the presentation conference for his book, that he is still convinced that a sum of 700,000 euros passed from the Vatican to Australia.