January 11, 2023
With the sudden death of Cardinal George Pell, the Church has lost the earthly company of a wise, loving, joyful, and courageous shepherd. I have lost the earthly company of a good friend and example in the Sacred College of Cardinals. Having visited at length with Cardinal Pell on the afternoon before his hospitalization for hip-replacement surgery, I have a lively sense of his ardent love of Christ and of His Bride the Church.
Cardinal Pell was a tireless and fearless defender of the truths of the faith, beginning with the fundamental precepts of the moral law regarding the inviolability of innocent and defenseless human life, the integrity of marriage and its fruit in the family, and the free exercise of religion, not because of ideological convictions but because he loved Christ and desired to serve Him faithfully as His priest. He had Saint Paul’s “divine jealousy” for the Church, working to present her “as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11, 2). Thus, I found him, on the vigil of his hospitalization, full of energy to assist so many today who suffer from the pervasive confusion and division in the Church, and, as a result, are profoundly discouraged and even feel abandoned by those ordained to be their spiritual fathers.
Cardinal Pell lived an unusually fruitful life in service of Christ and His Bride, the Church. I will not attempt to describe the richness of his life as a priest and Bishop, for fear of overlooking any important aspect of the mystery of Christ at work in him to teach, sanctify, and govern the flock entrusted to his care. Tess Livingstone’s biography, George Pell: Defender of the Faith Down Under (Ignatius Press, 2005), her article, “A life lived for the Church and its founder” in The Australian (January 11, 2023), and the Cardinal’s own three-volume Prison Journal (Ignatius Press, 2020-2021) are excellent resources for coming to know and reflect upon the mystery of the Holy Priesthood in the life of Cardinal Pell.
I offer just one reflection. Over the many years during which I have known Cardinal Pell and have enjoyed his friendship, I have admired, in particular, his Roman heart. He remained always a proud son of Australia and happily spoke about his homeland, but his heart was Roman. His heart belonged to the Heart of Christ who shepherds His Church, one throughout the world, from the See of Peter, through the ministry of His Vicar on earth, the Successor of Saint Peter, and the Bishops in communion with the Roman Pontiff. As with every other faithful Catholic from all the diverse parts of our world, George Pell’s heart, with its treasured roots in his homeland, beat with the love of Christ which embraces the whole world. Grateful to God for the life and priestly vocation of Cardinal Pell, I treasure, in particular, his Roman heart.
Let us pray for the eternal repose of Cardinal Pell’s immortal soul. May he rest in peace.
Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke