Chris Geraghty. The Pell Factor

Sydney is vacant again, and many of the faithful are breathing a huge sigh of relief, though at the back of our minds lurks a suspicion mixed with fear that we will be saddled, for a long time to come, with a little repellent clone of the great man.

George is off to Rome – where he belongs. It’s a move long overdue. Some years ago, perhaps in anticipation of this journey, he built a home for himself close to the Vatican – a suite of rooms in Casa Australiana just waiting for him to appear with his baggage. Rumors have abounded for some years of his imminent appointment to some job or other over there. Now as head of the Vatican Finance Department, a supranational Hockey Joe, he can do little harm, and maybe he can do some good for humanity, for the Church.

But this is not the change the Vatican needed and the faithful have been crying out for.  This is only a medium force shake up. A mere rumble. The world has been waiting for, the faithful have been praying for the sound of the heavy, tectonic plates grinding and shifting under the chair of Peter. Hopefully there is more, much more, to come.

George is too old, too clerical and the wrong sex. The Pope does not need a Cardinal of advanced years or even an ordained priest to do the work involved. Someone younger, someone more experienced, more worldly, with a proven record of transparency and openness – ideally, a woman from the world of banking and finance – to bring the Vatican financial crisis out of the shadows into the modern world. This is an opportunity missed. Jobs for the boys – for the old boys. More of the same and we had been hoping for a sign to give us hope, to bring a smile to our face and put a spring in our step. A smile – yes – but for a completely different reason.

But it could have been worse. At least George has the necessary personality, if not all the credentials to do the job. He’s proved himself to be reasonably good administrator. Not so good a pastor or a leader of men. Not a man with a natural ability to choose the right man for a job. Sydney and Australia have suffered from his choices to fill episcopal positions. Some of the shoulders he has placed his hand upon have belonged to company men with limited capacities. And the most senior prelate in Australia, together with the team he has captained, has proven himself unable to provide strong moral leadership and guidance to the nation. They have all remained inexplicably mute, and in the face of constant provocation. They have not contributed in any significantly way to a national debate on critical moral issues such as the cruel and inhuman treatment of refugees by both major political parties, the tragedy of the dispossession of Aboriginals, the neglect of the growing psychiatric illness in general and particularly among Australia’s young (a national scandal), the secrecy in government, the bad behaviour of politicians in the Parliament itself, bullying in schools and in the workplace, even among politicians, the drinking and drug culture, a policy of preference for the poor and underprivileged, working poor, the obscene expansion of the rich class land an uneven distribution of wealth, the crass and unprincipled materialism of many government policies, a search for happiness, the inadequacy of our overseas relief  contributions – the list is long.

While in Sydney, the Cardinal was energetic in defending dogmatic utterances of the Church, the authority of Rome and the integrity of a monolithic Church, condemning abortion and homosexuality, but he did not prove to be an effective, attractive religious or moral leader.  Too churchy. Too reactionary. Too authoritarian. An eminent friend of the establishment. Too close to money and to power.

But most people would agree that George can get things done. He’s determined. He’s decisive. No shilly-shallying. Somewhat heavy-handed. And by reputation, he can bully with the best. Maybe he will be able to uncover corruption in the ranks and execute some clerical thugs. I don’t expect, on Rome’s past record, that these men (I presume they are all men, like they are in New South Wales) will be given a fair hearing in open court with their name spread about on the front pages of Osservatore Romano.

Perhaps he could have done much damage in other portfolios – choosing bishops for the world, conducting show-trials of dissident theologians, putting American nuns on the rack – but in this portfolio, so far away from the message and spirit of Jesus, George might shine. Let us hope so.

And now, closer to home – with the See of Sydney vacant. The last time, the position was filled in the dead of night, without consultation. A fait accompli. The faithful of the Sydney archdiocese woke up in the morning and found that God had given them George. They were not happy and some of them have not forgotten. Now that is history and we have to get over it. Nevertheless, Rome did treat us badly, without respect, high-handedly.

Now let the new process begin. We know what Pope Francis is looking for in a bishop – someone close to the people. A pastor who has the whiff of sheep on hardened hands, sheep droppings between his toes, the oily feel of wool embedded in his clothes. Someone who hears the bleating and knows his sheep by name, who will spend the night in the cold mountains in search of the lost one. Happy. Humorous. Intelligent. Outgoing and outspoken. A true believer, deeply spiritual. With an interest in the world, in literature, poetry, drama or music – it doesn’t matter, but someone who is not enclosed in a clerical club, looking for the first place at the tables of the rich. These men are not easy to find. You have to look far and wide. But the people of Sydney can help Pope Francis find the right man. The gene pool is ridiculously limited, to men, to old men, to clerical men. But some have escaped the mould and grown against the grain, into real people who can lead us out of the desert, refresh us, create a world of the Spirit and make us proud again to be recognized as Catholics. I am sure many Catholics, men and women, young and old, stand ready to lend a hand.

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Dr Chris Geraghty is a former priest of the archdiocese of Sydney, a retired judge of the District Court of NSW, and the author of a recent publication, Virgins and Jezebels – the Origins of Christian Misogyny.

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