The Pell Diaries: Volume I – In the Name of the Father

29 Sep 2022

By Contributor

By Michael Britton

Cardinal Pell with his book
Australian Cardinal George Pell holds a copy of his book, “Prison Journal,” during an interview with Catholic News Service at his residence in Rome in 2020. Photo: CNS/Robert Duncan.

There exists plenty of riveting and insightful books one can choose to peruse when coming to terms with the “bad hand” that Our Eminence, George Pell AC was dealt in the Victorian courts and in the views of Victorians and some Australians more generally.

His three-part Prison Diaries are a must-read for every single Roman Catholic.

His travails in being stripped searched and naked, his suffering in a tiny prison cell and his almost enduring eternal optimism are a source of faith for all Catholics across the world.

His message in Volume I of his Prison Diaries state that: “No matter what you are going through, the Father has allowed it, for one reason or another.”

There are other books worth reading such as Keith Windschuttle’s book on The Persecution of George Pell which is a forensic, Erasmus-like read from the sidelines of the trial.

However, upon reading of his kind friendships he grew with wardens, prison staff and other prisoners (from between the walls) one can’t help but feel heartened by this sad but important experience.

Australian Cardinal George Pell is depicted in this courtroom sketch during his June 5, 2019, appearance at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne. Photo: CNS illustration/Jeff Hayes, handout via Reuters.

It does still bring tears to one’s eyes to read of the Cardinal’s prison clothes that didn’t fit him, a bed too small, cold meals served late, less than one hour per day outside his cell as well as demeaning “butt” searches.

These diaries demonstrate he obliged, always. Although, as with any human being, not always enthusiastically.

Other notable works have also prevailed as best sellers, one includes Gerard Henderson AC book Cardinal Pell, the Media Pile-On and Collective Guilt as well as Jesuit Father Frank Brennan’s book Observations on the Pell Proceedings. Both essential reading.

It would be improper not to note other books written on Pell by his protagonists for fear of being called biased.

However, every single of these simply lack much academic merit in reading as they were written well in first-person (that feeling of the journalist rather than any evidence), are highly superficial, emotive and were written well in advance of many of the trials that Our Eminence faced.

These works came to presupposed conclusions long before any real legal proceedings commenced or even concluded.

For these works, if Pell floated, he was guilty, if he sank, he was innocent. You might consider this ironic if you believed the Church once did this.

Many of us have read each of these books in depth and have to remark that the works of Henderson, Windschuttle and Brennan are both outstanding and remarkable.

Let us not especially forget that Fr Brennan and Our Eminence have had plenty of public “stouches” over a range of theological, contentious and contemporary issues; which makes Fr Brennan’s work on following, reporting and support of Pell’s case quite remarkable.

Not entirely, but somewhat.

The Cardinal kept a Prison Diary for every single of one of his 406 days in goal.

And while the works of others are remarkable, his prison diaries offer an insight not often seen into the life of a Cardinal, let alone one unjustly condemned to prison by questionable and likely collaborative forces.

Whether deliberately, by providence, enlightenment, divine intervention or even in deliberately, the Cardinal has written three Prison Diaries.

“Funnily” enough, each of his diaries accord with the three main section of the Apostles Creed: The Father (Volume I), the Son (Volume II) and the Holy Spirit (Volume III).

The Father who allows such travails to sometimes test us and to reaffirm and strengthen our faith.

His Son, who suffered a gross conspiracy in the darkness of the night where suffering, anxiousness and anticipation are difficult.

As well as the Holy Spirt (Volume III) who speaks truth to those who hear it.

It would be far too easy, as many have done, to review his Volume I: Prison Diary: “The Cardinal Makes His Appeal” as Thomas More-esque, although in a romantic way it is nice to think of it as such.

His Eminence is also far too polite to equate his sufferings to those of St Thomas More of or Dreyfus and many others accused of crimes they did not commit.

Instead, Volume I opens with a real jeremiad.

Pope Francis poses for a photo with Australian Cardinal George Pell, former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, during an audience at the Vatican, 12 October 2020. Photo: CNS/Vatican Media.

His Eminence recalls how our Father put Job to the test, along with many others.

Tested his family, his house, his own flesh and reflects on what this means for him in Melbourne’s Barwick Prison (a home for the worst terrorists and murders known in Australia).

His Eminence, in Volume I, finds himself reading the Office of Readings – all of which speak of Job and his sufferings.

And His Eminence finds much solstice in this.

This is where Our Father allows one man to be tested with the crucible and Pell’s solitude for 23 hours a day as an innocent man is a reflection of this.

Certainly, the story of Job is an allegorical one but what a reality it has been as explained in Pell’s journals. It truly is a must-read.

That His Eminence prays for his persecutors is amazing in itself.

George Cardinal Pell, Prison Journal, Volume 1. The Cardinal Makes His Appeal is available online at