By Michael Britton
Volume II of Cardinal Pell’s prison diaries, in which he continues to recount his prison experience on a daily basis from Melbourne’s notorious Barwon Prison for a crime he did not commit, is arguably the harder to read of the three journals that His Eminence has penned.
It is not a turgid read by any standards, but it is embarrassing to read and recount the conspiracy of events falling upon Cardinal Pell without truly appreciating his lived experience.
It is here, between two trials, that the reader is injected into a mundane, grey prison life (in a typical Melbournian winter) that consists of routine, more routine with the occasional splash of interrupted and impersonable routine.
There are the usual problems with cold meals, delayed visits of friends and advisors by various ‘regulatory functionaries.’
One truly begins to wonder whether such peculiarities of prison life are by function, design or accident.
Given His Eminence’s juridical experience in Victoria, one may wonder whether such features are a special gift bestowed upon Cardinal Pell due to his stature and beliefs.
However, one of the most difficult features of Volume Two is that readers know the end before the start has begun – notwithstanding that we are reading the journal of one who did not know the final outcome at the time.
Many who have read the High Court of Australia’s verdict on His Eminence will recount and even personally relive this most difficult time for him.
Volume Two of Cardinal Pell’s prison diaries finds us between two trials. Namely, the second trial that condemned him to prison at Barwon (following the hung jury at the first trial that wasn’t reported until the High Court finally acquitted him) and prior to his hearing at the Appellate Court of Victoria.
Before arriving at Page 96 of Cardinal Pell’s journal, there is still a sense of anticipation and hope for the reader. “Is there still a chance for the Cardinal to be freed” is one question that I found myself asking as Cardinal Pell’s appeal edged closer.
However, to no avail. The crushing blow of Justices Maxwell and Ferguson are like a hammer that crushes any hope as the drabness and grey curtain of prison close in upon the reader once more.
Without dwelling on the writings of others who have written on His Eminence’s guilt from an emotive and politically partisan perspective, it is important to note that this is but the view of one reader. Yet His Eminence continues to solider on, stoically as ever.
So while it is true that in Volume Two of his prison diaries, Cardinal Pell finds himself between two fires, it is more pertinent that his joy is not quenched and nor is his hope of justice extinguished.
Of particular enjoyment is his mathematical reasoning on the timing and chance of guilt – an argument worthy of itself but one that would not be required in front of a bench of seven eminently qualified High Court Justices with over 160 years combined legal experience.
During his second prison journal, and despite such an inglorious outcome at Appeal, Cardinal Pell spends more time musing on his theological, political, football and personal convictions.
It is during this period that viewers will encounter a person who is not the personification of Lucifer as portrayed by certain sections of the media.
For use of a better term, he comes across as an “ordinary man”. He has a family that cares deeply for him, and he for them.
He has friends and acquaintances (both religious, lay and irreligious) from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences. He uses a breathing machine to sleep, he takes tablets for his heart.
One of the most comforting insights one will find across all of his prison journals, but particularly in his second journal, is Cardinal Pell’s deep friendships with so many Roman Catholics.
It does not take long to realise that, if the world is structured into the so-called “six degrees of separation,” then the Roman Catholic Church only has two or three degrees of separation, or less!
Most can’t imagine being in gaol, particularly in solitary confinement for most days, but despite His Eminence’s robust intellectual fortitude and standing, he finds joy in the simple aspects of life; that the basketball court is open, solo table tennis is available and that a kind word from a correspondent can transform the dreary context of prison life.
Throughout Volume Two, Cardinal Pell never shows animosity to his accusers despite what some may consider as “baiting” correspondents. He prays for them. He theorises on various aspects of Vatican finances but does not throw the first stone.
There is a wealth of growing evidence, fact and argument that Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Victoria Police and other irreputable media sources may have been complicit in his imprisonment.
Nonetheless his hope, optimism and faith in God are never completely quenched. Particularly as he awaits the outcome of his application for appeal to the High Court of Australia.