Biography of Archbishop Pell launched in Melbourne: author interviewed

Biography of Archbishop Pell launched in Melbourne: author interviewed

The Melbourne launch of Brisbane 'Courier-Mail' journalist Tess Livingstone's new biography of Archbishop Pell, titled 'George Pell', took place at the Thomas More Centre. Around 250 people were present as Professor Anthony Fisher OP of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family launched the book.

'AD2000' editor Michael Gilchrist took the opportunity to interview Tess Livingstone on her book and its subject.

George Pell is available from AD Books for $22.00 (see page 19).

AD2000: How did you come to write this biography, and how did it take on the present large dimensions?

Tess Livingstone: I chose to write it because it is, primarily, a great story. The idea first occurred to me at Bob Santamaria's funeral as I listened to Archbishop Pell speak. Then, when Michael Duffy began producing a series of biographies called "Brief Lives", I suggested George Pell. Michael was rapt in the idea - only it soon became apparent that Dr Pell's life would not fit well into a "Brief Lives", with experiences like Caritas, a "few small changes" [at Corpus Christi Seminary] and Aquinas College [Ballarat] - all new to me and clearly warranting detailed chapters.

Even without the controversies of the latter part of this year this book was always going to be significant.

What were some of the more interesting things you learned about Archbishop Pell?

I knew absolutely nothing about his work in Cambodia, India, etc, for Caritas so I found that fascinating. Likewise his visits to China; I wish I could have run more on that but Catholics are still persecuted over there so what he could tell me was very limited.

Dr Pell's diaries from his Asian trips are stunningly perceptive and written with real flair. I couldn't put them down.

What do you perceive are the major challenges facing the Catholic Church in Australia today?

I think the Church has vitally important points to make on many important social issues that confront us all - the ageing population and the reluctance of younger people to have children; Australia's astounding rate of taxpayer-subsidised abortion at about 100,000 a year.

This has long ceased to be a purely moral issue - it is now a social and economic issue of the highest importance.

Then there is the general crisis of belief - the rise of Feng Shui, tarot cards, crystals, "readings" from soothsayers - the whole New Age movement.

If ever there was an age in need of coherent, intelligent faith, it is now.

The Church would do worse than to make the opening chapters of Sheehan's Apologetics on the existence of God compulsory study material for Year 12 Catholics. I do believe that for a generation or more our Catholic students have been sold very, very short in terms of understanding and knowing the faith.

How important has Archbishop Pell been in this regard?

Without a doubt, Archbishop Pell has dared to tackle these issues in a way that few, if any, of his contemporaries in the English-speaking world have done. I think his Melbourne Religion texts To Know, Worship and Love are brilliant in this regard - their excellent presentation is vital.

He also has the intellect and courage to take on the big issues of the day and address them in major speeches.

What is the reason for the very strong affinity between Archbishop Pell and John Paul II?

Both are strong leaders. The Pope obviously appreciates archbishops who are prepared to stand up for the Church and lead. George Pell does so par excellence.

How well do you think Archbishop Pell handles the pressures of the media?

In a generally hostile environment Archbishop Pell uses the media very well, e.g., his column in the Sunday Telegraph which has a circulation of 700,000 plus. He understands it is vital to getting his message out, and has kicked a few goals as well as copping flak. But that is part of the job.

Are there any other comments you would care to make - as an experienced journalist and Queensland Catholic - on Archbishop Pell?

What a pity we don't allow cloning at episcopal level! Seriously, what impresses me is how, at a time of a supposed shortage of vocations, he has encouraged so many impressive young priests and seminarians. He is putting down a solid foundation for the future.

I've never seen so many young priests in one room before as at the Melbourne book launch. Some of them were qualified lawyers before they went to the seminary and they have a great deal to give.

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