Following Pope John Paul II's announcement on 26 March that Dr George Pell was to become the eighth Archbishop of Sydney, a magnificent ceremonial liturgy on the evening of 10 May saw him formally installed as the new Archbishop in St Mary's Cathedral.
A procession of hundreds of priests was followed by most of Australia's bishops - then in Sydney to attend their conference. Outside the Cathedral representative groups of Catholics welcomed Dr Pell's arrival with songs, dances and applause - interrupted briefly by a small collection of demonstrating feminists, anarchists and gays. The Archbishop, obviously unperturbed, offered all - "without exception" - his good wishes before entering the Cathedral.
Dr Pell's appointment was a recognition of Sydney's importance as the country's senior archdiocese, since only the strongest available bishop was considered suitable for the position. The appointment should also serve to unify Australia's two largest archdioceses and put an end to any remnants of their traditional rivalry.
The Holy Father's letter of appointment was read out by the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, Archbishop Canalini. It indicated an appreciation of the new Archbishop's leadership qualities on the basis of his time in Melbourne and confidence in his cap- abilities of promoting the Faith in Sydney.
As was the case five years earlier at the Melbourne Exhibition Building (St Patrick's Cathedral then being renovated) the best examples of the Church's beautiful sacred music were presented (all personally selected or approved by the Archbishop) throughout the two-and-a-half hour ceremony and Mass.
The otherwise hostile journalist, David Marr, was moved to remark in The Sydney Morning Herald (11 May): "There is no sound on Earth like a packed Gothic cathedral singing at full throttle."
During his homily, the Archbishop set out his priorities for the archdiocese. On the evidence of the past five years in Melbourne, his words would be a prelude to effective actions.
Using the analogy of Australia's sometimes unreliable supply of water, Dr Pell said the Church's task was "to ensure that these spiritual waters continue to run strong and deep; that the source is not blocked; that the flow does not fall away to a trickle ...".
The Church, he said, had a sacred duty to hand on the "torch of Faith", the "sustaining conviction of the centrality of Jesus Christ to all people young and old ... The good God and his only Son must not be shunted from centre stage by any human good or activity; not by life issues, or family or social justice work or inter-religious dialogue."
Perhaps the most significant point made during the homily - in the light of recent attempts to cope with the shortfall in clergy numbers - was Dr Pell's emphasis on the need for more priests: "The one constant in all Catholic history is the need for priests, for vocations to the ministerial priesthood. Our Lord himself appointed the twelve, called forth the shepherds, the fishers of men. St Paul underlined the importance of ambassadors for Christ. Without priests our parishes will wither and die.
"A priestless parish is a contradiction in terms, because there is no parish without the sacraments, without Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation. We should pray that in the years ahead a sufficient number of young men will be on a wavelength that enables them to hear Christ's call to the priesthood, to join those gallant priests expending themselves in faithful service and prayer in the Archdiocese and elsewhere."
Considering the media's obsessive focus on the Archbishop's allegedly "hardline" approach towards homosexuality - highlighted by the subsequent prominence given to the 'gay' demonstration prior to the installation ceremony - Dr Pell's choice of the Gospel of St John's account of Our Lord's treatment of the woman caught in adultery was pointed. For it underlined both the Church's compassion for sinners, but also the need to "sin no more."
The Archbishop explained: "Christian teaching on sexuality is only one part of the Ten Commandments, of the virtues and vices, but it is essential for human well-being and especially for the proper flourishing of marriages and families, for the continuity of the human race.
"In contrast with these scriptural perspectives, one or two local writers seem to suggest that sin is a recent Sydney invention; 'Sin City' or 'Tinsel Town' has a contemporary local resonance. However, human weakness also flourishes in other parts of Australia and the beautiful passage from St John's Gospel reminds us that human perfidy is as old as the Garden of Eden. To a greater or lesser extent we all bear the mark of Cain; we all need a Redeemer, and Christian compassion encompasses every group of persons, especially those trapped in prisons not of their choosing.
"Any genuine religion has two important moral tasks; firstly, to present norms and ideals, goals for our striving; and secondly, to offer aids for our weakness, forgiveness and healing for every wrong-doer and sinner who repents and seeks forgiveness."
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald prior to the installation Mass, Archbishop Pell also indicated his educational priorities: "I will be doing what I can to strengthen the religious education programs and strengthen the faith communities in [Catholic] schools." In addition, he said he would be looking "as well" at "Catholic tertiary education."
Concluding its report of Dr Pell's installation, The Daily Telegraph summed up what could be in store for Sydney: "The willingness with which he once chased the ball in both codes now has been replaced by a stolid refusal to back away from arguments. He is a champion of Catholic orthodoxy and admires the politically motivated and often intrusive Melbourne Archbishop, Daniel Mannix, and could prove equally controversial."
A video of the installation ceremony and Mass was made by Sydney Catholic Communications and will be available for $36.00. Inquiries to AD2000 +61 (03) 9326 5757, or email us.