Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Prince: Faith, abuse and George Pell: Quarterly Essay 51, by David Marr

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

The latest Quarterly Essay by David Marr is a powerful investigation into the character of George Pell and his handling of the church's sex abuse scandals.

This is the fourth quarterly essay by David Marr. The other three were on politicians: Howard, Rudd and Abbott. Marr now turns his attention to a subject that has obsessed him for years: the Catholic Church, its power and one of its most eminent princes, George Pell.

This essay is perhaps the best one I’ve read in the whole series, and I’ve read a lot of them. Marr shows his peerless skill as an investigator and close reader of the all the documentary material. In this essay he holds back on the personal opinion and lets the facts speak for themselves. Where Marr does interpolate commentary and opinion, it is well justified. The writing is tight and not a word is wasted. Marr takes his subject with utmost seriousness and leaves his own anger and antipathy to the Catholic Church just outside the essay, at the periphery. The rage bubbles underneath, but doesn’t in any way impinge on the quality of the text.

The essay is, in essence, two things. It’s a history of sex abuse in the Australian Catholic Church and its appalling handling church authorities. It’s also a biography of George Pell, his career in the church and his role in how paedophilia within the church has been handled. The picture that emerges is of a church hierarchy that simply brushed its paedophile priests under the carpet and thought they could wash their hands of any of the victims’ grievances. Pell, for his part, was no better and perhaps no worse than the church that overlooked or swept away such horrors. There is also abundant testimony that Pell took a particularly callous attitude to victims, which is the most disturbing part of his character.  His primary concern was to maintain the power of the church as an institution. 

It will be fascinating to see how this essay plays out in the wider culture. It’s such a damning portrait of George Pell. He’s ultimately portrayed as a callous, hollow man, a man of no substance. Take away all the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church from Pell's character and you wonder what there is left of George Pell the man himself. 

This essay could be one of the most important things you read this year.

You can listen to an interview with David Marr about his new Quarterly Essay at ABC Radio National's Breakfast program here

The Prince: Faith, abuse and George Pell: Quarterly Essay 51, by David Marr. Published by Black Inc. ISBN: 9781863956161  RRP: $19.99