Father Kevin Lee met with Cardinal George Pell twice in 2009, in in his private lounge room.
“What an opulent place that is!”
This is an excerpt from Father Kevin Lee’s book ‘Unholy Silence.’ p253-255
Read more at unholysilence.com
“Well, I hope you are wrong Kevin.”
The senior O.P.D. (other protestant denominations) chaplain, Alan Lowe, expressed his disgust to me that this Catholic priest was still allowed to remain a priest professing to be living a wholesome celibate life. But after having checked out the story with another priest in the Sydney Archdiocese, who said he had never heard anything about it, I decided I had to go straight to the top.
The Cardinal has an open door policy with the priests of his Archdiocese and he regularly timetables Thursday afternoon as a time available for priests to see him (when he is not in Rome). I therefore made an appointment with Cardinal George Pell’s secretary to meet with him the following Thursday. To obscure my intentions from her, I mentioned wanting some contributions for our new church that I was responsible for having constructed in Glenmore Park.
When I went to see Pell, I deliberately avoided wearing any clerical collar or religious insignia that mimicked the pretence of other priests who “dress to impress” when they visit the hierarchy.
It was a very warm afternoon and I rode my motorbike from Penrith to the 3pm appointment in Sydney wearing an open necked polo shirt. When I was invited into Pell’s private lounge room, he bent forward to shake my hand and greeted me warmly, booming a welcomed invitation to a cup of tea. Something about Big George inspires awe. He is a massive man. Well over six feet tall he stoops to look at each person at eye-level. His hunched appearance is the product of years of looking smaller people in the eye.
He looked tired from the burdens of his high office and I felt a little sympathy for him as I made my contribution to his problems. I began by informing him about the worrying decline in the Catholic representation among the police chaplaincy that had been concerning me for some time as the numbers of other protestant denominations were pushing for a greater foothold.
Expressing my disappointment at how the NSW Police chaplaincy was being gradually losing focus and alerting him to the desirability of his intervention was my main aim. I advised him to look very carefully at who is appointed to replace Father Jim Boland whose retirement had recently become effective. His substitute, I suggested, should be a strongly committed and faithful priest who can keep the Catholic flag flying proudly.
He appeared concerned, though he closed his eyes a few times and I thought he might be falling asleep. Maybe he was pondering whether to abrogate the chaplaincy altogether. I was interested to find out what his reaction was going to be, and I searched his face for a sign of disappointment or acknowledgement of what I had told him.
Pell’s booming voice and erudite expression commands attention. Whenever he speaks, whoever else is talking will immediately stop mid-sentence. This happened to me a few times during our meeting. Assuming he already knew about it, I commented on how the actions of Father M. had done considerable damage to the Catholic chaplaincy. He seemed surprised however when I told him about the Father M. story and he immediately perked up from his previously somnolent state. He too, feigned ignorance of the incident but he regally assured me he would look into it. Confident that the authorities would be eager to prevent scandal and act with propriety to dismiss the imposter, I gave the matter very little further thought.
Some months later and quite out of the blue, my brother Brendan, who is also a priest, contacted me and said that George Pell wanted to speak with me.
“Cardinal Pell wants you to make an appointment with his secretary as soon as possible,” Father Brendan said without allusion to the reason he called.
Completely forgetting the other matter, I assumed it was because he was ready to make good on his promise to make a contribution to the new church I was building. I dutifully arranged to meet him at 3.30pm the following Thursday which was the 10th September 2009.
I had with me a folder showing a catalogue of the various items that he could contribute to for our new church. We began our conversation with my expression of renewed concerns about Father A. who was enjoying renewed notoriety after an honorary degree of Doctor of Music was conferred upon him at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music graduation ceremony held on 18 April 2008.
This additional and undeserved honour had gone to his head and he was being lauded in the Catholic media for his enormous contributions to the arts. I cautioned Pell that Father A.’s bubble was going to burst as his exaggerations were almost reaching the proportion of his enormous girth.
I explained my fears that Father A. was making so many unsubstantiated statements that, to an untrained observer, appeared to be aimed at building his reputation beyond his abilities. I was most concerned about the innuendo that was circulating that he was not so concerned about promoting the arts, as touting for homosexual sexual services in exchange for money.
For instance in one statement published in the Catholic Weekly Father A. said, “Anyone who knows a young person who is musically talented and who wants financial support towards study should contact me, I’m keen to hear from them. Also ballet dancers, people in musical theatre, people into drama; anyone right across the board of the creative arts. I get letters from all over Australia asking for support, just through word of mouth. And while I can’t help everyone, I try to work on the basis of a little bit, here and there, can go a long way.
He was also the subject of a chapter in Jana Vendt’s 2010 book, ‘Nice Work’. That particular chapter is not very flattering of the renowned pastor who is described as, “Overfed, patrician in tastes and a little too fond of his own voice”.
The description given of Father A. betrays his self-seeking indulgence which contrasts with the public persona he likes to give of one dedicated to the downtrodden and needy:
“Depressed, he takes himself off to spend Sunday night in a four-star hotel. Father A. loves opera and Aboriginal art; he has his vestments tailor made in Belgium from costly silk, and he enjoys a glass of French champagne or “a good claret, after my daily crucifixions”.
After detailing my concerns once more over Father A.’s intensely self-aggrandising profile I cautioned the Cardinal that he was “a time-bomb waiting to go off.
“Australians loves to cut down a tall poppy and Father A. is making himself a target.
Surely someone is going to come forward and burst his bubble over his Ars Musica Australis fraud!” I reiterated to the bearer of the furrowed brows opposite me.
I detailed once again the examples I have listed elsewhere in this book and after a long and concerned period of listening, Pell simply brushed back his mop of sparsely spaced hair and said, “Well, I hope you are wrong Kevin”.
I didn’t know what else to say. I was not wrong and I knew the Cardinal was going to regret not accepting my summation of the precarious situation. Pell then pointed to the catalogue I had been clutching throughout my monologue and asked to look at it.
After a cursory glance through the compiled list of the donation items that ranged in value from $2000 up to $20,000 he said in his ponderously painful booming voice, “Well with the global financial crisis at the moment, even the Archdiocese is not in the position it was before” and thereafter made no offer to assist us with a donation.
He then said, almost as an aside, “Oh, I spoke to Father M. about the incident you informed me of, and I am satisfied with his explanation. There was nothing to be concerned about. While there might have been some smoke, I am convinced there was no fire. Good day Kevin.”
With that he rose to his feet and showed me to the door in a kind of “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?” sort of way.
I was seething. I had ridden my motorbike from Penrith to the City, preparing to receive a generous contribution towards our church building program, but at least expected an assurance that he had dealt harshly with an errant clergyman and he was ushering me out the door without as much as an acknowledgment.
I think George thought he could deal with me like he dealt with every other person who accused his priests of impropriety. His sanctioning of the pernicious pastor and his dismissal of me steeled my determination to bring these imposters undone. In more recent conversations about my interaction with Cardinal Pell, some priests have suggested that Pell favours Father M. and others of a homosexual orientation.
While he was still alive, speaking to the late barrister Paul Brazier I remarked on my surprise at how the leader of the Catholic Church in Australia could maintain a supportive role in preventing abusers from being brought to justice.
Brazier commented: “You need to remember Kevin, Pell himself was accused of being a paedophile. And just because he was not found guilty does not mean he is innocent. It just means that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the charge. Read the court judgment and see for yourself.”
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