A man of "devastating sanity" – Professor Claudio Véliz on Cardinal George Pell

Last night, I took our Anima Education class out on a “school excursion”. We cancelled the usual lesson at Mary Glowrey House in order to attend the launch of Cardinal George Pell’s new book “Test Everything” at the Celtic Club in Queens Street. My estimate is that there were well over one hundred people present, perhaps 150? I am not a good judge of these things.

“Test Everything” is a bit of an odd book for this day and age. Edited by his biographer, Tess Livingstone, it is a collection of sermons (in the main) and other writings from +George’s episcopal career. I haven’t read it all through yet, but it contains about 80 separate short and individually contained sermons (and such) arranged roughly according to subject rather than date.

Professor Claudio Véliz was on hand to launch the book. He entertained and educated us all – clearly a talented teacher.

He began by describing what he called the “devastating sanity” of Cardinal Pell’s writing and preaching, giving several examples from the book.

Towards the end of the speech, he told us:

I come from one of Chile’s oldest Presbyterian families. I am a member of Scots Church. Apologies to Anthony [Cappello – the publisher] who might have thought that I am a Catholic. This must be the first time that a book by a prince of the Church has been launched by a Chilean Calvinist!

Cardinal Pell spoke simply but also entertainingly of the importance of the Church’s faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel. “I’m not a Catholic atheist or agnostic,” he said:

“I believe what the Catholic Church teaches. As Catholics, we have to keep our base intact. We are one of the important rivers that feeds Australian society, and we have to keep the waters pure.”

He encouraged us as Christians to “keep on talking publically”, stressing that we should do so “courteously”. He went on to show that courtesy himself by saying to Professor Veliz:

“Actually, it was I who suggested Professor Veliz should say a few words, and I was very well aware that he is a Chilean Protestant!”

He did tell a funny story about a visit to a primary school where he was asked to talk to a class of prep students. One young boy stood up and asked him:

“What was Moses’ mother’s name?”
“I’m not sure. It wasn’t Miriam because that was his sister.”
“That’s correct”, the boy replied.
“Well, it’s probably in the Bible somewhere”, the Cardinal continued.
“Yes, it is,” came back the confident affirmation.
“I guess it would be a Hebrew name.”
“Of course,” said the boy.
The Cardinal gave up. “Well, you seem to know the answer; what is it?”

The punchline to this story seems to come at the very end, however, because the Cardinal said he caused “a minor flurry” in the staff room when he asked for a copy of the bible to check the boy’s information! They did manage to find one finally somewhere in the school, and of course, the lad was spot on (check at Exodus 6:20 – and remember this bit of information for when you next have a question and answer opportunity with a Cardinal).

The Cardinal went on to urge us to remain firm with the “basic good news”. The recent meeting of bishops in Sydney was “a tiny bit unusual”, he said:

“We had some very good meetings with my brother bishops. We were all at one on the centrality of preaching Christ. Well, so what, you might say, isn’t that what you should be? Well, you listen to some other people about what you need to do to fac the crisis in the Church and they will list lots of other things than preaching Christ and repentance.”

Sound familiar?

He also spoke of the new liturgy translation, on which he has been working as the Chairman of Vox Clara. He spoke about the simple change of the translation of “Et cum spiritu tuo” to “And with your spirit.”

“A great advantage will be that we will not be able to dodge the question “What is a spirit?”. Because if all Catholic have become materialists the game would be over.”

I will give a further review of the book after I have had a chance to dip into it a bit more, but herewith some pictures (in no particular order):

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14 Responses to A man of "devastating sanity" – Professor Claudio Véliz on Cardinal George Pell

  1. Alexander says:

    May I ask an off-topic question? The plus-sign (representing a cross, I presume) before a bishop’s name (e.g. “+George” above) … Is it meant to be pronounced? how? Or does it just represent their status, and therefore should be read as “Bishop”, “Archbishop”, “Cardinal” etc as is appropriate to the name that comes with it? (I’ve never seen it used in conjunction with an actual title, so I assume the final option, that it’s not meant to be pronounced, is wrong.)


    • “does it just represent their status, and therefore should be read as “Bishop”, “Archbishop”, “Cardinal” etc as is appropriate to the name that comes with it?”

      It just signifies that the person is a Bishop; it saves the writer having to write out the full title. (I wonder whether it was used in this way before the Internet?)

      It comes from how traditionally, an Ordinary (if I’m not mistaken they have to be Ordinaries, not just Bishops) would sign his name with the plus sign in front. (And traditionally, in English or English-speaking Sees, substituting the name of his See for his family name. So for instance, a man named Reginald who was Lord Archbishop of Canterbury would sign his name ‘+Reginaldvs Cantvar’.)

      Here’s a note from Fr. Zuhlsdorf on the matter:

      “One of the perks for a Cardinal Bishop is that he can sign his name with a +. I remember at a gathering some years ago with the titular Cardinal Bishop a Suburbicarian diocese, Joseph Card. Ratzinger, we heard about the +. He said that when he became Archbishop of Munich, he was +Joseph Ratzinger. He became +Joseph Card. Ratzinger when elevated to the College. When he was moved to Rome to be Prefect of the CDF he was then Joseph Card. Ratzinger without the +. When he was made Cardinal Bishop it was back to +Joseph Card. Ratzinger.”

      • Schütz says:

        Well well! How interesting and informative Fr Z. always is – and you, + Reg.

        For full information, the good Cardinal signed my book “+ George. Card. Pell”.

        • Peregrinus says:

          To add to the trivia:

          1. The plus sign does, as Alexander surmises, represent a cross. In more formal printing contexts it is represented not by a plus symbol, but by a little graphic of, e.g., a maltese cross or a cross pattee. The late Dr Michael Browne, when Bishop of Galway, used to write regular bad-tempered letters to the editor of the Irish Times complaining about the evils of chewing gum, costume jewellery, etc, which were printed with his signature represented in this way. He acquired the nickname “Cross Michael” as a result.

          2. The convention long predates the internet.

          3. In Anglicanism, the convention has (I think recently) been further elaborated – ‘+’ for a bishop, ‘++’ for an archbishop and ‘+++’ for a primate.

          4. How is it read? It’s not read at all. If David were reading out the inscription in his copy of Dr. Pell’s book, he would simply say “George Cardinal Pell” (and not “Cross George”).

          • Schütz says:

            You are a real font of information, you know that, Perry?

          • “2. The convention long predates the internet.”

            I’m still not clear on this–are you referring to the convention of an Ordinary signing his name with a cross, or the convention of others using a cross before his name rather than writing out ‘Bishop’/’Archbishop’/whatever? (It’s just that I can’t imagine there having been much occasion for the latter before the internet, at least not in correspondence; in private notes I can see it being useful.)

  2. Louisa Ashton says:

    Thanks David for a lovely summary. It was a great night and thanks for the photos too :).

  3. Susan Peterson says:

    The Anglicans use one+ sign for a priest, ++ for a bishop and +++ for the AOC.

  4. I wonder how the convention of prelates using the plus sign originated? I seem to recall reading somewhere some time ago that Bishops used to write ‘sinner’ before their respective names when signing something, and this evolved into the plus sign, which, as Peregrinus rightly noted, represents a cross. But if, as I think, it is for Ordinaries only, not just anyone consecrated Bishop, perhaps it’s meant to signify the heavy burden–the cross–of exercising Ordinary jurisdiction? The care of a single soul, let alone the souls of thousands, is a weighty enough responsibility, and they say that Hell is paved with the skulls of Bishops.

  5. Peregrinus says:

    I have read – sorry, no cite – that crosses were at one time used ad lib. in solemn documents as an invocation of God, or of divine favour, or divine witness. Thus an important document might have a cross at the head, or at the start of each of the most significant clauses.

    Its use in connection with a signature might have stemmed from this. Documents were signed to indicate a personal commitment by the person signing, and a cross was added to call on God to witness the signature, and therefore the solemnity of the person’s commitment.

    Quite how we move from here to the idea that a cross is associated with the signature of a diocesan bishop, I’m not sure. Were bishops considered so untrustworthy that they routinely needed to invoke the witness of God before their signatures would be taken seriously?

    It could be, of course, that these two uses of the cross are unrelated.

    I note, incidentally, that the Bishop of Rome doesn’t use a cross in his signature. He’s just “Benedictus PP. XVI”.

  6. Alexander says:

    Thank you all for your replies! I’ve wondered this for a while.

    (David Schutz, please also expect an email from a different address than I put in this field here.)

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