The scandal of George Pell

Jesus never called us to condemn the sin of the world, but he did call us to confront sin in the church.

Update 2020-04-17

Today the High Court of Australia overturned Cardinal Pell’s conviction.

Previously I said, “Let’s be cautious about assuming that you or I know better than the jury … Let’s await the outcome of the appeal.”

Now, let’s be cautious about assuming you or I know better than the high court judges who unanimously decided that the evidence should not have led to a conviction.

Original post

I’m devastated. When a church leader is exposed as a child-abuser, our nation has another reason to hate the church and despise our message.

Silence the excuses! It makes no difference whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. It won’t do to wonder if the courts got it wrong. A manager in the household of God has been found guilty of abusing the trust placed in them to care for the children in the family.

The nearest Jesus ever came to recommending capital punishment was this:

Matthew 18 6 If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

How did it get to this? No one in the church knew this was happening? Are we that spiritually blind? Or are we unwilling to know, unwilling to speak up, unwilling to act?

If we will not act to prevent abuse within the church, we deserve to be publicly shamed. But it’s much worse than our shame. Our worship brings God no honour when our wickedness dishonours him.

George Pell is the just tip of an iceberg. Other abusive leaders remain on church payrolls. Don’t wait for the courts to find the evil in the church. We must speak up now and confront the evil among us.

Don’t let abusive leaders threaten you with “Do not touch the Lord’s anointed!” Sure, David refused to assassinate Saul, but that doesn’t justify Saul’s continued abusive leadership. Given that Saul had absolute power, David had no way to get justice (other than murder). Truth is, God had already rejected Saul as his anointed (1 Samuel 16:14; 18:12). 1 Samuel 24:6 does not negate our responsibility to uncover abuse in the leaders of God’s people.

Eventually God did bring down the kings in Israel and Judah. Ezekiel spoke out against the “pastors” (shepherds) of God’s people:

Ezekiel 34 1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals …
10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

I post this with trepidation. I’m very aware of  a) my own failings,  b) Scripture’s warnings that we who teach will be judged more strictly, and  c) the tendency of manipulative people to abuse the complaints processes.

But the truth is that Jesus did establish a complaints process. And it doesn’t involve hanging a millstone around the person’s neck and drowning them.

Matthew 18:15-17 establishes a four-step escalation process:

  1. Go directly to the person involved and try to resolve the issue.
  2. If that doesn’t work, confront the person in the presence of others where there is less wriggle-room and combined wisdom.
  3. If that doesn’t work, make the church aware of how the person is damaging us all and bringing God’s name into disrepute.
  4. If the person still won’t respond to the church, refuse to have them representing us or our God.

C’mon church. We’re called to announce the good news that God will sort out what’s wrong with world. For our message to have credibility, “it is time for judgement to begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17).

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

10 thoughts on “The scandal of George Pell”

  1. Thank you for putting our thoughts into such clear language. My prayers are for George Pell. Guilty or innocent, he has nothing left but Christ as he enters prison. But however guilty or innocent he is, if he has Christ he has everything.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What does it say about our society when ONE persons testimony is enough to destroy a man’s life and reputation. It is unBiblical, and the reality is that Inquisition-style witch-hunts are happening. To call Pell a pedophile based upon this du ious “evidence” is appalling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Paul. The requirement for multiple witnesses is to reduce the chance of a malicious or misguided witness. Courts can (and sometimes do) get things wrong, as history testifies and anyone who familiar with the story of Jesus knows.
      But for now, let’s be cautious about assuming that you or I know better than the jury. I have not spent anywhere near as much time as they have, listening to the case and weighing the evidence. Fortunately, our nation provides an appeal process, so let’s await the outcome of the appeal.
      Whatever the outcome, this case, combined with previous ones and occasions when the church has tried to cover things up, has done tremendous damage to the credibility of the church’s message. It’s time for the church to be proactive in dealing with the rot within.


    2. One person’s testimony? Try dozens! Only 2 at the moment. So if he gets away with those 2, then the police will present another 2 or 3 at a time. This scumbag and the ones he covered up should rot in hell. Paul Davies you must be delusional!


  3. Hi Allen, strong reflection. Much appreciated.

    I would just add that to expect victims of predatory behavior to follow a Matthew 18 process would be erroneous and near impossible given the power predators gain over their victims and the shattering damage caused. (I’m not sure you’re suggesting this explicitly, but it could be implied).
    And those who such abuse is reported to should not follow Matt 18 process either, as this may endanger the victim further.
    This area is very clearly a legal area that needs to be dealt with legally first, and the pastoral model can be present throughout the process, but not directing the process.

    Minimising the abuse has caused almost as much damage to victims as the abuse itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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