Australian Cardinal George Pell, 79, has released a new book through Ignatius Press: Prison Journal, Volume 1: The Cardinal Makes His Appeal. Composed of three volumes, the Cardinal offers daily reflections on his conviction and imprisonment in solitary confinement for the abuse of a minor, as well as reflections on the meaning of suffering in the life of a Christian and the divine command to forgive one’s enemies. Pell maintained his innocence throughout, and after 13 months of confinement, Australia’s high court overturned the conviction on a 7-0 vote and released him from prison.
George Weigel wrote the introduction for Prison Journal, and served as moderator for a virtual press conference held December 16th. In his introduction of the Cardinal, Weigel opined that Prison Journal was “a book that should never have been written [but having been written] is a grace and a blessing, as it introduces to a world audience to the soul, heart and keen mind of a great churchman.”
Weigel noted that he had known Pell for 53 years, and had thought he’d known him well, but that Prison Journal gave him a glimpse into Pell’s interior life that he had not yet had before. He said, “The book invites readers to meet the soul of a public man, a rare thing indeed, all the more precious for its rarity, even more impressive when allowed to meet the soul when it is being purified and strengthened through suffering.”
Pell’s perspective of his imprisonment, he continued, was that he was on an extended retreat, “that is exactly what he did, he went on a retreat, in conversation with Our Lord. The result is this striking book.”
Cardinal Pell served as Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia 1996-2001 and Archbishop of Sydney, Australia 2001-04. He was made a cardinal in 2003. He was appointed by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy at the Vatican in 2014. He is currently living in Rome.
The following are edited remarks by Cardinal Pell about Prison Journal, made to the press December 16.
Did you believe you would be in prison for the rest of your life, and was your book intended as a historic record or a daily spiritual discipline?
Cardinal George Pell: I never thought I would be in jail for the rest of my life. I was condemned for six years, with a parole after three years, so I never thought I would be there forever.
I think it is both a historic record and daily spiritual discipline. It was a historical record of a strange time and I felt that my reflections might be able to help people … I wasn’t sure how much would be published, but I decided to go ahead. I also found it to be good therapy. As it has been said, “I understand why [Soviet political prisoner Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn wrote so much.”
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