By Jim Fair
“There is a lot of goodness in prisons. At times, I am sure, prisons may be hell on earth. I was fortunate to be kept safe and treated well. I was impressed by the professionalism of the warders, the faith of the prisoners, and the existence of a moral sense even in the darkest places.”
Those words come from Cardinal George Pell in a bylined piece in the August edition of First Things.
The article offers a combination of deeply spiritual reflections and some practical observations on prison life that suggest the Cardinal retains both his faith and his sense of humor.
“For many, time in prison is an opportunity to ponder and confront basic truths,” Cardinal Pell wrote. “Prison life removed any excuse that I was too busy to pray, and my regular schedule of prayer sustained me. From the first night, I always had a breviary (even if it was out of season), and I received Holy Communion each week. On five occasions I attended Mass, though I was unable to celebrate it, a fact I particularly lamented at Christmas and Easter.”
On the practical side, the Cardinal noted that his jail cell had a better reading lamp than many expensive hotels. And he recounted that in his 13 months in confinement in two prisons, he was kept in solitary confinement, having no interaction with other prisoners. However, he could hear others being held and on one occasion heard them debating his guilt or innocence. It seems the Cardinal had both defenders and critics among the detainees.
During his time in Melbourne prison, he was attired in a green tracksuit; in Barwon, he was issued the “bright red colors of a cardinal.” He reports that in prison the beds are firm and the mattresses thin.
“My Catholic faith sustained me, especially the understanding that my suffering need not be pointless but could be united with Christ Our Lord’s,” Cardinal Pell wrote. “I never felt abandoned, knowing that the Lord was with me—even as I didn’t understand what he was doing for most of the thirteen months. For many years, I had told the suffering and disturbed that the Son of God, too, had trials on this earth, and now I myself was consoled by this fact. So, I prayed for friends and foes, for my supporters and my family, for the victims of sexual abuse, and for my fellow prisoners and the warders.”
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