Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Cardinal Pell talks about capitalism, Obama and God’s existence

George Pell giving his speech after formal dinner

When Archbishop of Sydney, His Eminence George Cardinal Pell AC, visited Warrane on Wednesday 15 August 2012 he fielded questions on a wide range of sensitive issues, including his views on free market capitalism, President Obama, Islamic relations and the existence of God. After celebrating Mass in the College chapel, during which he performed a baptism, and dining in the main dining room with residents, staff and visitors, he made himself available for questions in the main common room.

When asked by a student for his views on a career in the market, he noted that if everyone lived like St Francis of Assissi, the economy would collapse. He said despite some early misgivings about capitalism, he had to admit it had generated prosperity in a way that he had not anticipated.

But he said he still had some reservations. “I am basically pro the market, but I have a few concerns,” he said. “I don’t think the market is particularly friendly to families. About 30 years ago the average house cost three times the average wage. Today an average house costs seven times the average wage. That means both husband and wife have to work and that puts pressures on childcare.”

Despite the fact that Australia was “going the best of any country in the world”, he said market economies generally were in “terrible trouble”. Overseas there was enormous debt – both in Europe and in the United States where the level of debt was “astonishing”. He had just returned from Italy where youth employment had grown from 28 per cent to 36 per cent in a single year and in other countries, like Spain and Greece, youth unemployment is now 50 per cent.

“The terrible bind these governments are in is they have lived beyond their means for years,” he said. “They can’t service their debt and so they haven’t got the money to stimulate the economy. You need ethical people to run the market.”

He pointed out that one of the main reasons for all the debt was greed. Lenders in the United States had for a long time been giving loans to people who had “no chance in the world of repaying them”.

“But they were getting good cuts on it and it went on and on and on,” he said. “And the government there was keen to encourage housing for the poor, so they said you could borrow without any deposit. So greed and debt. They are in a mess. . .”

“I know one billionaire and I said to him, what would you do if you were president of the United States. He said ‘I would resign immediately’.”

Asked for his view of President Obama, Cardinal Pell expressed his concerns about the President’s attitudes towards the Church. “I think Obama is seriously anti-Christian,” he said. “He is certainly pro-abortion … and through his health scheme he is mandating that Catholics pay for contraception and abortion.”

Commenting on the state of the Church in Australia, he said that after many difficult years things were beginning to improve and that vocations to the priesthood were starting to increase. Against this background he drew attention to the “stabilising contribution” Opus Dei had made to the church in Australia and overseas.

“They have made a magnificent contribution right throughout the world,” he said, “certainly in the Western world, in bringing stability, reminding people what the basics are, what we are about, giving people a bit of self-confidence and self-discipline.”

On the subject of politics, Cardinal Pell said he was pleased to see so many young Catholics getting involved in politics in recent times. He noted that many were joining the Liberal Party, but said it was not a good idea to “put all your eggs in one basket” and expressed the hope that young Catholics would continue to make a contribution to the Labor Party as well.

Asked for his view of Islam, the Cardinal said it was important to reach out to Moslems and to treat them fairly so that moderates would be able to hold sway over the more radical elements.

Cardinal Pell was asked how he could be so sure about God and his own religion, instead of being like scientists who “kept an open mind”. He responded by saying that there was as much original sin among scientists as any other group of people and he wasn’t so sure that they were more open minded – something he felt they had demonstrated by the way they treated dissenters on questions like global warming and the big bang theory.

“The best scientists, the best philosophers, to some extent are open minded, but to some extent you need to accept truths to exist,” he said. “How can I be so sure? I sometimes come across surer than I am. But I am very sincere about my Christian faith… There is religion and there is religion … I am in favour of the Christian religion. The basic question is: are the claims (of Christianity) true? “I think you can make a very logical case for a supreme intelligence.”

Asked ‘who created God?’ he responded that, by definition, God was not contingent: “God is only useful if he is self-contained, as a necessary being, as a supreme being. He doesn’t need to be created. That is one of the mistakes that (Richard) Dawkins makes. You might reject that. But I don’t think it is as illogical as trying to say that everything came from nothing. It’s a more logical position to say ‘I don’t know’ to say ‘It’s a great mystery’. You know, I respect that position.”

Cardinal Pell has visited Warrane every year since 2002.

Among the guests at the dinner were Vice-President (University Services) UNSW, Mr Neil Morris, the Dean of the UNSW Faculty of Science, Professor Merlin Crossley, and the Program Director Planning at the UNSW Faculty of Built Environment, Mr Peter Williams. Other guests included two Honorary College Fellows – Emeritus Professor Tony Shannon AM and Mr Johno Johnson, and two Academic Fellows – Professor Jim Franklin, and Dr Jim McCaughan. There were also a number of old boys in the audience, including solicitor Mr Tim Mitchell and barrister Garry McGrath SC, and a friend of the College, architect Mr John O’Brien.

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]