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

Cardinal urges young men to help preserve Australian way of life

George Pell giving his talk after formal dinner

When the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell made his annual visit to Warrane College for 2013, he encouraged residents to do what they could to help preserve the good things in Australian society.

Speaking after formal dinner in the College’s Main Common Room on 21 August, the Cardinal noted he had recently returned from World Youth Day in Brazil where he had seen and heard good things, but also disturbing things.

“There are elements in that society which are quite different from ours,” he said.

“There is nothing automatic that is going to preserve the good things that we have in our society, much less make them better.

“It is people like yourselves with a good foundation, with a good understanding of principles, who can make a difference. I hope that a percentage of you go into politics – I hope you go into both sides of politics.”

Questioned about Islam, Cardinal Pell said he had his own views but encouraged those present to read the Koran for themselves and to draw their own conclusions.

Asked to comment on the fact that he is among eight cardinals that Pope Francis has appointed to help run the universal church, he spoke about the Pope at length, praising him as “an old-style Jesuit”.

“There are many things worse and very few things better than an old-style Jesuit,” he said, pointing out that they were “trained in prayer” through a two year novitiate and in Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy, did a 30-day retreat and had a secular university degree, usually some time teaching in a school and a good theology course.

He said Pope Francis had been through a very “tough school” as an archbishop in Argentina – a country that had around 1900 the highest living standard in the world, but now had such a problem with poverty, reflected in the country’s many slums.

“He increased the number of priests in the slums from 11 to 23 …” Cardinal Pell pointed out. “He has been trained in a very tough school and he is not interested in playing games.”

Pope Francis was already taking steps to reform the Vatican Bank and to introduce new procedures for the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Pell said he himself was concerned about the imbalance in nationalities among the Church’s cardinals. He said while Italy had 29 cardinals who were electors, the Philippines had only one voting cardinal and Brazil only two or three.

“The thing is out of whack,” he said. “I hope we never see a conclave like that again. We are a universal church.”

Cardinal Pell defended the Catholic Church’s discipline requiring priests to be celibate, pointing out that Jesus himself had never married. He said that St Paul and St John the apostle had also not married, but emphasised that marriage was not “a second-rate vocation”.

“If you are married it is a mightily important vocation,” he said. “You have got to give time to your wife and children. If I had been married there is no way that I could have worked the way I have for years, just in terms of the amount of time.”

He pointed out that for most people celibacy is a sacrifice and that the priesthood shouldn’t be “a haven for confirmed and comfortable bachelors”. Celibacy should be a reminder of supernatural values.

“I am a strong supporter of celibacy for the Latin rite clergy,” he said. “We are following Christ’s example… a bishop or a priest is supposed to be married to the church.”

Cardinal Pell spoke at length about the growing problems flowing from declining populations around the world. He said that there was not one country in the western world that was producing enough children to keep the country’s population stable.

“That is a fantastic statistic,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t indicate hope for the future.

We don’t talk about it much, but we should. It really is saying something.”

He pointed out that it was one of the Catholic Church’s fundamental teachings that marriage has to be open to children. Nevertheless, even Catholic countries in southern Europe, such as Italy, Spain and France, were facing dramatic population decline.

At the same time Russia was losing an estimated 800,000 people each year, due partly to multiple abortions and the deaths of many men from alcoholism. Japan was at the tipping point and was about to experience a “radical decline” in population.

One of the consequences was that these countries would not have enough workers to pay the taxes to care for the elderly.

“It is something of a problem here (in Australia), but less so because our birth rate is closer to replacement level,” Cardinal Pell said. “Europe is going to grow old after it has become rich. There will be massive challenges.”

What was less well known was that the same thing will be happening a generation or so later in China and India.

“China and India will start to suffer radical depopulation before most of their population becomes rich,” Cardinal Pell said. “Already with the one-child policy in China, too many of those kids are males. There is a disproportion of millions more men in China than women. It’s a recipe for fantastic trouble. It’s a recipe for social instability… It’s a mighty, mighty issue. Get your heads around it because at some stages during your lifetime you will be wrestling with it.”

Earlier in the evening, Cardinal Pell celebrated Mass in the Warrane College Chapel during which he baptised one of the College’s residents.

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