Cardinal George Pell was released from prison this week and the case against him has entirely collapsed, with “the unanimity of the court’s decision crushing for Pell’s prosecutors.” The real wickedness of the anti-Catholic mob in Australia was to pursue a campaign of vilification against a senior figure of the traditional wing of the Church, knowing that the now dominant liberals in Rome would easily abandon him. And they did. I wrote on this blog a long time ago an Open Letter to Cardinal George Pell and also wrote him a handwritten letter in the same words sent to him in prison, saying I fully believed in his innocence.
Consequently a certain Australian lady, one Margaret Butterworth writing from different addresses was rather keen to tell the readers of this blog what a nasty, perverted, hypocrite she knew Cardinal Pell to be, and indeed it was self-evident to her because he was a Catholic and she was a non-Catholic bigot. I blocked Margaret Butterworth from this blog as she became a nuisance, but I have now removed the prohibition so that she may reply to the following open letter and respond in an act of holy charity which I invite, and which may be the start of the salvation of her soul.
Dear Margaret Butterworth,
I do not know you and have never met you, but before we come to the considerable question of your public statements about Cardinal George Pell – to whom you owe a heartfelt apology – I will try and establish some rapport.
When you venture out from Australia and come to Spain – which you do regularly, so you say – it is because you are one of those who return time and time again to the Camino de Santiago. In fact, you have quite a prominent role in something called the “Pilgrim’s Forum” which was set up by a man called Ivar Rekve in Compostela, as part of his successful business model. (Yes, he actually told me that, long ago, in a bar near the Obradoiro, and I wished him well with his plans, but never spoke to him since. It is the pilgrim equivalent of the hippy capitalist, I suppose, and we all need to make a living…)
So, you come to Spain and enjoy a little tourism, travelling by bus and taxi on the Camino Francés, again in your own admission; an activity which you call “being a pilgrim” because that is now defined simply as a person following yellow arrows. At one time it would have been understood as someone undertaking a physical and spiritual journey as a Catholic duty to venerate the Apostle at his shrine; the shrine of Spain’s most important Catholic Saint.
So, yes Margaret, we have something in common, and it is this: we know the same bits of road in northern Spain. But you don’t know the roads in Worcestershire or Oxfordshire, do you, nor have you met the German sisters who look after J.H.Newman’s Littlemore. Nor hundreds of other Catholics you might encounter in a near-2000 mile walk from the west of England to Finisterre, doing the pilgrimage as the medieval pilgrims would have done it.
With a two-metre long bourdon or pilgrim staff, a weight of two kilos, carried over a period of three months, I walked entirely on foot apart from a boat from England to France, focused on prayer, regular Mass, and with the vision of arrival at the tomb of the holy Apostle James on 25th July for the midday pilgrim’s Mass. And that is exactly what I did, arriving the day before the feast.
But here is the twist in the tale, Margaret Butterworth of Australia. I walked those two thousand miles to give thanks that the Archbishop of Southwark had decided to send me to the Beda College as a late vocation to the Catholic priesthood. And it was there in the Beda that I met the man, Cardinal George Pell, whose dedicated lifetime of pastoral service and spiritual leadership you probably don’t know much about – do you?
It was Cardinal Pell who sent my fellow student Dominic to Rome to train for the priesthood. Dominic and I discovered the college bar pool table more or less at the same time as we discovered that philosophy was more difficult than we had imagined. And as we played more pool and read less Aristotle, I began to like the idea of going back one step, and just being a lay Franciscan brother again or returning to teaching; because I could see more clearly now the priesthood was for those who were bad at playing pool and much better at doing Aristotle.
And then Cardinal Pell arrived for two days of pastoral meetings with his Australian seminarians. They were all thrilled to spend time with him because he was a pastoral giant of a man who energised them and motivated them. Since nobody had come from my archdiocese to see how I was getting on, Pell also made time for me and gave me the same amount of time and attention as his own candidates. He was genuinely interested to probe away to see where the block was. Without wishing to make him into a saint (God will do that, Margaret), he was one of the kindest people I have met, a giant both intellectually and physically.
You are the Australian “Camino expert,” aren’t you Margaret? You explain to people on that “Pilgrim Forum” that you regularly come to the Camino here in Spain, then travel by bus and taxi as a “pilgrim” but that’s OK because it is the thought that counts. So the new “Camino” thinking goes. And if the thought is directed by the I Ching or tarot cards, so much the better. It’s all in “the spirit of the Camino” and everything goes; as long as you are not Catholic. And the path towards the saint now becomes a place to stay: the road is the point of arrival. “This feels so great! The Camino will teach me to be happy, and I’ll just stay here now, being a daughter of the Camino…”
I’m no spiritual director Margaret, but I know what my spiritual director would tell me, if I told him how I’d found peace, swanning around on the Camino and I dreamt of little else when I got home, longing for the day when I was back in a refugio in Hontanas or Terradillos, telling all the “rookie” pilgrims how I’d been doing it all my life, and there was no actual spiritual goal beyond it. The tarmac was my guru and the dust was the holy thing.
The most astonishing spiritual director I ever had was someone whose name I am not allowed to mention, as he writes all his books under anonymity as “A Carthusian”. First as Novice Father at La Grande Chartreuse and then at the biggest working monastery in Europe at Parkminster in Sussex. Sometimes you meet people in the Catholic life who are so obviously holy, Margaret, that you not only imagine they could walk through walls, but they actually do, like the staretz in The Way of a Pilgrim, a book that tells you what a pilgrim is: someone who prays continuously.
This same Carthusian director told me, “If you are feeling good in your prayer life, you need to dump your prayer life and start again…” That was the most scary advice I’d ever received – so long ago now that it must have been in the days when I thought I was a good Catholic! Now I know I’m not.
But it is interesting how many people who walk the Camino time and time again seem to insist it is “not a Catholic pilgrimage.” Which you do, don’t you Margaret, offering a free service by being a “Moderator”, like one of those California tech support people on the end of a phone line who call themselves “happiness engineers” to add to your anger that the computer still won’t work even after 90 minutes of brain-addling instructions. And you take a very dim view of Catholic pilgrims on that “Forum”, don’t you Margaret? The hatred of Cardinal Pell doesn’t develop in a vacuum. A one-time Catholic pilgrim route has been put at the service of your anti-Catholic bigotry.
The only occasions you have come into this blog’s comment boxes, you have come in looking for an argument. I’m sorry if I just deleted you but it is no way to behave: this blog has spent a full decade celebrating the life and adventures of four donkeys: Rubí, Matilde, Morris and Aitana; four very gentle creatures who only inspire warm feelings and calm in most readers. What is it with you, Margaret, that your “Camino” sends you out into the world again to hate?
This blogpost is written an hour before Good Friday. Judas has just betrayed Him. The apostles have scattered in fear. We begin the bleak day of discovering how they carelessly killed God.
So, Margaret, we who have the Camino in common only as a road in which we have both once left footsteps; where are we now? I did the classic walk from home, 2000 mile life-changing pilgrimage, and indeed my life changed. Job done. Thank you God. You discovered the mystical “Camino” and – true to form for so many – it became an alternative way of life. A place you can always go to find out whether people are still reading Paolo Coelho this year or if Nordic walking sticks really are good for your heart-rate.
And here is a photograph of a pilgrim cardinal. A photograph that is hard to find now when you type his name into a search engine, looking for a decent picture of the man you once met and were impressed by. Because all you see now are dozens of images of a broken, hunted, haunted man, thrashed by the flails of those who hated him because they only saw him in their ugly image.
Or is it time to apologise to him, Margaret, for the wickedness you have done? And others, of course, plenty of them in the anonymous crowds baying at the bent figure of a once tall man, as his eyes are on the ground and the hope seems to have left his eyes. But you put your name to your words, Margaret. And the words had an email address. So, for the sake of your own soul and the benefit of his recovery, it might just be a good idea to write him a kindly letter, as I have done. Become one of the real pilgrims, Margaret. Then your “Camino” will have changed into The Camino, the Catholic way that transforms your life, and you never need to return to that dusty little refuge in Hontanas or Terradillos and pay your 10 euros for a night with bedbugs, just to give meaning to your life.