Tuesday's opening of World Youth Day was a big day for the Archbishop of Sydney. Cardinal George Pell celebrated in Sydney's newest waterfront Barangaroo in front of 140.000 pilgrims and the international media the large, festive opening service. A day of personal affirmation also for a battle-hardened defender of Christian values in secular Australia.
Some people in the country will not like the fact that the cardinal has achieved such prominence. For Pell is a church leader as conservative as he is power-conscious. A German journalist has described the man from Ballarat as the "Dyba of Australia". Like the Bishop of Fulda, who died in 2000, Pell does not mince his words and does not shy away from controversy as head pastor in Sydney, which has the reputation of being a rather areligious leisure paradise. Again and again, the cardinal enters the social debate with controversial words on topics such as homosexuality, abuse, bioethics and the environment. Yet he is not always squeamish in his choice of means when it comes to achieving his goals. A few years ago, for example, he invited a priest and a psychologist from the United States to give a lecture on how homosexuality could be "cured" through psychotherapy and prayer. The audience was only allowed to ask questions to the speakers in writing. At the latest since Sydney was announced as the venue for the 2008 World Youth Day in Cologne three years ago, Pell has been perceived as the head of Australian Catholics – even though he is not president of the Australian Bishops' Conference. The actual chairman, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, understands that there is confusion among the public: "Until now, the Australian cardinal has always also been the chairman of the bishops' conference. This is different now." From the World Youth Day, Pell expects, in addition to new spiritual vocations, also impulses for a moral turn of the Australian youth as well as for a reconsideration of the country's Christian values. Some in Australia suspect that the cardinal is using the major ecclesiastical event with Rome's blessing to put his conservative stamp on the church there. His fellow bishops do not criticize Pell – not in public and certainly not to the media. That there are differences can be read between some lines. Archbishop Wilson, for example, says: "The cardinal is a strong leader with a great influence on church and society. This of course has its effects." And adds, "We have 39 bishops in this country, and each of them is a leader in his own right. Moreover, we have a bishops' conference that is a very lively and active body."Peter Ingham, for example, is not only bishop in Sydney's neighboring city of Wollongong, but also president of the Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania. Through this role he is very familiar with the consequences of climate change. That's why he's proud to have brought Catholics from Kiribati to Sydney for WYD: "They'll be environmental refugees very soon," he reports. "Kiribati is only two meters above sea level and is likely to be the first of the small South Sea islands to sink soon."For Pell, on the other hand, climate change is not a central ie. He thinks the excitement is exaggerated and refuses to see man as the cause of the world's environmental problems. Asked if he sees a "pellization" of the Catholic Church down under, Bishop Ingham says: "World Youth Day shows how diverse and vibrant the Church is. This is above these ideological things after all. We must go forward, not backward."