Tim Minchin vs Cardinal Pell

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Tim Minchin, actor, scriptwriter and comedian, is in the news after releasing a new song called “Come Home (Cardinal Pell)”. In classic Minchin style it walks that fine line between clever acerbic satire, and plain insult. 

In it, Minchin calls on Cardinal George Pell (who is currently in Rome managing the Vatican finances) to come back to Australia and appear before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:

I know you’re not feeling well
And being crook ain’t much fun
Even so, we think you should come
Home, Cardinal Pell
Come down from your citadel
It’s just the right thing to do

Cardinal Pell has stated that he is too unwell to travel to Australia to testify, and is instead has been given permission by the Commission to testify via video link from Rome, on February 29. It will be the third time he appeared before the commission. 

Survivors of abuse are outraged, and believe that Cardinal Pell should be forced to give evidence in a public place, where they can watch. The ABC reports abuse survivor Stephen Woods saying, “It has to be somewhere where he’s not in control, his lawyers are not in control and that way he will actually be pushed to give better answers than the usual ‘I can’t remember’. We want to see honesty. We want to see a veracity, transparency. That will be really good to see face to face.”

It’s not an irrelevant point. Victims of abuse deserve to hear the truth, no matter how gruesome, and no matter how difficult. There is a special kind of power in face-to-face confessions, often making it easier to feel the weight of the wrongdoing while simultaneously making it harder to lie about. 

Kristina Keneally, in an opinion piece in the Guardian says: “Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down your life for another. Cardinal Pell says there’s no way I could risk my health by flying business class to Australia. I know Jesus says, ‘judge not lest you be judged’ but I reckon it’s a fair question to ask, Cardinal Pell: what would Jesus do?”

In the last few hours I have seen a number of Christians take to social media to criticise Minchin’s work. Admittedly, Minchin does call Cardinal Pell scum, a coward, and a pompous buffoon, and I can see how people might find this disrespectful. 

But if we can leave aside the question of Minchin’s style and language for just a moment, we might see that he is simply saying that he believes Cardinal Pell owes victims of abuse a session of face-to-face truth telling.

And that leaves us with a question: is he right?