WE will never know how much influence disgraced Catholic cardinal George Pell had over Australian politics for decades.
Certainly his friendship with former prime minister Tony Abbott is well known, and his 30-year relationship with John Howard. Both men led governments that reflected Pell's conservative view of the world. While those associations have never been hidden, and the cardinal certainly didn't mind letting it be known that he had the ear of prime ministers to push the Catholic line on issues, we don't know how influential those private conversations were between Pell and the country's leaders, and how much they are reflected in public policy.
Certainly Pell's climate change denial has been a factor in successive Australian governments' failure to respond with a national climate change policy.
Pell's conviction for child sex offences in December was the worst kept secret in Australia until a non-publication order was lifted in February and the guilty verdicts were reported. Despite the open secret there was real shock when it could finally be reported. Only then did it become real for many people. One of the world's most senior Catholics, who was a dominant force in Australia for decades, was a criminal. And of the worst kind.
A jury had found Pell to be a hypocrite who took advantage of two altar boys in a church, while wearing his robes. It was a brazen crime, said the man who sentenced him, Judge Peter Kidd.
Pell displayed "staggering arrogance" in committing crimes he thought he would get away with, and his moral culpability was high, Judge Kidd said.
It was Pell's staggering arrogance for years, even before he was charged, that made him a lightning rod and whipping post for the church in Australia. Pell's appearances at the child abuse royal commission confirmed people's view that he might have been a powerful and influential man, but there wasn't much Jesus Christ radiating from him. People began to ask would they continue attending church. And they left. The church is in crisis, but there is still a long way to go.