Cardinal George Pell: Testimony May Obscure Vatican Power Struggle

By Nick Miller
Sydney Morning Herald
March 3, 2016

Rome: Was Tim Minchin wrong? Hilariously, outrageously, toe-tappingly wrong?

As this week of hearings in Rome went on, there has emerged a theory that the interests of transparent, feet-to-the-fire justice have been better served by Cardinal Pell not 'coming home' after all.

Cardinal George Pell leaving the Quirinale Hotel following the Royal Commission hearing on Tuesday. Photo: Getty Images

By sitting on his little dais in front of his video screen in the back room of the Hotel Quirinale, this theory goes, Cardinal Pell placed himself in the hot glare of the world's attention.

TV cameras from around Europe covered his arrival and departure at the hotel and sought out, regularly, the voices and outrage of the abuse survivors who crossed the globe to face him.

The survivors themselves acknowledged this. After the first day of the hearing they expressed to me their satisfaction with arrangements the international media interest in their stories and wishes has been large, varied and sustained.

Cardinal George Pell is under pressure from a Roman Curia desperate to see him shuffle into retirement. Photo: Dean Sewell

Back in Australia, it's unlikely so many media would have invested the time and effort. Their curiosity may never have been piqued, it would have been something distant and obscure. And of course, in Rome, this whole odd Australian judicial adventure is taking place just down the road from the Vatican itself.

'Vaticanisti' media and observers came along to the hearings out of curiosity, and ended up glued to the video evidence.

Cardinal Pell revealed that on Monday, he met with the Pope and "I arranged for him to have a summary of each day's activities provided to him and to the Secretary of State".

Cardinal George Pell, right, at the Vatican in 2014. Photo: Getty Images

He didn't reveal whether the Pope asked for the summary or whether the cardinal offered it. The former seems more likely. And the fact it is going to the Secretary of State the Vatican's No. 2 on the informal power list (with Cardinal Pell at No. 3) is a potent signal.

Some observers perceive a tussle for power within the Vatican between the secretary of state, Pietro Parolin, and Cardinal Pell's Secretariat of the Economy. To have allegations of omissions and cover-ups sent daily to a powerful rival would probably not be what Cardinal Pell's hoped for or intended from these hearings.

Priests and interested Romans have popped into the Quirinale. One, senior Opus Dei priest Fr John Wauck, attended every minute of the hearings. He is a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.

Cardinal George Pell giving evidence via video link from Rome.

He told Fairfax he found the whole thing fascinating. He envisaged using transcripts of the exchanges as an educational tool for students - future priests, bishops and cardinals themselves to show them the ethical and canonical pitfalls and problems that awaited them.

Again, this can hardly be what Cardinal Pell would hope for that he ends up a case study for his successors as to how things can go disastrously wrong.

But despite all this, Cardinal Pell may not look back on this week as a shot-in-the-foot moment.

Here in Rome he had better ability to manage the situation. The Commission and its lawyers were trapped behind a stuttering, slightly delayed video link that hampered their ability to tightly steer the cross-examination.

He was able (if he needed), to quickly reach out to allies and foes, to draw on the resources of his office at close range. To allay fears and reinforce relationships. To visit the Pope and reassure him.

He was able to "arrange" for those summaries of the hearings to be drawn up in other words, to exert some control over the messages going to his boss and his rival. Rather than a humiliating chore, this could be seen as a smart damage control strategy.

And, finally, his greatest advantage was time.

The fourth and last day of the hearings was a rush, with lawyers for the survivors incapable of stating their questions concisely and finding their time up before they even got into their stride.

As a result, the impression was of a series of gabbling courtiers being patiently heard and dismissed by the calm cardinal.

The Commission, which had optimistically imagined the hearing might only last three nights, had never prepared for a fifth. The room was simply not booked, and the cardinal allowed to make other plans.

As he left the building, the impassive Pell may well be of the view that he made the best of a bad situation.








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