Vatican Critic Francesca Chaouqui Has Harsh Words for Cardinal Pell
By Nick Miller
Sydney Morning Herald
March 4, 2016
|Cardinal George Pell reads a statement after a meeting at Rome's Quirinale hotel with the victims of child sex abuse on Thursday. Photo: Marco Di Lauro|
Rome: A controversial figure at the centre of Rome's "Vatileaks 2.0" scandal claims Cardinal George Pell influenced and hurried the work of a Vatican reform commission to secure himself a job in the Holy See, far from the royal commission dogging the church in Australia.
However the cardinal has denied that he sought the job in order to insulate himself from fallout of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
|Francesca Chaouqui also known as "Lady Vatican" at her house in Rome this week. Photo: Marco Di Lauro|
A spokesperson said Cardinal Pell's "strong record of tackling incompetence, corruption and cover-up in Church life in Australia is precisely the reason he was asked to come to Rome to implement the Holy Father's reforms".
Francesca Chaouqui?, who currently faces trial over the leaking of secret documents revealing mismanagement, waste and power struggles at the Vatican, spoke exclusively to Fairfax Media this week, while the cardinal faced royal commission questioning over the protection of paedophile Catholic priests in Victoria.
Ms Chaouqui – dubbed "the Pope's lobbyist" and attacked as "the sexy bombshell that embarrasses the Vatican" in the Italian press – was a member of the Vatican reform commission COSEA, established by Pope Francis in mid-2013.
|From right: Spanish Monsignor Angel Lucio Vallejo Balda , Italian laywoman Francesca Chaouqui and journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianluigi Nuzzi on trial in the Vatican over the leaking and publication of secret documents that revealed waste, greed and mismanagement at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church. Photo: Snapper Media|
She claims a February 2014 papal letter decreeing the creation of the Secretariat for the Economy, which Cardinal Pell leads, was written by the cardinal and two other men behind closed doors at Domus Australia, the Catholic Diocese of Sydney's base in Rome and the cardinal's home away from home. Cardinal Pell was later named the Pope's chief of economic reform, prefect to the new secretariat.
Ms Chaouqui says she obviously cannot say, with certainty, that Cardinal Pell's arrival in the Vatican State was connected to his desire to leave Australia.
"However, it seems evident that now that he is here, life is much easier for him," she said. "He occupies an extremely important role in the Vatican State, which he will not renounce easily ... and he has obtained the much-desired Vatican passport.
|Public Relations expert and former member of the special commission on economic reforms of the Vatican Francesca Chaouqui is interviewed as she arrives at the "Vatileaks 2.0" trial session in 2015. Photo: Getty Images|
"No one can touch him now. The cardinal is serene; Australia is far away."
Fairfax Media is not claiming that Cardinal Pell's motive was to avoid facing the commission – indeed, he gave evidence to the commission from Rome this week.
But a Vatileaks-related book published last year claimed that from early 2013 Cardinal Pell was intent on securing a position in the Vatican – and his detractors were spreading rumours that he was "fleeing the aggressive investigation being conducted by the Australian royal commission."
Ms Chaouqui says that, given the cardinal's baggage, and the accusations against him, he was the wrong choice for the job of driving reform in the Vatican.
"I feared for the reform, I feared that with this situation Pell would no longer have the strength or authority to manage a new structure like the Secretariat for the Economy," she said.
Ms Chaouqui is now awaiting trial, accused of leaking confidential COSEA documents to the Italian media.
COSEA's recommendations led to the Pope's announcement in February 2014 of Cardinal Pell's appointment as the newly created Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
Ms Chaouqui compared this to a "coup d'etat".
"He was like an 'ombre', a shadow over our [COSEA] commission," she told Fairfax Media. Cardinal Pell told commission secretary Monseigneur Lucio Balda to "do it very very fast, to organise the Secretariat of the Economy".
"The focus is, I am thinking, to come very fast [from] Australia. The work of the commission had not finished yet and we had to do everything very, very fast.
"He would call Balda three times a day, he was in such a hurry that that was not normal ... it's not a studied thing but it is to create this organ and to [bring] Cardinal Pell here.
"Initially I am happy because I think this is a way to clean up the Vatican."
She scoffed at Cardinal Pell's claim, on the steps of the abuse royal commission's hearing this week, to have the full support of the Pope.
"If [the Pope] backed him, Pell would not have had to testify from a hotel in Italy but would have been allowed to do this from one of the 1000 rooms at the Vatican," she said.
Ms Chaouqui's claims are partly corroborated in a recent book, Merchants in the Temple by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi? – one of Ms Chaouqui's co-accused in the Vatileaks 2.0 trial.
Nuzzi wrote that Cardinal Pell "arrived quietly in the Holy See in the [northern] spring of 2013 with the intention of playing an important role on Francis' team".
"He guessed correctly the new climate that the Pope wanted to bring into the Curia and he wanted to play a central role in the project of restructuring the Vatican.
"Pell's detractors claimed that the Cardinal had a single objective in those weeks: to obtain for himself a post in the Apostolic Palace and leave Sydney behind, thereby fleeing the aggressive investigation being conducted by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse."
Fairfax Media put a series of questions regarding Ms Chaouqui's and Nuzzi's claims to Cardinal Pell's representatives on Thursday.
In response, a spokesperson for Cardinal Pell said he continues to have the support of the Holy Father.
"Implementation of the economic reforms recommended by COSEA and approved by the Holy Father in early 2014 is proceeding well and all is on target.
"The work on the Holy Father's reforms continue to receive strong support from within the Curia and around the world."