The Daily Beast
Barbie Latza Nadeau
ROME — Dingy sage-green curtains and three enormous shiny golden chandeliers in the Verdi Room of Rome’s Quirinale Hotel, a stone’s throw away from the main train station, provided an odd setting for one of the most important clerical sex-abuse hearings a senior Vatican official has ever faced.
The squeaky parquet-floored room, which is normally used for wedding receptions and first communion parties, was transformed into a makeshift courtroom for Cardinal George Pell, head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, who was called to answer questions by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Pell was supposed to travel to Australia for the hearings last year, but ill health (backed up by ample doctor certification) apparently prohibited the 74-year-old from making the long journey. So the commission decided to come to Rome and conduct the questioning by video link, Australian time, which means the four-hour hearings started at 10 p.m. in Rome—and could last three or four days.
On Sunday, the first night of the inquiry, Pell was whisked into the room through a side door and sat at a table covered with a green cloth at the front of a room filled with about 50 journalists, several dozen priests and Australians supporting Pell, and some 20 survivors of sexual abuse, who used crowd-funding to pay for their trip to Rome
The Cardinal never looked out at the crowd. Instead, his eyes were fixed solidly on the little silver camera in front of him as Gail Furness, a lawyer assisting the Royal Commission in what amounts to a prosecutorial role, asked questions from a courtroom in Sydney. At times the scene resembled one of those awkward Skype calls with either Furness or Pell talking over each and apologizing for the interruption.
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