Charges against Vatican cardinal revive questions about Pope Francis’s handling of child sexual abuse by priests

Washington Post

By Stefano Pitrelli, Michael Birnbaum and A. Odysseus Patrick June 29

ROME — The Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal ensnared one of Pope Francis’s top lieutenants on Thursday, underlining the halting progress the reformist pontiff has made in addressing decades of abuse by the clergy even as Cardinal George Pell declared himself innocent of the charges against him.

Pell, one of the most powerful officials in the Vatican, said he would return to his native Australia to fight multiple charges of sexual assault. He became the highest-ranking Vatican official to be formally accused by law enforcement when Australian police charged him earlier Thursday.

Advocates for victims of child abuse said that allowing Pell to face charges in Australia, rather than keeping him inside the Vatican City’s walls, was already a major step for a church that might have shielded him in earlier years. But they also said that the cardinal’s ability to remain in his post until Thursday, despite controversy about his role in the Australian church’s years of abuse, was a sign that Francis had not ushered in a new era in one of the most painful chapters in modern Catholic history.

The case pulls Francis’s papacy back into the abuse scandals that have battered the church for nearly two decades and led to demands for sweeping changes on monitoring, selecting and training the clergy. In the United States and elsewhere, groups continue to press for full accountability within the Catholic Church for alleged abuse of children and others going back generations. Many recommendations of a flagship reform commission empaneled by Francis, meanwhile, have been endorsed by the pope, then ignored by the Vatican bureaucracy.

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