George Pell – and the Catholic abuse scandal that is driving the faithful away

The Guardian

Catherine Pepinster

When the reforming Pope Francis set up an advisory council of cardinals soon after his election in 2013 and appointed, alongside his fellow liberals, the arch-conservative Cardinal George Pell, it caught the Catholic church by surprise. So did Pell’s later appointment as the pope’s chief financial adviser. But it also made sense: Pell is a bruiser and if the byzantine workings of the Vatican and its mired-in-scandal financial operation needed sorting out, then Pell could be the prelate to knock heads together.

Now, though, Pope Francis may well regret his choice of attack-dog-in-chief. For Australian Pell’s place at the side of the pontiff has brought the church’s child sex abuse scandal right into the heart of the Vatican. Cardinal Pell has been charged with alleged historical sexual assaults on children.

Police in the Australian state of Victoria, where Pell was a rural priest 40 years ago, have not specified the charges made against the cardinal, the ages of the alleged victims or when the abuse was said to have taken place.

Pell says he is innocent and has said he will return home to Australia to defend himself – a turnaround from last year when he refused to fly home to give evidence to the Australian royal commission into child abuse, saying he was too sick to do so. Instead he gave evidence via a video link in a hotel room in Rome, an event that became a media circus with victims of sexual abuse flying to Rome to protest.

That event was embarrassing for Pope Francis, who has professed zero tolerance over abuse, although he has been careful not to make judgments before the commission or the courts do so. But criminal charges against a key adviser are even worse.

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