Pope likely to abandon Pell as sex-abuse charges rock Vatican: experts

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

ROME — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Jun. 29, 2017

Not long ago, Cardinal George Pell of Australia was being talked up by Vatican cardinals as a potential successor to Pope Francis. Today, he is best known as the highest-ranking prelate, and only Vatican insider, to face criminal charges for sex offences in the Catholic Church’s seemingly endless child-abuse scandals.

Defiant and bluntly outspoken as ever, Cardinal Pell used a Thursday news conference in Rome to deny the charges laid against him by police in the Australian state of Victoria, where the cardinal was born and worked in the 1970s. “I am innocent of these charges,” he said. “They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Cardinal Pell, 76 – the Vatican’s effective financial clean-up man who is widely considered to be the Church’s third-most-powerful figure – said he would take a leave of absence as he fights the allegations. The details of what the Australian police called “historical sexual offences” were not released. He is scheduled to appear in Melbourne on July 18 to face the charges.

While the Vatican put out a statement in mild support of Cardinal Pell, the belief among Vatican watchers is that his meteoric rise is over and that Pope Francis will abandon his man even if the charges don’t stick. The allegations mark the biggest crisis in the four-year papacy of Pope Francis, who, in a December letter to his bishops, insisted the Church would adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual abuse of children by the clergy.

Rev. Thomas Doyle, the American Dominican priest who warned three decades ago that the priesthood faced a highly damaging pedophilia scandal, told the National Catholic Reporter that law enforcement officials everywhere are no longer treading gently on clerical abuse cases. “A lot of the deference and the protection that the Holy See has counted on and taken for granted for so long is seriously eroding,” he said. “The defences of that the Holy See could count on are now in a precarious position.”

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