New York Magazine
By Andrew Sullivan
Well into Pope Francis’s pontificate, one of his closest aides, the third-highest official in the Catholic Church, Cardinal George Pell, has now been credibly accused of several acts of sexual assault, including one of rape. Australian police have concluded that the evidence they have is sufficient to move forward, even in cases that happened long ago. Yesterday, Pell was allowed to hold his own press conference at the Vatican to tell us that he spoke with the Pope only a few days ago about a campaign of “character assassination” against him: “I’m very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia.” The Pope’s spokesperson defended the Cardinal by saying that “it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as important and intolerable acts of abuse committed against minors.” And, of course, we should respect a presumption of innocence before a trial on crimes of this magnitude and depravity.
But it all feels sickeningly familiar. And this denouement comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has been following the sex-abuse crisis in the church — including Cardinal Pell’s own behavior — for the last few decades. A cloud has hung over Pell since he was an Episcopal vicar in a parish in the 1970s that has been described as a “pedophile’s paradise and a child’s nightmare.” A full 15 years ago, Pell was accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy but when the church investigated, a retired Supreme Court justice found that there wasn’t enough evidence, even though the victim appeared to be “speaking honestly from actual recollection.” A year later, Pope John Paul II made Pell a cardinal. Several new alleged victims spoke out in a book published only last month.
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