February 27, 2019
By John L. Allen Jr.
Like virtually everyone in Catholic circles, the Vatican has known since December about Cardinal George Pell’s conviction in his native Australia for alleged sexual offenses against two minor boys in 1996. As a result, Rome was not at all caught off guard when news of the conviction made the rounds Tuesday, after a gag order was lifted.
The statement read aloud to reporters Tuesday by Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti was not, therefore, cobbled together under tight deadline pressure. On the contrary, officials had three months to ponder what they wanted to say when the moment came.
That truth makes it all the more striking how little the statement actually said – no word about any Church trial of Pell, nothing about taking away his cardinal’s red hat or expelling him from the Catholic priesthood, all of which happened to Theodore McCarrick of the United States in what, in Church terms, was the mere blink of an eye.
How does one explain the difference? It’s actually fairly simple: Early on, senior officials were convinced of McCarrick’s guilt. With Pell, they still aren’t.
Over the last couple of days, Crux has spoken with some of the Catholic Church’s leading reformers on clerical sexual abuse, inside the Vatican and out. To be clear, these are not people automatically inclined to give accused clergy the benefit of the doubt, and several are figures who actually dislike some of Pell’s political and theological stances as well as what’s often see as his fairly bruising personality.
Nonetheless, they’ve expressed skepticism that Pell is actually guilty of the crimes with which he was charged and convicted.
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