The Pope and Pell: ‘One of the most fascinating relationships in Rome’

The Guardian

October 24, 2020

By Andrew West

The Pope is understood to have believed in Cardinal George Pell’s innocence of child sexual abuse charges. But their different visions of the Catholic church puts a limit of their alliance

Suddenly, it seems, George Pell is everywhere. Freed from a Melbourne jail in April after the high court unanimously quashed his conviction for child sexual abuse, the cardinal joined the rest of the country in house-bound isolation as the first wave of Covid-19 hit.

But by July the man who was once No 3 in the Vatican hierarchy was dining with the former prime minister Tony Abbott in a Sydney club. And in late September, he returned to Rome, three years after taking leave from his job as the head of Vatican finances to answer the charges in Melbourne.

On 12 October, Pell had a reportedly friendly, half-hour meeting with Pope Francis, and last weekend he celebrated mass on the 10th anniversary of the canonisation of Australia’s first saint, Mary McKillop. Abbott was in the front pew.

Close by was a former speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, whose wife is ambassador to the Holy See. The presence of the Gingrich couple is significant because they represent Catholics in the US who have long considered Pell a champion of their orthodox style and theology.

Do not be surprised at more photographs from Rome of Pell presiding at mass, perhaps meeting old Vatican colleagues – basically doing what one might expect of a cardinal in semi-retirement.

But Pell has returned to a Rome gripped by an extraordinary conspiracy theory. A former Vatican official and Pell adversary, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, allegedly funnelled money – a reported $1.1m – to sources in Australia in an attempt to secure Pell’s conviction.

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