(Note: Hardly three days have gone by since the publication of the Annual Report released by the Vatican, on the 2016 activity of the Vatican bank — officially called the Istituto per le Opere di Religione (Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly referred to as the IOR), Cardinal George Pell, one of the highest-ranking officials in the Vatican and the incharge of Operation Clean-up of various money laundering scandals of the Bank, has been indicted by the Australian police, on a number of counts of sexual abuse against minors. Cardinal Pell said this morning that he would travel to Australia in July to face the charges. He said he looks forward to the opportunity to "clear my name." One wonders how the Australian Government / Prosecution will to go back four decades to prove alleged sexual offences which took place ago when Cardinal Pell was 36! Will it be on the basis of personal evidence / witnesses against the Cardinal or on scientific bases? It won't be fair to incriminate him on the basis of word of mouth of the witnesses.
CCV's Associate Editor Isaac Gomes opines this is an attempt by vested interests in the Vatican Bank, to malign and remove Cardinal Pell from overseeing Vatican finances (he closed many ghost accounts). Pope Francis appointed Pell in 2014 to a five-year term to head the Vatican's new economy secretariat, giving him broad rein to control all economic, administrative, personnel and procurement functions of the Holy See. It should be noted that Cardinal Pell had planned for an external audit of Vatican finances entrusted to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). But the Pope gave in to those in the Vatican who objected to Pell’s plan for an external audit of Vatican finances. As Christopher Lamb reported today for The Tablet "Over the years the IOR had been mired in scandal with accusations that it was being used for money laundering and failing to abide by international financial standards." So Pope Francis' decision to ignore Cardinal Pell's recommendation for an external audit, casts a shadow on his drive for transparency and accountability).
Vatican, June 29, 2017, Thursday, Feast of St. Peter and Paul
Troubling news early this morning in Rome
(Cardinal Pell, 76, this morning in the Vatican Press Office. He read a statement saying he would return to Australia to face charges against him of sexual abuse of minors. He has been for the past three years charged by Pope Francis with the very delicate and important work of completely reforming all of the Vatican's finances. As of today, he is taking an open-ended leave from this post in order to face the charges against him, which were made public today)
Australian police have decided to charge Australian Cardinal George Pell, 76, one of the highest-ranking officials in the Vatican — he holds at Pope Francis' request a key oversight position regarding the Vatican's finances — with a number of counts of sexual abuse against minors.
Pell said this morning that he will travel to Australia in July to face the charges.
He said he looks forward to the opportunity to "clear my name."
The charges are apparently related to events alleged to have occurred decades ago.
Two accusations relate, it appears, to incidents in the late 1970s, 40 years ago, when Pell would have been a 36-year-old priest.
"It is unclear what allegations the charges announced Thursday relate to," reported Kristen Gelineau of the Associated Press this morning (link). "But two men, now in their 40s," she continued, "have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne."
She continued: "Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Pattonsaid police have summoned Pell to appear in an Australian court to face multiple charges of 'historic sexual offenses,' meaning offenses that generally occurred some time ago. Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations against the cardinal. Pell was ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18. Pell has repeatedly denied all abuse allegations made against him."
Journalists were summoned to the Vatican Press office at 8:30 a.m. this morning — a highly unusual occurrence — to hear a brief statement in response to the news from Cardinal Pell.
Pell was flanked by Vatican Press Office Director Greg Burke, who also read a brief statement.
Pell took no questions.
Gelineau's AP report includes this important sentence: “It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet,” Patton told reporters in Melbourne. “Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process.”
Francis appointed Pell in 2014 to a five-year term to head the Vatican's new economy secretariat, giving him broad rein to control all economic, administrative, personnel and procurement functions of the Holy See.
Here are excerpts from a thoughtful article today by Irish journalist Gerard O'Connell, from the American Jesuit weekly, America magazine.
Cardinal Pell protests innocence on abuse charges
By Gerard O'Connell
June 29, 2017
“I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court. I repeat I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” Cardinal George Pell said in a statement he read to the media in a crowded Vatican press hall at 8.30 a.m. on the morning of June 29.
He was referring to the “multiple charges in respect of historic sexual abuse” that have been made against him by the Victoria police, and were made public on June 29. The charges are criminal and he has been summoned to appear before Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.
He pointed out that “these matters” have been under investigation for nearly two years, and said, “There have been leaks to the media, relentless character assassination and for more than a month claims that a decision on laying charges is ‘imminent’.”
The cardinal, who turned 76 earlier this month, revealed that he had kept Pope Francis “regularly informed throughout this lengthy process” and said he had “spoken to him in recent days about the need to take leave to clear my name.”
He expressed his gratitude to the Pope for granting him “this leave to return home” and also to his doctors for advising him how best to do this…
The news, which broke after 2:30 a.m. (Rome time), did not come altogether as a surprise given earlier signals from the Victoria police, who had interviewed the cardinal in the Vatican last October and after a long and costly investigation and much deliberation took the decision to press charges against him.
But given this long time, many here in Rome wonder why the Victoria police decided to make the announcement on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which is a holiday in the Vatican.
This year, most of the world’s cardinals are present, as well as much of the international media, because of the consistory on the previous day at which the Pope made five new cardinals.
One Church source who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak, told America, he is concerned because of the time lag it could take to hold a trial and to sift through all the charges. A major time lag would in fact effectively mean an end to the cardinal’s career, regardless of the end result…
A source in Australia, who asked for anonymity because of the position he holds, told America after the news broke that “the charging of Cardinal Pell is like lancing a boil that has festered for too long. Now this drama moves into its final act. He has personified the Church in Australia for well over three decades and his fate will always be entwined with the image of that Church and its future.”
Various sources in Rome and Australia told America that the cardinal has been like a lightning rod for discontent and has been a controversial and somewhat unpopular figure in Australia for a long time.
They believe that some of the accusations against him are motivated by dislike and anger with the church and that he is so identified with the Church in Australia that the vitriol that existed at the moment is often vented in an almost vicarious response.
These sources also agree that given the widespread and justifiable anger over the sexual abuse of children and minors in some 1,000 Catholic Church institutions in Australia since the 1950s, it would be fair to say that the public want scalps, and the cardinal’s would be the biggest and most high profile one. For many people, it is the one they are after.
This climate, of course, raises the crucial question as to whether he can be given a fair trial.
And here is Christopher Lamb's useful report,
VATICAN FINANCIAL CHIEF, PELL, TAKES LEAVE OF ABSENCE TO FIGHT ABUSE CHARGES
29 June 2017 | by Christopher Lamb
Cardinal George Pell is temporarily stepping down from his role as Vatican financial chief following the Australian police’s decision to charge him with multiple child sexual abuse offences.
In a statement delivered at the Vatican this morning, the cardinal said he would take a leave of absence in order to clear his name, after which he plans to return to his work in Rome.
Pope Francis today said he appreciated Pell’s “honesty” and was grateful for his collaboration in reforming Vatican finances.
But the latest developments represent the biggest crisis to face Francis’ papacy, throwing his plans to bring accountability and transparency to Vatican finances into uncertainty.
“I’m looking forward, finally, to having my day in court. I’m innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” Pell told journalists this morning at the Holy See press office.
“I’ve kept Pope Francis, the Holy Father, regularly informed during these long months. And I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week, most recently a day-or-so ago. And we talked about my need to take leave to clear my name. So I’m very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia.”
The 76-year-old cardinal, who was accompanied this morning by Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said news of the charges had strengthened his “resolve” and added that the proceedings “offer me an opportunity to clear my name.”
The investigation, he pointed out, had been going on for two years during which he has suffered “relentless character assassination.”
While the Vatican stressed today that the Secretariat of the Economy’s work will continue it is now without its leader, and it was the Australian cardinal that the Pope entrusted with bringing order to the Vatican’s chaotic finances, with Pell working hard to make wide ranging changes.
The news that Cardinal Pell will be charged also puts the issue of clerical sexual abuse back on the agenda: he is the highest ranking Church figure ever to be formally charged with such offences.
Francis has consistently pledged “zero tolerance” when it comes to abuse and has taken steps to sack bishops who cover up incidents of abuse. But, earlier this year, Marie Collins, a member of a papal commission into safeguarding, stood down in frustration at the Vatican blocking reform.
Pell is now expected to appear in court on 18 July. He stressed today that he has spoken to doctors about the “best way” to achieve his return trip to Australia, given that in February last year the cardinal said a heart condition prevented him from making the long haul flight back to his home country. At that time he was due to give evidence to a royal commission investigation into institutional abuse.
The Holy See today expressed “its respect for the Australian justice system” but pointed out that the Cardinal has “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors.” They also pointed out that “as a diocesan bishop in Australia he has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse.”
The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, said that like many people, he was "shocked" by the decision of Victorian Police to charge Cardinal Pell, who he said is "determined to clear his name."
"The George Pell I know is a man of integrity in his dealings with others, a man of faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man," he said in a statement released today. He also stressed the importance of any abuse complaints being deal with in accordance with the law.
"Where complaints of abuse are made, victims should be listened to with respect and compassion and their compassion and their complaints investigated and dealt with according to law. No-one should be prejudged because of their high profile, religious convictions, or positions on social issues. The justice and compassion we all seek for victims of abuse included getting to the truth of such allegations. We must now allow the impartial pursuit of justice," continued the statement.
The Australian Catholics Bishops' Conference, of which Pell was a member from 1987 until February 2014, said “the Cardinal is entitled to the presumption of innocence, like any other member of the public, until his case is heard at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 18 July."
The statement continued: "In the past the Cardinal has consistently cooperated with the civil authorities, and justice now needs to run its course.”
Other possibly relevant news notes
Today's news about the charges against Pell, and his need to leave the Vatican and go to Australia to defend himself, comes just days after the Vatican's top accountant, Italian layman Libero Milone, 68, named to his post exactly two years ago, in mid-2015, abruptly resigned his post without explanation. When he was named, he told the press, "I will be free to verify every sector and I will answer only to the Pope."
This news comes also four months after the Vatican euro coin apeared on 1st March without the image of Pope Francis, showing only the papal coat-of-arms. The decision to removed the Pope's face from the coin is a decision that some observers have seen as Francis' own choice in order to distance himself from all economic matters involving the Vatican, though no official explanation has been given.
American Vaticanist John Allen has some perceptive insights in his own article on Crux today. Here is the essence of it: "To be clear, the question of whether Pell is good or bad for the Pope’s aim of reform has been debated intensely since his arrival on the Vatican scene is early 2014. Fans believe Pell has done everything in his power to bring a recalcitrant system to heel, and the criticism he’s encountered is about entrenched interests defending business as usual — even, in some extreme cases, actually trying to conceal corruption. To critics, however, Pell from the beginning was more about concentrating power in his own hands than delivering a lasting reform that made sense in the context of the Vatican, and his overreaching has alienated people who should have been allies and thereby needlessly slowed things down. Those latter perceptions are widely believed to be the primary reason Pope Francis has pulled back from his support for Pell, from taking away his office’s control over management of Vatican assets and returning it to the Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), to supporting those in the Vatican who objected to Pell’s plan for an external audit of Vatican finances entrusted to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). (It should also be said that Pell’s Vatican critics have been emboldened by the abuse controversy surrounding him in Australia, often attempting to use it as ammunition to weaken his position internally, and their reaction presumably has little to do with his actual innocence or guilt.)"
Also, it has been noted that on March 4 this year, Francis accepted the Vatican's 2015 final financial statement, but did not officially give his approval of it. No official explanation for this has been given.
(Source: Letters from the Journal of Dr Robert Moynihan, Editor-in- Chief, Inside the Vatican Magazine)