Pell vindicated not resurgent


After having been freed from jail in April when Australia’s High Court ruled unanimously he never should have been convicted of child sexual abuse in the first place, and after watching his erstwhile Vatican archenemy not just fall but plummet from grace last month, Cardinal George Pell completed his comeback tour Oct. 12 with a half-hour audience with Pope Francis.

When Cardinal Pell left Rome in 2017 to return to Australia to face those abuse charges his future seemed bleak, while that of his nemesis, then-Archbishop Angelo Becciu, seemed almost unlimited.

Cardinal Becciu was as the height of his power as the sostituto, the pontiff’s Chief of Staff, having wrested control of the Vatican’s financial reform away from Cardinal Pell and centralizing it largely in his own hands.

The changes of fortune since that moment have been almost too numerous to track.

A year later, Cardinal Becciu was out as the sostituto, though it was a soft landing since he was made a cardinal and assigned to run the Vatican’s department for making saints, one of those positions in which it’s possible to make new friends and reward old ones.

Still, the view was that the boss must have lost a degree of faith in Cardinal Becciu to remove him from what is, by common consensus, perhaps the most important post in the Vatican after the papacy itself.

Several months later, Cardinal Pell was convicted in a second abuse trial in Australia in February 2019 after a first resulted in a hung jury, and he began serving what would turn out to be more than 400 days behind bars.

Yet, after a little more than a year, Cardinal Pell was once more a free man. Several months later, Cardinal Becciu wasn’t quite in prison but unquestionably in the dog house – fired from his post at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and his rights as a cardinal, and a magnet for accusations and investigations regarding virtually every form of fraud on the books.

So, is Cardinal Pell back? More likely than not, it depends on what you mean by “back.”

His Monday tête-à-tête with Pope Francis clearly means that his exoneration on abuse charges is complete, at least as far as Pope Francis and his team are concerned.

If there were any lingering doubt about his guilt, not only would he not have gotten a half-hour with the pontiff, but Vatican News wouldn’t have published a lengthy piece that ended with the subhead, “The Holy See welcomes the acquittal.”

Moreover, sources around Pope Francis say the pontiff deeply admires the way Cardinal Pell handled his ordeal, trusting in his own innocence and allowing the Australian justice system to do its work without any assertions of special privileges.

The pontiff was photographed smiling during the encounter and was seemingly happy to have the chance to pass some time with Cardinal Pell.

As far as Cardinal Becciu goes, we already know that Cardinal Pell has taken deep satisfaction in his dismissal, issuing a statement congratulating Pope Francis and expressing hope the cleaning of the stables will continue.

Cardinal Becciu’s downfall has been read by insiders as an indication that Cardinal Pell was on the right track when he was running the financial reform and had the old guard quarterbacked by Cardinal Becciu in his sights.

Therefore, it’s entirely fair to say that Oct. 12 audience put an exclamation point on the vindication of George Pell.

Some, however, wonder if Cardinal Pell is “back” in another sense, meaning a return to power in the Vatican, finally being able to finish what he started as Pope Francis’ “tip of the spear” for financial reform in 2014.

A resurgence in that sense is much less likely, for a variety of reasons. Continue reading

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