ROME – Cardinal George Pell was due to return to the Vatican on Wednesday three years after leaving Australia to face sexual abuse charges and five months after that country’s Supreme Court overturned its conviction on those charges.
“We understand that he will arrive in Rome tomorrow,” said Chiara Porro, the Australian ambassador to the Holy See, adding that she had no contact with the prelate or his office and therefore could not comment on the reasons for the trip.
On its website, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has linked an article in the diocesan newspaper The Catholic Weekly, which reported that Cardinal Pell returned “at the invitation of the Vatican” and that “it was believed that the invitation came from Pope Francis. ”
A Vatican spokesman said Tuesday that Cardinal Pell should not meet with the Pope.
The return of the Australian Cardinal follows the unexpected fall of his longtime rival at the Vatican, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, as head of the department that creates saints. Cardinal Becciu said at a news conference on Friday that he had been dismissed by the Pope on charges of embezzlement, but claimed he was innocent.
Cardinal Pell had been one of the Vatican’s leading brokers before the sexual offense allegations affected his career. He was selected by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Secretariat for Economics in 2014, a structure that should more simplify, coordinate, and render transparently the major economic and administrative affairs of the Church.
A few months after his appointment, Cardinal Pell published an article in the British magazine Catholic Herald describing some of the challenges he faced. For example, he found that some Vatican departments operate their finances “almost free-hand” according to “long-established patterns. “
Cardinal Pell’s attempts to contain and rule the complex financial affairs of the Holy See soon stirred up feathers. From 2014 to 2017 he met Cardinal Becciu repeatedly, for eight years the powerful Chief of Staff in the State Secretariat of the Vatican. Cardinal Becciu left the Secretariat to head the Vatican Department that creates saints in 2018.
In 2017, Cardinal Pell returned to Australia, where he was tried for sexual abuse by two choirboys in 1996, an accusation he denied. He was sentenced to six years in prison in March 2019. The verdict was upheld on appeal and Cardinal Pell spent 13 months behind bars before the Australian Supreme Court overturned the decision in April. The court ruled that the jury should have doubted his guilt.
At the press conference on Friday, Cardinal Becciu said Pope Francis had been misled by Vatican prosecutors who accused him of nepotism and “embezzlement”.
Cardinal Becciu also said the Pope never raised the issue of a financially risky London real estate deal that was being conducted by the Secretariat under his supervision and that was examined by Vatican prosecutors last year.
The deal had apparently also fallen under the lens of Cardinal Pell. In an interview published in The Catholic Weekly in August, the Australian cardinal said the Vatican has “been plagued by inefficiency and corruption over the years” and cited the London property contract “an example of both, certainly at best an example of inefficiency. ” . ”
He added in the interview that he believed that “most crooks are not in the system”, although “you can never be entirely sure”.
The 79-year-old Cardinal Pell no longer plays a role in the Vatican. In an institution where the retirement age is 75, he is unlikely to get a new job.
Last year Francis named the Reverend Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves to succeed Cardinal Pell. In an interview with the new prefect, Andrea Tornielli, Vatican communications director, wrote that the Pope had personally asked the Jesuit priest “to carry out a reform aimed at the economic transparency of the Holy See and an increasingly efficient use of goods and resources in the service of it Evangelizing mission. “
In the August interview, Cardinal Pell said his successor was “on the right track, but that promise must bear fruit”.