On June 28th, 2017, the New York Times reported that Australian police are seeking to bring charges against a senior Cardinal who serves as one of Pope Francis’ closest advisors. George Pell is the highest ranking official, ranking third in the Holy See, charged with allegations of child sexual abuse. Authorities stated there were multiple charges being brought against him, but did not specify further.
The charges are groundbreaking, serving as the first time that a Vatican official had been formally charged with child sexual abuse. Pell is the highest ranking figure in the church to face such charges, despite decades of allegations of child abuse that have engulfed the reputation of the clergy. CNBC cited two men in their 40s who have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Pell is the top Australian Catholic prelate, having lead the archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney before becoming the Vatican’s number-three official. The Washington Post reported that Pell runs the Vatican’s finances, with his position as treasurer being one of the most powerful in Rome, second only to the pope.
The Washington Post described the decades of sexual abuse allegations surrounding Pell. They reported that in Ballarat, where he served as episcopal vicar for education from 1973 to 1984,children had been beaten and sexually assaulted by priests and nuns at the St. Alipius Primary School. They added that according to the Australian newspaper The Age, Ballarat was “probably the worst of Australia’s 32 dioceses for sexual abuse.”
The Guardian published video of George Pell’s statement on the matter where Australian police representatives stated that Pell faced charges of historical sexual assault offenses. The representative said that Cardinal Pell will be required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court in July, adding that Pell is facing multiple charges regarding historic sexual offenses with multiple complainants relating to those charges.
CNN wrote that Pell had “totally rejected” the charges leveled against him. Pope Francis has faced criticism for his response to child abuse allegations in the Catholic Church, despite having developed a reputation for generally liberal policies on social issues. Francis fueled allegations of excessive leniency on the subject after the publication of a Vatican guidelines stating Cardinals were not required to report child sexual abuse. In March 2017, Daily Mail reported that Francis faced strong criticism when he “applied his vision of a merciful church” by reducing the sentences of several pedophiles priests to punishments such as a lifetime of prayer and penance. Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI defrocked over 800 priests during his eight-year papacy.
Earlier this year the resignation of Marie Collins, a survivor of clergy abuse, resigned from a Vatican commission created by Pope Francis to investigate the issue. The Guardian reported that Collins was the last of the commission members to resign, with the statement that it is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”