Australian Cardinal George Pell, having been sent back before a court of his country, has been granted leave by the Holy See “so that he can defend himself,” states a press release of the Holy See Press Office, published on Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Italian, English and Spanish, and read by the Director of the Press Office, Greg Burke. Cardinal Pell claimed his innocence before the press during a meeting at the Vatican.
“I’m looking forward to finally having my day in court. I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” Cardinal Pell said.
Observers in Rome believe that this leave manifests that respect for the presumption of innocence is not in contradiction with the “zero” tolerance discipline initiated by Pope Benedict XVI and followed by Pope Francis.
Now that Cardinal Pell, 76, must answer accusations of abuse on minors, the Vatican recalls that as Bishop he himself took measures for the protection of minors.
“The Holy See learned with regret the news of the indictment in Australia of Cardinal George Pell, for accusations going back to events that occurred decades ago,” says the Holy See.
In fact, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy is called to appear before the court of Melbourne this coming July 18, to answer accusations going back to the time he was priest at Ballarat (1976-1980), then Archbishop of Melbourne (1996-2001). Last October, the Australian police questioned him in Rome on the alleged events.
“The police of Victoria have accused George Pell of former crimes of sexual aggressions,” said to the press Assistant Commissioner Shane Patton this June 29.
A press release of the diocese of Melbourne points out that, “although it is still the early hours of the morning at Rome, Cardinal George Pell was informed of the decision and the measure of the police of Victoria” and that “he again vigorously denied the allegations.”
Cardinal Pell attributed the accusations to a campaign of defamation. He had to face for a first time accusations of which the Court of Sydney exonerated him in 2002. He defended himself before the press at the Vatican, affirming that these accusations have been the object “ of investigation for two years” and that there had been “leaks in the media”: “an unremitting defamation,” he said.
However, he renounces in advance his immunity; he does not shirk the management of important affairs of the reform, and is in a hurry to “defend himself before the court”: “I am innocent, the accusations are false and I consider the very idea of sexual abuse a horrible crime. I informed the Holy Father regularly during these long months and on numerous occasions, and we talked about the possibility that I take a period of leave to defend myself. So I am grateful to the Holy Father for granting me this leave to return to Australia. I have spoken with my lawyers so that they understand the delays in my return and I have consulted my doctors to see what is the best way to do so. I have always been consistent and clear in totally rejecting the accusations. The news of these accusations reinforces my determination, and the court procedures now offer me the possibility to defend my name and to return to my work at Rome.”
The Holy See press release pays tribute to the “honesty” of the Cardinal and to his “energetic” work in favor of the economic and administrative reforms desired by the Pope. A member of the C9, Cardinal Pell is a kingpin of the reform of the management of the Curia.
The Cardinal, 76, will return, the same source confirms, after having consulted his doctors, “to rehabilitate his name”: He said he is in a hurry to go before the court where he will vigorously reject the accusations,” stresses the Holy See.
Moreover, the note recalls that “Cardinal Pell has, for decades, openly and repeatedly condemned abuses committed on minors as immoral and intolerable acts,” and that he “collaborated in the past with the Australian authorities – for example, by his depositions at the Royal Commission,” his support for “the creation of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors” and, finally, for introducing, “as diocesan Bishop in Australia, systems and procedures for the protection of minors, and assistance to victims of abuse.”
The note also points out that the decision to return to Australia comes from Cardinal Pell: “Made aware of the measure, Cardinal Pell, in full respect of the civil laws, and recognizing the importance of his participation, so that the trial can unfold in a just manner and thus foster the search for the truth, has decided to return to his country to address the accusations brought against him.”
The Pope was informed, continues the note, and he has granted Cardinal Pell “a period of leave so that he can defend himself.” And the note affirms the Holy See’s “respect” vis-a-vis Australian justice, “which must decide on the questions raised.”
The Secretariat for the Economy, so important in Pope Francis’ reform will, nevertheless, continue its functions, specifies Greg Burke. “The secretaries will remain in charge of the management of the current affairs” until the Pope decides “otherwise.”
The Holy See renders warm homage to the Australian Cardinal, stressing that “the Pope has been able to appreciate Cardinal Pell’s honesty during these three years of work at the Curia and he is grateful to him for his collaboration and, in particular, for his energetic engagement in favor of reforms in the economic ad administrative sector and his active participation in the Council of Cardinals (C9).”
Observers in Rome noted that Pope Francis could have put the Cardinal in retirement – he has exceeded the canonical age of 75 years – or asked him for his resignation, and that he did not do so, while he implements the “zero tolerance” policy”: he has just reduced an Italian priest to the lay state. But is it not first of all respect for the presumption of innocence and of the time of the work of justice? In France, justice has just decided to take no further action in a case that caused the resignation of a Bishop.