The Holy See has called for respect following a television interview with a member of the Commission for the Protection of Minors who criticized Cardinal George Pell, the prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy.
In an interview with 60 Minutes, Peter Saunders called the cardinal’s position “untenable” following the Australian Royal Commission’s hearings on the Church’s actions on abuse crimes committed by a former priest. Cardinal Pell has strongly denied accusations that he had knowledge of abuse in the Diocese of Ballarat, where he served as a priest.
Saunders is one of the 17 members of the commission established by Pope Francis to ensure the protection of children and minors from sexual abuse. During the interview, Saunders also criticized the Australian prelate, saying: “He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care.”
However, Cardinal Pell’s secretary denied the accusations raised against him during the interview and also expressed disbelief of Saunders’ opinion given the fact that they never met.
“Cardinal Pell has never met Mr. Saunders, who seems to have formed his strong opinions without ever having spoken to His Eminence,” the statement read.
“In light of all of the available material, including evidence from the Cardinal under oath, there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material. In the circumstances, the Cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers.”
The cardinal’s spokesperson also released their statement to 60 Minutes regarding their broadcast, saying that it seemed clear that Saunders “is not well informed about the claims made against Cardinal Pell in the Ballarat hearings of the Royal Commission.”
“Many of the issues were addressed in the final report of the 2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry where there are no adverse findings against Cardinal Pell. These old and repeated allegations have been addressed many times by the Cardinal since 2002.”
During his episcopate, Cardinal Pell was one of the first Catholic bishops to address the issue of child abuse by members of the clergy. Three months after his appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he established the Melbourne Response, which investigated cases of abuse and provided counseling to victims.
‘Respect and Attention’
Following the broadcast of the interview, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi responded to journalists seeking a comment. The director of the Holy See Press Office said that the statements made by Saunders are personal, and not of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
The Commission, he said, “does not have the task to investigate or pronounce specific judgements on individual cases.”
“It also appears the Cardinal Pell has always responded carefully and argued the accusations and claims made by the competent authorities in Australia.”
Fr. Lombardi concluded his statement saying that the cardinal’s position on the matter has been made clear in his public statements “which must be considered reliable and worthy of respect and attention.”