Pope Francis and George Pell © Vatican Media/Romano Siciliani (CBA)
He was once one of the most powerful men in the Vatican. Then-Cardinal George Pell had to stand trial on abuse allegations in his native Australia. Now other light is shed on the events.
Converted to at least 700.000 euros have flowed from the Vatican to Australia. But for what? On the renovation of the Pope's embassy in Canberra? For seeking or bribing witnesses in abuse case against Australian Cardinal George Pell?
The media machinery is rattling – but this has not yet made the matter any clearer. Pell was acquitted by Australia's Supreme Court in early April – after initially being convicted in two instances and spending some 400 days in jail.
Speculation about a conspiracy by Vatican officials
Chrissie Foster is among those calling for a full accounting of the flow of money. Their daughters had been raped by a priest in Melbourne. Foster does not want to take part in the speculations about the purpose of the money from the Vatican. They are only interested in the dignity of the victims, who were sexually abused by priests in past decades.
The mere rumor that the money might have been used around witness testimony is enough to undermine the credibility of all abuse victims, she finds.
Speculation about a conspiracy by Vatican officials and Australian authorities against Pell has long circulated on the Fifth Continent. The cardinal has many powerful enemies – but also powerful friends. Among the latter is the media empire of publisher Rupert Murdoch, who dominates the country's social debate with a more than 70 percent share of Australia's print media. Conservative forces like him stood unwaveringly by Pell during the trial.
Who paid Pell's legal fees?
Meanwhile, abuse victims ask – so far unanswered – who paid Pell's legal fees. In addition, according to press reports, several Australian authorities are investigating money flows during the trial – which, according to the newspaper "The Australian", did not amount to the equivalent of around 700.000 euros, but rather about twice that amount. Austrac, the anti-money laundering agency, confirmed to journalists that there had been transactions – but at the same time said it had so far found no evidence of dubious or even illegal payments.
Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who resigned over allegations of corruption, is speculated to be a possible key figure in the case. Did the 72-year-old Italian intend to use the funds to influence the trial of Pell? Becciu, it is claimed, was desperate to prevent a financial reform and fight against corruption in the curia that Pell, as Vatican finance minister, was pursuing on behalf of the pope.
Return to Rome
After his acquittal, Pell last returned to Rome. Pell welcomed Becciu's quasi-simultaneous resignation, saying, "The Holy Father was elected to clean up the Vatican's finances."He hopes that the 'mucking out of the stables' will continue both at the Vatican and in Victoria; the Australian state where Pell long served as a priest and archbishop of Melbourne, and by whose judiciary he feels he has been unfairly treated and persecuted.
As right-hand man to the Bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Austin Mulkearns, who died in 2016, and later as Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell played a role in covering up abuse cases. At least that was the conclusion of the state commission investigating the handling of abuse by churches and other institutions. Relevant testimony and documents were released after Pell's acquittal.
The Pell-related sections of the commission's final report are reportedly the basis for civil lawsuits against the cardinal in courts in Victoria. Under the headline "He knew" demand on the platform Change.org now almost 120.000 signatories called for Pell's removal from the priesthood. The Causa Pell still does not seem to be closed. And there are also many unanswered questions about Becciu and his actions that brought him into disfavor with Pope Francis.