29 August 2019, The Tablet

Pell and the Pope’s dilemma

Pell and the Pope’s dilemma

Cardinal Pell (left) with Pope Francis in 2014
CNS, Paul Haring


Although many people in the Vatican believe he is innocent, the high-profile Australian cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction for abuse has been dismissed. He now faces a church investigation and trial. As our Rome correspondent explains, this is a nightmare for Pope Francis

The news arrived in Rome via a faltering video feed in the dead of night. From Victoria’s Court of Appeal, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson stated that Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his convictions for the oral rape of a choirboy and the sexual assault of another chorister at St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s had been rejected.

Witnesses inside the court on 21 August said the news was greeted with a deep silence. Small gasps could be heard across the room. The cardinal was motionless upon hearing the verdict; his lips pursed a little. He took a long drink of water, before being led away.

A little over two years ago Cardinal Pell had been working out of a first-floor office in the Vatican’s apostolic palace, where since his appointment by Pope Francis in 2014 he had been overseeing an energetic reform of the Holy See’s finances. He is now in prison serving out the rest of his six-year sentence, the highest-ranking figure in the Church ever to be jailed for sex abuse.

The Pell case is a nightmare for the Pope. It is not just that the cardinal’s appeal against his conviction has been dismissed, but that a majority of people at high levels in the Church believe Pell is innocent. Among the cardinal’s supporters, there is deep scepticism about a conviction that divided the appeal judges and rests on the testimony of a single accuser.

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