Cardinal George Pell has returned to Rome today, shortly after the resignation of a high-profile opponent of his financial reform program, Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
Pell, appointed to head up Pope Francis’s overhaul of Vatican finances in 2014, but had been on a leave of absence from the treasurer post since 2017, when the first criminal allegations against him were lodged. Cardinal Pell was convicted in 2018 of one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16, which the plaintiff in the case stated had occurred whilst Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne. Earlier this year, however, the charges were quashed after Pell appealed to the High Court, the highest judicial authority in Austrailia. The seven judges of that court agreed unanimously that the jury in the cardinal’s trial “ought to have entertained a doubt” about his guilt, and that therefore he had been improperly tried.
At 78, three years past the conventional retirement age for bishops, Pell is not expected to return to his previous role or any other curial position. According to local media, the Australian Cardinal is visiting the city to clear out his old apartment. Given the recent resignation of one of his opponents as Treasurer, Angelo Becciu, and Pell’s public gratitude to Pope Francis for that decision, there has been some speculation that recent events and Pell’s visit are connected. Friends of the Australian Cardinal, however, have been insistent that his return to Rome after three years away was long-intended.
On 24 September the Holy See announced that Pope Francis had accepted Cardinal Becciu’s resignation, but gave no explanation for the decision. Becciu, until his resignation Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has stated that he was accused of channelling Church money to his family - charges that he denies. Although he gave up his Vatican positions and the privileges of a Cardinal, Becciu has made it clear that he intends to respond through the courts to press reports on his behaviour.
Shortly after the news broke, Cardinal Pell issued a statement in reference to his brother Cardinal’s resignation: “The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances … and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments”. Pell added that he hoped “the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria [Australia]”. Becciu was reportedly a powerful opponent of Pell’s plans to reorganise Vatican finances.