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Sydney archbishop: No comment for now on allegations about Cardinal Pell

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SYDNEY — Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal George Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public.

Until police decide how to proceed, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he will not be commenting on the case.

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

“Justice must be left to run its course,” Archbishop Fisher said in a statement May 17.

Archbishop Fisher said Cardinal Pell, currently head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, “has cooperated in every way with multiple police, parliamentary and Royal Commission investigations.”

“Everyone supports just investigation of complaints, but the relentless character attacks on Cardinal Pell, by some, stand the principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty on its head,” Archbishop Fisher said. “Australians have a right to expect better from their legal systems and the media. Even churchmen have a right to a fair go.”

Last July, allegations surfaced in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. featuring several people who accused Cardinal Pell of sexual assault; at least one of the accusations had been found to be unsubstantiated by an Australian court in 2002. Some accusations dated to the late 1970s, when Cardinal Pell was a priest in Ballarat, Australia.

He served as archbishop of Melbourne 1996-2001 and archbishop of Sydney 2001-2014 before being asked to serve at the Vatican.

At the time the allegations surfaced, Cardinal Pell dismissed them as “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign,” and a statement issued by his office said that “claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong.”

In October, Australian police questioned Cardinal Pell in Rome regarding the accusations.

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Australian police question a cardinal in Rome

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Australian police questioned Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, in Rome regarding accusations of alleged sexual abuse.

Cardinal Pell, who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, was “voluntarily interviewed” by Victoria police in late October, said a statement Oct. 26 from the cardinal’s office.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Australian police questioned Cardinal Pell in Rome regarding accusations of alleged sexual abuse. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

Australian Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. Australian police questioned Cardinal Pell in Rome regarding accusations of alleged sexual abuse. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

“The cardinal repeats his previous rejection of all and every allegation of sexual abuse and will continue to cooperate with Victoria police until the investigation is finalized,” the statement said.

Allegations surfaced in July in a report by Australia’s ABC featuring several people who accused Cardinal Pell of sexual assault; at least one of the accusations had been found to be unsubstantiated by an Australian court in 2002.

At the time, Cardinal Pell dismissed the accusations as “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign” and a statement issued by his office said that “claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong.”

Pope Francis weighed in on the controversial allegations one week after the report aired, saying they were unclear and in “the hands of investigators.”

Speaking to journalists aboard his return flight from Krakow, Poland, July 31, the pope warned against deeming alleged accusations true or false before they are investigated thoroughly.

“If I would give a verdict for or against Cardinal Pell, it would not be good because I would judge prematurely,” he said. “We should wait for justice and not judge beforehand (or) a verdict by the press, a verdict based on gossip.”

Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, told reporters Oct. 26 that he believed Pope Francis knew about the Victoria police questioning the cardinal. The spokesman also referred reporters to the pope’s comments in July and to the strong statements of denial issued by Cardinal Pell’s office.

 

 

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Australian cardinal promises abuse survivors to support healing, protection

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Australian Cardinal George Pell promised to work with a group of abuse survivors to help prevent suicide among victims and support healing and protection programs.

“One suicide is too many. And there have been many such tragic suicides. I commit myself to working with the group to try to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering,” he said March 3 after meeting in Rome with a group of survivors from his hometown of Ballarat.

Australian Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to media in front of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome March 3. Cardinal Pell met Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse who were at the hotel during his testimony via video link to Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Australian Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to media in front of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome March 3. Cardinal Pell met Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse who were at the hotel during his testimony via video link to Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The closed-door meeting came after the survivors watched the cardinal give evidence over four days to Australia’s Royal Commission about what he knew about the actions of child abusers among clergy and about bishops reassigning them to other parishes during his tenure in Australia. A number of survivors and supporters had come to Rome thanks to a crowd-funding campaign in order to witness in person the cardinal’s testimony, which was delivered over a live video link-up with the commission in Australia.

The cardinal, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, had admitted during the hearings that church leadership “has made enormous mistakes” in confronting suspected and known abuse against minors. Hundreds of child abuse claims or complaints have been made against clergy in the Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat, the cardinal’s hometown and the diocese for which he was ordained in 1966.

“It would be marvelous if our city had become well-known as an effective center and the example of practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse,” he read from his written statement while standing outside the Hotel Quirinale, where the meeting and his previous testimony took place.

He said that during his meeting with survivors, he heard “their stories and of their sufferings. It was hard; an honest and occasionally emotional meeting.”

He said he was “committed to working with these people from Ballarat and surrounding areas” and was willing “to help make Ballarat a model and a better place of healing, for healing, and for peace.”

He promised to continue to help the group work with church agencies in Rome and at the Vatican, especially the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. He helped arrange for some of the victims to meet with the commission earlier that same day.

He also said he supported plans to look into the possibility of creating “a research center to enhance healing and to improve protection.”

Earlier, the cardinal had said he was hoping to facilitate a possible meeting between Pope Francis and the survivors, who were set to fly back to Australia March 4.

After the meeting with Cardinal Pell, one survivor from Ballarat, Phil Nagle, told the Catholic Herald that they “talked about the future not the past. … I think he gets it.”

Nagle said they discussed the importance of counseling and care for survivors and how the church “from (Cardinal) George’s level down” would help with that.

David Ridsdale, whose uncle, a former priest, abused him and others, told reporters March 2 that people should “never underestimate broken people.” Gerald Ridsdale, who is now in prison, had lived in the same house with the cardinal for a few years in the 1970s.

With their presence in Rome and long years of advocacy work, “I hope we’ve shown everyone that when you face the truth with dignity you really can achieve so much,” David Ridsdale said.

“I think what we’ve been through over the years, all of us, to have pulled together, to pull this off, is a testament: don’t ever underestimate broken people,” he said.

When people notice someone who seems to be in need or hurting, “stop the judging. Pick them up like we picked each other up because that is how humanity is going to go forward. Not this hiding, not this power struggle, not this power imbalance,” he said.

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Cardinal Pell: Bishop committed ‘gross deception’ about Australian pedophile

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SYDNEY — When former Bishop Ronald Mulkearns of Ballarat moved a pedophile priest from parish to parish in the early 1970s without divulging the underlying reasons for the moves, the appointments implied the bishop had confidence in the priest, Cardinal George Pell told Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Cardinal Pell, then a priest, was a diocesan consultor and, as such, was among a group that approved priests’ assignments. Cardinal Pell told the Royal Commission that, as a consultor, he never received information that would indicate that Father Gerald Ridsdale had committed a string of serious offenses.

Gail Furness, left, stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he testifies via video link from a hotel in Rome to Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney Feb. 29. (CNS photo/Jeremy Piper-Oculi, handout, Reuters)

Gail Furness, left, stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he testifies via video link from a hotel in Rome to Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney Feb. 29. (CNS photo/Jeremy Piper-Oculi, handout, Reuters)

Ridsdale has since been laicized. Since 1994, he has been in prison and has been convicted of crimes against 54 children, as young as 4, during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

For the second day, Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, testified via video link from the Hotel Quirinale in Rome because his heart condition prevented him from making the flight back to Sydney for the hearing. The March 1 hearing began at 10 p.m. Feb. 29 in Rome and lasted about four hours.

Gail Furness, senior counsel assisting the commission, and Justice Peter McClellan, commission chair, challenged Cardinal Pell on his knowledge of offenses committed by Ridsdale in the 1970s.

When he was asked whether he had been deceived and lied to by Bishop Mulkearns and others who knew about Ridsdale’s crimes, Cardinal Pell said this was unfortunately correct and was a “gross deception.”

He surmised Bishop Mulkearns could have wanted to protect consultors from culpability and avoid being challenged by them, calling the bishop’s behavior “extraordinary and reprehensible” and saying he could not name another bishop whose actions were so grave and inexplicable. He confirmed several times that pedophilia was never discussed during consultors’ meetings, pointing out that this was consistent with the unanimous evidence of other consultors who had already appeared before the commission.

Citing a 1994 newspaper report that quoted a police detective as saying Ridsdale’s crimes were “pretty common knowledge” in Inglewood’s Catholic congregation in 1976, Furness asked Cardinal Pell if he knew whether it was common knowledge at the time.

“I couldn’t say that I ever knew that everyone knew,” Cardinal Pell responded. “I didn’t know … whether it was common knowledge or whether it wasn’t. It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.” He went on to say that the suffering was real and he very much regretted it.

When inquiring about when the cardinal served as a consultor, questions focused on three particular meetings of the college.

The first occurred in 1977 when Ridsdale was appointed as parish priest of Edenhope, the second in 1979 when he was approved to undertake further studies, and the third in 1982 when he was sent to work at the Catholic Enquiry Centre, a national evangelization body established to take calls from those seeking information about the Catholic faith. In the 1982 meeting, the minutes state that the bishop advised it had become “necessary” for Ridsdale to be moved.

Accusations began to fly in the final hour of the hearing, with Furness suggesting numerous times that it was implausible that Bishop Mulkearns or the two other consultors who knew of Ridsdale’s offending did not tell the remaining consultors at the 1982 meeting the reason for Ridsdale’s move.

Cardinal Pell rejected each assertion, saying that while he did not have a clear recollection of the meeting, he would have remembered if something such as pedophilia was mentioned because it was clearly wrong and would have been a reason to have the priest removed.

About an hour after the hearing concluded, Anthony Foster, the father of two victims, met briefly with Cardinal Pell as he prepared to leave the hotel.

Speaking to media outside the hotel, Foster said that Cardinal Pell held his hand for the entirety of their conversation. The cardinal had previously offered to meet personally with any of those who had traveled to Rome who wanted to meet with him.

Foster told media that he expressed to the cardinal that the only reason he would meet with him would be to discuss improving the Melbourne Response, which provides compensation and counseling to victims of child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He said Cardinal Pell responded that it could be discussed.

The Melbourne Response was established in 1996 by Cardinal Pell within the first three months of his appointment as archbishop of Melbourne. While some elements of the plan have been criticized, it was regarded as the first redress scheme for survivors of clerical sexual abuse of its kind in Australia.

Cardinal Pell was expected to testify for two more nights.

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Cardinal Pell tells Australian abuse hearing he won’t defend indefensible

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SYDNEY — The Vatican’s prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, Cardinal George Pell, told a special hearing of Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that he was not trying “to defend the indefensible.”

Commencing the morning of Feb. 29, 10 p.m. Feb. 28 in Rome, Cardinal Pell gave evidence at a special session convened in Rome’s Hotel Quirinale via video link to the Commission in Australia, from where he was questioned for four hours by Gail Furness, senior counsel assisting the commission.

Gail Furness, senior counsel, stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he holds a Bible while appearing via video link from a hotel in Rome, Italy, to testify at the Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney Feb. 29. (CNS photo/Reuters handout)

Gail Furness, senior counsel, stands in front of a screen displaying Australian Cardinal George Pell as he holds a Bible while appearing via video link from a hotel in Rome, Italy, to testify at the Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney Feb. 29. (CNS photo/Reuters handout)

“The church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those,” he said. “The church in many places, including Australia, has mucked things up and let people down, and I’m not here to defend the indefensible.”

A heart condition prevented the cardinal from making the flight back to Sydney for the hearing, with the commissioners agreeing to his request to give evidence via video link.

The Royal Commission also ruled that Australian survivors of abuse, their supporters and media from Australia would be permitted to be in the room while the cardinal testified, and the Verdi room at Hotel Quirinale was filled to capacity for his evidence.

It is the third time Cardinal Pell has testified before the commission; he appeared in person in March 2014 and again later that year via video link from Rome. He answered questions for four hours and was expected to repeat those hours for two-three more nights as the hearings continue.

The cardinal met privately with Pope Francis Feb. 29.

The Royal Commission was announced by then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard in November 2012 and was tasked with making recommendations on issues relating to child protection in institutions and government. It is empowered to employ a combination of public and private hearings, roundtable discussions and research projects, but has no ability to make findings in relation to criminal conduct.

Cardinal Pell arrived at the Rome hotel about three hours before he was due to testify.

Furness began her questioning by asking Cardinal Pell about his role and authority within the Holy See, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the new judicial section set up within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge bishops on matters of abuse of office connected to the abuse of minors.

He confirmed that his advice was sought on the establishment of the pontifical commission, that he fully supported it, and that while he did not control the resources made available to it, had made it clear that anything it wanted should be provided.

Focus then turned to the cardinal’s early years as an assistant pastor in the Diocese of Ballarat, a large diocese spanning some 22,000 square miles in western Victoria. Cardinal Pell spent the initial years following his 1966 ordination studying in Rome and the United Kingdom and did not take up his first appointment as an assistant pastor until mid-1971.

He told the commission that during the early 1970s there was a predisposition to not believe children and that, too many times, complaints were dismissed in sometimes “scandalous” circumstances.

He said that reasonable complaints were dealt with poorly by church authorities and that the instinct was to protect the institution and community of the church from shame. He also commented that there was a well-intended overestimate of what could be treated by psychiatry and psychology.

Quizzed at length about his knowledge of complaints against Msgr. John Day, a priest who died in 1978 before any charges could be laid against him, Cardinal Pell said that while he could recall some discussions at the time incidents were reported in a newspaper in 1972, Msgr. Day’s parish in the town of Mildura was 120 miles from his own parish in Swan Hill; the distance meant that the gossip from one town did not necessarily reach another.

Asked about his next appointment as assistant priest at St. Alipius, Ballarat East, he said he had heard unspecified reports of harsh discipline being inflicted on children at a local Catholic school and possible other infractions of a sexual nature by Brother Edward Dowlan.

The schools connected to the parish were run by the Christian Brothers, several of whom would later be convicted of numerous sexual offenses against children. Cardinal Pell told the commission he had discussed the matter with the school chaplain, who assured him the Brothers were aware and dealing with the matter. Brother Dowlan left the school shortly thereafter.

Another priest resident at the St. Alipius presbytery during the period in question was Father Gerald Ridsdale, who has been in prison since 1994 for these crimes and has been laicized. Cardinal Pell told the commission that the way Ridsdale was dealt with by Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who gave testimony via video link from a nursing home where he is receiving palliative care for cancer, was a “catastrophe” for the victims and the church.

“If effective action had been taken earlier, an enormous amount of suffering would have been avoided,” the cardinal said.

The hearing adjourned shortly after the questions about Ridsdale began, but Cardinal Pell’s relationship with and knowledge of the offenses committed by Ridsdale are expected to be the focus of more analysis in the coming days.

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Cardinal calls for inquiry into ‘utterly false’ reports accusing him of sexual abuse

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Australian Cardinal George Pell called for an inquiry into the leaking of accusations that he is under police investigation for the alleged abuse of minors.

Calling the accusations “without foundation and utterly false,” the cardinal “strongly denies any wrongdoing. If the police wish to question him, he will cooperate, as he has with each and every public inquiry,” said a statement from the cardinal’s office in Rome Feb. 19.

Australian Cardinal George Pell is seen in this Oct. 6, 2014 file photo at the Vatican. The Australian cardinal called for an inquiry into the leaking of accusations that he is under police investigation for the alleged abuse of minors. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Australian Cardinal George Pell is seen in this Oct. 6, 2014 file photo at the Vatican. The Australian cardinal called for an inquiry into the leaking of accusations that he is under police investigation for the alleged abuse of minors. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“The cardinal understands that several media outlets have received confidential information leaked by someone within the Victorian police,” the government law enforcement agency in the Australian state of Victoria, the statement said.

“Given the serious nature of this conduct, the cardinal has called for a public inquiry to be conducted in relation to the actions of those elements of the Victorian police who are undermining the Royal Commission’s work,” it said. The Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is a government inquiry into church, state and other institutions’ response to the sexual abuse of children.

The cardinal also called on the state prime minister and police minister “to immediately investigate the leaking of these baseless allegations,” the statement said.

Victoria’s The Herald Sun reported late Feb. 18 that “legal sources” told reporters more than a dozen special task force detectives have been investigating past claims that the cardinal abused between five and 10 boys when he was a priest in Ballarat and archbishop of Melbourne.

The Sano Task Force, which was established to look into allegations stemming from the Royal Commission’s work, presented its evidence to the Victoria police, the newspaper reported. It said the task force is also investigating allegations the cardinal, then a seminarian, abused an altar boy in 1961. Former Judge Alec Southwell, appointed by the Australian bishops’ conference to investigate the case, dismissed those charges in 2002.

Cardinal Pell, who has been working at the Vatican since 2014 as head of the Secretariat for the Economy, was scheduled to give evidence Feb. 29 to the Royal Commission concerning the Archdiocese of Melbourne’s response to abuse allegations and a case study involving the response of church authorities in Ballarat.

The commission accepted the cardinal’s offer to give evidence via video link after his doctor advised him against taking the long flight to Australia. He has already appeared before the Royal Commission twice and appeared before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Organizations.

The Feb. 19 statement from the cardinal’s office in Rome said, “The timing of these leaks is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the Royal Commission.”

“It is outrageous that these allegations have been brought to the cardinal’s attention through a media leak,” it said.

“The cardinal has called for a public inquiry into the leaking of these spurious claims by elements in the Victorian police in a manner clearly designed to embarrass the cardinal, in a case study where the historical failures of the Victorian police have been the subject of substantial evidence.”

The statement refers to evidence given to the commission that police superiors in the 1950s through 1970s intentionally refused to take action against or charge clerics suspected of abuse.

The statement called it “outrageous” that people within the police publicly attacked him through the leaks when he is “a witness in the same case study that has exposed serious police inaction and wrongdoing.”

While Victoria’s police had not taken steps to pursue “the false allegations” after he was cleared of them in 2002, “the cardinal certainly has no objection to them reviewing the materials that led Justice Southwell to exonerate him. The cardinal is certain that the police will quickly reach the conclusion that the allegations are false.”

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Vatican condemns leak of documents on economic reform

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — As Pope Francis and Vatican officials try to completely revamp the Vatican’s economic policies and the procedures at what is commonly called the Vatican bank, differences of opinion are normal, but leaking documents about those discussions is illegal, said the Vatican spokesman.

“The fact that complex economic or legal issues are the subject of discussion and diverse points of view should be considered normal,” said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the spokesman, in a note published late Feb. 27.

The spokesman’s comments came after the Italian magazine L’Espresso published three articles allegedly illustrating how “power struggles between the most important prelates are placing the reforms of Pope Francis at risk.”

The articles particularly target Australian Cardinal George Pell, head of the Secretariat for the Economy. The leaked minutes of a meeting of cardinals, the magazine said, show top Vatican officials are concerned about a lack of checks and balances as the cardinal gains more power over Vatican spending, hiring, income and revenues.

“Passing confidential documents to the press for polemical ends or to foster conflict is not new, but is always to be strongly condemned, and is illegal,” Father Lombardi said.

One of the articles focused specifically on what it described as lavish spending by Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy during its first year of existence even though the office was formed to monitor and rein in spending.

L’Espresso said it had seen receipts and they included a 2,508 euro ($2,813) bill from Gammarelli, a Rome clerical tailor shop, and surmised that it was for a “cappa magna” or great cape with a long train sometimes worn in processions.

In a statement released Feb. 28, the Secretariat for the Economy said the article’s report of a conversation between Pope Francis and Cardinal Pell about his office’s spending, a conversation the magazine presented in direct quotes, is “complete fiction.”

The money spent by the secretariat in its first year was “in fact, below the budget set when the office was established” in February 2014, it said. An audited financial statement will be presented to the Council for the Economy, which oversees the secretariat’s work.

“Finally and for the record,” the statement said, “Cardinal Pell does not have a cappa magna.”

 

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Pope’s finance chief talks Vatican reform

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis wants a “poor church for the poor,” but that “doesn’t necessarily mean a church with empty coffers,” said Cardinal George Pell, “and it certainly doesn’t mean a church that is sloppy or inefficient or open to being robbed.”

A month after unveiling a “new economic framework for the Holy See,” including a host of changes to the Vatican’s financial structures, the cardinal discussed the meaning of those reforms and the challenges to their implementation in an interview with Catholic News Service.

Cardinal Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney whom the pope named in February to the new office of prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, spoke to CNS about a range of issues, including Vatican financial scandals; the need for more transparency, “checks and balances” and oversight by laypeople; efforts to internationalize the Vatican bureaucracy while reducing its overall size; and the relative importance of his own role in the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia. Read more »

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Pope establishes new Council for the Economy to oversee Vatican finances

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In a move reflecting both his drive to reform the Vatican bureaucracy and his oft-stated desire to include laypeople in the leadership of the church, Pope Francis established a new panel, to include almost as many lay members as clerics, to oversee the finances of the Holy See and Vatican City State.

Another new office, to be headed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, will implement the panel’s policies.

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney arrives for Pope Francis’ Mass with new cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 23. The Vatican announced Feb. 24 that Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Pell to head a new Vatican office overseeing Vatican finances. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Vatican announced the changes in a statement Feb. 24, explaining they would “enable more formal involvement of senior and experienced experts in financial administration, planning and reporting, and will ensure better use of resources,” particularly for “our works with the poor and marginalized.”

The Council for the Economy will include “eight cardinals and bishops to reflect the universality of the church” and “seven lay experts of different nationalities with strong professional financial experience,” the Vatican said. They will “meet on a regular basis and to consider policies and practices and to prepare and analyze reports on the economic-administrative activities of the Holy See.”

The lay members of the new council will exercise an unprecedented level of responsibility for non-clerics in the Vatican, where the highest offices have always been reserved for cardinals and bishops. The Vatican did not release any names of council members.

Reporting to the council will be the new Secretariat for the Economy, which will exercise “authority over all the economic and administrative activities within the Holy See and the Vatican City State,” including budget making, financial planning, hiring, procurement and the preparation of detailed financial statements.

“I have always recognized the need for the church to be guided by experts in this area and will be pleased to be working with the members of the new Council for the Economy as we approach these tasks,” Cardinal Pell said in a statement released by the Archdiocese of Sydney, which said he would take up his new position at the Vatican “by the end of March.”

Cardinal Pell is a “man who’s got financial things at his fingertips, and he’s a man who’s very decisive, and I think he’s a got a good understanding of how Roman affairs work,” South African Cardinal Wilfred F. Napier of Durban, who sat on one of the advisory panels that reviewed the arrangements before the pope’s decision, told Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis established the council and the secretariat with an apostolic letter given “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), dated Feb. 24, with the title “Fidelis dispensator et prudens” (“Faithful and prudent steward”), a quotation from the Gospel according to St. Luke. The same letter provides for the appointment of an auditor general, “who will be empowered to conduct audits of any agency of the Holy See and Vatican City State at any time.”

The motu proprio makes no mention of the Institute for the Works of Religion, commonly known as the Vatican bank.

The pope acted on recommendations from the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, which he established in July to review accounting practices in Vatican offices and devise strategies for greater fiscal responsibility and transparency.

According to the Vatican, the commission “recommended changes to simplify and consolidate existing management structures and improve coordination and oversight across” the Vatican bureaucracy, and called for a “more formal commitment to adopting accounting standards and generally accepted financial management and reporting practices as well as enhanced internal controls, transparency and governance.”

The recommendations were “considered and endorsed” by the pope’s eight-member advisory Council of Cardinals, which met for its third session Feb. 17-19, and the 15-member Council of Cardinals for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See, which met for the last time Feb. 24, since it ceased to exist upon the establishment of the new council.

According to Cardinal Napier, a member of the defunct council, at least some of the prelates on the new panel will be drawn from the former 15-member body.

“Something really to be needed to be done,” Cardinal Napier said of the pope’s actions. “For instance, there was no serious budgeting that you could call budgeting. … It was quite clear that some of the procedures and processes that were in place were not adequate for today’s world.”

The conclave that elected Pope Francis in March 2013 took place amid controversy provoked by the previous year’s “VatiLeaks” of confidential correspondence sensationally documenting corruption and incompetence in various parts of the Vatican bureaucracy.

Among other measures in his first year, Pope Francis established a special commission to investigate the Vatican bank, expanded the scope and enforcement of Vatican City laws against money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and set in motion an overhaul of the church’s central administration, the Roman Curia.

 

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Australian cardinal apologizes for comments

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SYDNEY — Cardinal George Pell of Sydney apologized for comments he made about ancient Jews and German suffering during World War II in a televised debate with author and acknowledged atheist Richard Dawkins.

The cardinal said in a statement April 11 to J-Wire, a Jewish online news service, that his comments during the Australian Broadcasting Corp. program “Q & A” April 9 “did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion.”

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