Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 4:25 PM

Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Pope’s Adviser Damns Papacy

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Australian police charged a top Vatican cardinal on Thursday with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offenses, a stunning decision certain to rock the highest levels of the Holy See. …

In 2014, Francis won cautious praise from victims’ advocacy groups when he created a commission of outside experts to advise him and the broader church about best practices” to fight abuse and protect children.

But the commission has since lost much of its credibility after its two members who were survivors of abuse left.

(Associated Press, June 28, 2017)

Cardinal George Pell is the alleged pedophile in this case. He is the pope’s chief financial adviser and Australia’s most senior Catholic. For a little perspective, consider this analogy: the role Michael Flynn played and the scandal he caused are to the Trump presidency as the role George Pell played and the scandal he’s causing are to the Francis papacy.

The pope should have fired him today. What’s more, he should have made a public show of doing so. Instead, he pulled a quasi-Pontius Pilate. Specifically, he had a Vatican flak express his regret upon learning of the charges and announce that he has granted Pell leave to face his accusers.

This passive, bureaucratic reaction is wrong in so many ways. Most notably, it leaves the dispiriting impression that Pell will return to his Vatican duties as soon he clears up this little misunderstanding.

Whereas anyone who knows anything about such allegations knows that Pell (76) will never set foot in the Vatican again. And this is so even if, by some miracle, he gets off. For, if he does, the Vatican would probably ensconce him somewhere to live out his retirement in the style to which this “prince” has become accustomed.

Frankly, it’s a cardinal sin that Francis did not seize this opportunity to show courageous moral and institutional leadership. He could have done so by banishing Pell himself, especially given what he decreed just months ago in this respect:

Pope Francis has told bishops around the world they must adhere to a policy of zero tolerance for clergy who sexually abuse children and begged forgiveness for ‘a sin that shames us’.

In a letter sent on December 28 … Francis said: ‘I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst.’

(Reuters, January 4, 2017)

No doubt still-metastasizing revelations about the church abetting these atrocities compelled the pope to issue this extraordinary decree. After all, revelations that it routinely absolved and harbored known pedophiles have not only undermined its moral authority, but also cost it nearly $3 billion in settlements (according to a 2013 audit the United States Conference of Bishops commissioned).

More to the point, though, the opening quote indicates that the pope’s sham of a commission on child sexual abuse has undermined his moral integrity. Not to mention the disillusionment and disaffection he caused in 2015, when he willfully appointed as bishop a Chilean priest known for protecting “Chile’s most notorious pedophiles.”

Of course, instead of promoting him, Francis should have given this priest leave to face his accusers in a court of law. This is the only moral thing to do in each case.

I am constrained to note here that the reason child sexual abuse seems so insidious in the Catholic Church is that the men responsible for rooting out pedophiles are often pedophiles themselves. As it happens, Pell seems a case in point:

Cardinal Pell, the Vatican’s de facto finance chief, had been accused in hearings before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of mishandling misconduct cases against clergy members while he served as the leader of the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney. Then allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors himself beginning early in his priesthood and continuing until he became archbishop of Melbourne.

(New York Times, June 28, 2017)

In fact, in this context, guilt by association might be the order of the day. And let’s face it, no adviser could get any closer to this pope than Pell has been. This is why one could be forgiven for thinking not only that faith in Francis as a reformer was misplaced, but that he might be an abuser too …

Still, above all else, Francis should have fired this cardinal over allegations of sexual abuse based on the moral precedent he set when he fired four cardinals over allegations of financial abuse:

Pope Francis shook up the scandal-plagued Vatican bank on Wednesday, removing four of five cardinals from an oversight body in a break with the clerical financial establishment he inherited from his predecessor.

It was his latest move to get to grips with an institution that has often been an embarrassment for the Holy See and which he has vowed to either reform or close.

(Reuters, January 15, 2014)

Clearly, even the putatively infallible pope cannot countenance a heavenly scroll that records him granting more papal indulgences to pedophile priests than money launderers. But the damning irony cannot be lost on Francis that the cardinal he tapped to redeem the church from financial scandal is now implicated in its never-ending sexual scandal.

For what it’s worth, I was among the protestants who hailed the election of this pope as one of the greatest events in Christianity since the first coming of Jesus Christ. Regrettably, I’ve had cause to write far too many commentaries venting my own disillusionment and disaffection with his papacy.

Consequently, I am now inured to new, “shocking revelations” about child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. But it’s interesting to juxtapose the princely way Pell denied these allegations with the lowly way Francis reacted to them.

Which is why I could probably do no better than to end this commentary by reprising “Cardinals Living Like Princes; the Pope Like a Pauper,” March 11, 2016. For it sums up not only how I feel about Francis, but also why his papacy and the church are fated for infamy.



U.S. bishops living in Italy enjoy luxurious new renovations to their living quarters, despite Pope Francis’s edict that church officials ought to live more humbly.

Upon his election in 2013, Pope Francis said that he wanted a church ‘that is poor and is for the poor.’ He arrived with a plan to reform the priorities of the Catholic Church, left embattled after Benedict XVI’s often luxurious reign.

(Huffington Post, March 4, 2016)

The hope for change that attended the election of Pope Francis rivaled that which attended the election of President Obama. Therefore, it speaks volumes about Vatican politics that the way bishops have obstructed Francis rivals the way Republicans have obstructed Obama.

images4I don’t mind admitting that Francis made a liar out of me when he chose to live in a modest communal apartment instead of the Apostolic Palace. I had declared this prospect impracticable, even absurd. But, in doing so, he clearly hoped cardinals and bishops would follow fashion. They have not.

In fact, it appears the pope is the only church leader living the humble life he decreed. Even worse:

Two controversial new books describe a Vatican awash with cash that is woefully mismanaged, where senior officials pour church funds into their already-lavish apartments, and where even the office that researches candidates for sainthood has had its bank accounts frozen out of concerns about financial impropriety.

(London Guardian, November 3, 2015)

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 9.06.57 PMLeaders of the Catholic Church clearly have no greater regard for the Code of Canon Law pertaining to poverty than they have for the one pertaining to celibacy. I commented on the pope himself lamenting the former in “Pope Francis Condemns the ‘Cult and Idolatry of Money,’” November 27, 2013, and the latter in “Pope Confesses: There’s a Gay Cabal in the Vatican,” July 13, 2013.

But don’t get me started on indulgences church leaders grant priests who sexually abuse children. I commented on this betrayal of faith and trust in “Pope Accused of Harboring Pedophile Priests,” March 16, 2010. But I digress …

It would be one thing if Francis were rebuking a bishop here and there for failing to follow his lead. In that case, he would just be living the parable of the good shepherd and one lost sheep. But he is having to rebuke so many bishops (and cardinals) for maintaining their princely lifestyles, the parable of the good shepherd and a lost flock seems more apropos.

I am not a prophet. And don’t play one on this weblog. Yet, in “Habemus Papam: Hail, Francis,” March 13, 2013, I warned it would be thus.



The prevailing wisdom is that Bergoglio intends to return the Church to its basic mission of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Arguably, he telegraphed his intent by choosing Francis as his papal name, paying homage to St. Francis of Assisi — who was a bone fide champion of the poor. …

Think about this folks: Is Pope Francis going to instruct the Curia to redistribute what remains of the Church’s ostentatious wealth, after settling child-sex abuse cases, to caring for the poor? I don’t think so. In fact, the Church is already closing schools for the poor instead of selling valuable artworks and other material possessions to settle these cases.

On the other hand, he might instruct the cardinals (a.k.a. the ‘princes’ of the Church for Christ’s sake) to follow his example by giving up their fancy apartments, cooks, and chauffeured limousines. But I suspect cardinals will be even less willing to follow the pope’s instruction in this respect than lay Catholics have been to follow the cardinals’ instruction with respect to contraception.

Of course, that the pope is only doing what Jesus would do indicates how much leaders of the Catholic Church have perverted and corrupted their holy mission. Indeed, that Bergoglio is the first pope to honor St. Francis is testament to how little interest even his predecessors have had throughout the ages in living lives of humility, simplicity, and poverty … as Jesus did.


And so the rich get richer and the poor get poorer … even in the Catholic Church.


Related commentaries:
Habemus Papam
Cult of money
Gay cabal
Pedophile priest
Princes and a pauper

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