Francis may have sought Pell’s view on various allegations against former deputy
Angela Giuffrida in Rome – The Guardian
George Pell and Pope Francis at the Vatican. Photograph: Vatican Media/EPA
Pope Francis has met George Pell in his first audience with the cardinal since Pell was cleared of child sexual abuse charges in Australia this year.
Pell, a former Vatican economy minister, returned to Rome in late September, days after a top Italian cardinal with whom he had long-running differences was asked to resign amid embezzlement claims.
The audience with the pontiff on Monday morning had been expected, and the Vatican gave no further details. Pell told reporters afterwards that the meeting had gone “very well”.
“Although the pope appears to have made the mistake of listening to other senior Vatican officials opposed to financial reform, he always liked Cardinal Pell and admired his honesty,” said Edward Pentin, the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register (NCR).
“His meeting with Pell today, coming amid a wave of recent financial corruption allegations at the Vatican, will be welcomed as a clear show of Francis’s support for Pell’s efforts as well as a thorough vindication for Pell himself.”
The cardinal at the centre of the embezzlement claims is Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who was Pell’s deputy at the economy ministry. The pair frequently clashed over the Vatican’s financial overhaul until Pell left Rome for Australia in 2017 to face child sexual abuse charges.
The Vatican has not revealed any details about the accusations against Becciu, but reports in the Italian press last month said he allegedly siphoned off funds to help his siblings. Becciu denied any wrongdoing, telling the press that he found the allegations against him “surreal”.
The Italian press later claimed Becciu was suspected of having paid bribes to an Australian witness in Pell’s sexual abuse case in order to try to influence the outcome, prompting Pell’s lawyer to call for an investigation into the claims. Becciu denied the allegations.
Becciu was involved in a controversial deal in which the secretariat used church money to purchase a luxury building in London as an investment. Becciu has defended the investment, saying it was consistent with standard practice and has not lost the Vatican any money.
In 2014, when Pell was appointed to oversee Vatican finances, he acknowledged that “hundreds of millions of euros” had been discovered “tucked away” and off the city state’s balance sheets.
Robert Mickens, the Rome-based editor of the English-language edition of the Catholic daily newspaper La Croix, said it was possible the pope wanted to get Pell’s view on the allegations against Becciu.
“If he feels he was misled by Becciu, and people are saying Becciu undermined everything that Pell wanted to do, maybe the pope will want to get a fuller picture of what that was,” Mickens said. “But it’s hard to say where the pope’s mind is on this right now because we don’t know the real reasons behind Becciu’s sacking.” Either way, Mickens said, the meeting adds “fuel to the fire”.
Pell was charged with multiple sexual offences in June 2017. A Melbourne jury convicted him of five charges in December 2018 after an earlier jury was unable to reach a verdict. Victoria’s court of appeal upheld the convictions last year, but Australia’s high court overturned the convictions in April.