Secrecy benefits no one
Pell’s window. Inside the walls, the Vatican’s 1000 residents are governed by ancient traditions and rules, where incremental change can seem like a wholesale revolution.
It is this resistance to change that has caused Pope Francis such problems, including criticism over Pell’s reforms to the way money is managed. In 2014, an audit commissioned by Pell found more than one billion euros — almost $ A1.5 billion — was tucked away in secret bank accounts. Not embezzled, not misused, but just undeclared.
Its movement onto the Vatican’s books was controversial. In a rare interview with a Portuguese journalist, published in the online newspaper Observador on May 10, Pell ponders whether some of his “problems” might be related to his economic reforms.
“I wonder whether my problems in Australia are somehow connected to the reforms here. But this is a pure hypothesis, I have no firm evidence of that,” he said.
It is not clear how offending Vatican bureaucrats over their money- handling and police criminal charges relating to alleged sex offences decades ago may be connected.
It’s possible that Pell may have instead been referring to criticism he failed to act strongly enough when allegations of abuse by fellow clergymen were brought to his attention — an allegation he also strongly denies. He has now taken a leave of absence to return to Australia to face court on July 26, and will defend himself at a hearing at a later date.
In the meantime, Pope Francis is facing even greater troubles, over a statement he made last year known as the Amoris laetitia ( the Joy of Love). The Pope indicated there may, possibly, be some wriggle room in the church’s ban on offering the Eucharist to those who are divorced.
Further, he mused on whether married men should be able to be ordained as priests ( or whether ordained priests could marry). He seemed relaxed about same- sex relationships ( although he did not indicate any support for samesex marriage).
These statements enraged conservative lay Catholics and some cardinals, who have embarked on a campaign to steer Pope Francis firmly from this course, arguing he has no authority to amend the church’s teachings, which are based on the word of God.
The looming spectacle of a senior Catholic appearing in a criminal court in Melbourne may turn out to be another problem to be endured.
“If I thought I was a serious embarrassment to the Pope, I would stop tomorrow,” Pell told Observador back in May.
“I am not here to embarrass the church.” THE most senior Australian in the Catholic Church has been charged with “historical sexual assault offences” — and that is all you are allowed to know for the time being.
No doubt the lack of detail in the police announcement relating to Cardinal Pell is entirely lawful and this commentary in no way should be viewed as criticism of those who administer justice.
The laws of the land have been duly followed.
However, this is a case generating genuine public interest not just here but throughout the world. A man who works across the hall from His Holiness the Pope is facing serious criminal charges. The man who led the church in Australia and its response to the scandal of paedophile priests is accused himself of being a criminal. Yet we do not know anything about the nature of the police charges. We don’t know the number of alleged victims, or where the offences are alleged to have occurred.
Or even any detail about the charges. The term “sexual assault” covers a wide range of inappropriate sexual activity.
There is no doubt that Cardinal Pell should be regarded as an innocent man and needs to be afforded his day in court to defend the charges. He could prevail. The allegations may be wrong.
The open administration of justice benefits the defence as much as the prosecution. It allows, for example, a new witness to come forward to refute false allegations submitted to the court by the prosecution. But if the public is denied information about the case then this cannot happen.
In more enlightened jurisdictions there would be a public outcry over this unnecessary secrecy.
Yet in Australia there is no such protest. Our media laws are an international embarrassment.