Se­crecy ben­e­fits no one

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS - MICHAEL CAMERON

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.

Car­di­nal Pell and Pope Fran­cis.

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