Pope’s top ad­vi­sor ac­cused in Aus­tralian sex­ual abuse case

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Sports - By Ni­cole Win­field and Kris­ten Gelineau

VAT­I­CAN CITY — Pope Fran­cis suf­fered a ma­jor blow Thurs­day when his top fi­nan­cial ad­viser, Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, was charged in his na­tive Aus­tralia with mul­ti­ple counts of sex­ual as­sault from years ago, bring­ing a crim­i­nal case in the long-run­ning abuse scan­dal in­side the fres­coed walls of the Vat­i­can for the first time.

The 76-year-old Pell — the high­est-rank­ing Vat­i­can of­fi­cial ever im­pli­cated in the scan­dal — force­fully de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions and took an im­me­di­ate leave of ab­sence as Vat­i­can fi­nance czar to re­turn to Aus­tralia to de­fend him­self.

“The whole idea of sex­ual abuse is ab­hor­rent to me,” Pell told re­porters in the Vat­i­can press of­fice. “News of these charges strengthens my re­solve, and court pro­ceed­ings now of­fer me an op­por­tu­nity to clear my name.”

The pope thanked him for his “hon­est” work and col­lab­o­ra­tion, and set about try­ing to en­sure that the fi­nan­cial re­forms he had en­trusted to Pell would con­tinue in his ab­sence.

But the case cre­ates a thorny im­age prob­lem for the pope, who has al­ready suf­fered sev­eral cred­i­bil­ity set­backs in his promised “zero tol­er­ance” pol­icy about sex abuse in the world­wide scan­dal.

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 the “best prac­tices” to fight abuse and pro­tect chil­dren.

But the com­mis­sion has lost much of its cred­i­bil­ity af­ter its two mem­bers who were sur­vivors of abuse left in frus­tra­tion. Fran­cis also scrapped the com­mis­sion’s sig­na­ture pro­posal — a tri­bunal to hear cases of bish­ops who cov­ered up for abuse — af­ter Vat­i­can of­fi­cials ob­jected.

That one of his top ad­vis­ers now stands charged with abuse him­self in­creases the pres­sure on Fran­cis to get the abuse com­mis­sion back on track and press ahead with the fi­nan­cial re­forms that he was elected pope to en­act.

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