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Cardinal George Pell: Who Was He? Why Was He Controversial?

George Pell

George Pell is the highest official in the Catholic Church to be convicted of child molestation. It was back in 2019 that Cardinal George Pell was involved in one of the biggest scandals of the Catholic Church. When he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a minor, an Australian court announced his name and his anonymity after years of media blackout burst into the open. He thus becomes the highest official of the Catholic Church convicted in a case of pedophilia. In a shocking twist that wasn’t conspicuous to the victims, Australian Cardinal George Pell fought, won, and organized a historic surmount in the fight against pedophilia, despite being guilty. 

Vatican Figure George Pell: Highly Controversial Yet Highly Protected 

Who was Cardinal George Pell? 

Imagine a rural Australian parish and a priest with white hair. 

George Pell who decades later became the great financier of the Vatican, experienced a meteoric upward trajectory before his reputation was shattered. 

Then, in February 2014, a major promotion,  he became secretary for the economy, thus becoming  number three in the Vatican. 

George Pell was the former Vatican “Minister of Economy”: 

Appointed by Pope Francis to head the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014 – number 3 of the Vatican – he had been responsible for reforming the Vatican’s opaque finances, before resigning in 2017 to face accusations against him.

Other accolades and ranks include: 

  • Being first appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and then of Sydney in 2001, at the instigation of Pope John Paul II. 
  • In 2003, he joined the powerful College of Cardinals, sitting in the conclaves that elected Benedict XVI and then Pope Francis. 
  • He was still Archbishop of Sydney when the newly elected Argentine pontiff chose him in May 2013 to be part of the council of nine cardinals responsible for helping him reform the Curia, the Vatican government. 

He was accused of sexual assault on minors:

Born in 1941 in the State of Victoria in Australia, George Pell completed his seminary in Melbourne, where he became auxiliary bishop and then archbishop in 1996. The same year, he announced the creation of an independent commission responsible for investigating pedophilia cases in the diocese.

George Pell was cleared in 2020: 

Accused in 2015 of having covered up abusive priests in his diocese and of having himself committed sexual assaults on minors in Australia where he was archbishop, George Pell was convicted in 2018 at first instance and then imprisoned in 2019. But at the same time the prosecution ultimately decided to drop the second round of charges against George Pell because Aussie Chief Judge Peter Kidd ruled key evidence was inadmissible, significantly weakening the prosecution’s case. The abandonment of these proceedings caused the lifting, in 2020, of the media blackout on the first case, authorizing the media to announce the verdict.

Here’s the whole story: 

2013: The police in the state of Victoria, in southern Australia, appointed a group of investigators to work on the charges against George Pell, but the case only became known in early 2016. 

2016: The police of Victoria confirms the existence of this investigation a few months later, and George Pell denounces a “scandalous campaign of slander” and a conspiracy. 

2017: The Melbourne court imposes a media blackout on the details of the case, except that there are “multiple complainants”, and “multiple charges” related to “facts of sexual assault”. 

George Pell was then to be the subject of two separate trials, the second relating to other alleged acts of sexual assault dating back to the 1970s.

With this decision, Judge Peter Kidd wanted to prevent the jurors of the second trial from being influenced by the proceedings of the first. The obligation of silence was even extended in 2018, prohibiting  the media from any coverage of the first trial and even the mere mention of the existence of this case, under penalty of prosecution. The Australian press had strongly protested. 

2018: When George Pell was convicted in December, newspapers nevertheless published the information that a known famous religious figure had been convicted of serious crimes but they were unable to say more. Foreign media revealed the name of George Pell. 

2019: Peter Kidd had counter-attacked by threatening the press groups with prosecution or even extradition proceedings in the case of foreign journalists.

2020: He was eventually acquitted by the High Court of Australia the following year for lack of evidence.

The Vatican’s response: 

For his part, “the cardinal has always defended his innocence and continues to do so ,” said his lawyers in a statement, who announced that they had appealed.

“This is painful news”, reacted the Holy See, expressing its “deep respect” for Australian justice and recalling that Cardinal Pell “has reaffirmed his innocence and that he has the right to defend himself until last instance”. 

In December 2018, the day after his conviction (then kept secret), the cardinal was dismissed from the prestigious C9. However, he remains, on paper, at the head of the Secretariat for the Economy. By 2020, he will be the former Minister of the Economy! 

Cardinal George Pell died in Rome on January 10, 2023: 

The news was made public by his personal secretary on January 10 in the evening. Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Sydney and close friend of the last three popes, died in Rome on January 10 at the age of 81 from heart complications following hip surgery, according to the Associated Press.

What was George Pell  convicted of? 

The Melbourne court found the 77-year-old cardinal guilty of one count of sexual assault and four counts of indecent assault against two altar boys then aged 12 and 13 committed in the 1990s after Sunday mass in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne – acts committed in the most holiest, most vulnerable place to find liberation from your sorrows. 

Victim testimony and statements:

One of the victims gave a long testimony to the court in Melbourne and accused Cardinal Pell of having masturbated in front of him and another child. He also claimed to have been mentally sexually assaulted by George Pell forcing one of the children to perform oral sex on him. 

In his testimony, the victim explains that he did not speak about these events for years for fear of losing his scholarship to a prestigious Catholic school in Melbourne, according to the New York Times. 

The poor individual said: “I was young and I didn’t really know what had happened to me, he explained. I didn’t know if it was normal.” 

The second victim died in 2014 from an overdose that his family always attributed to the trauma suffered at the time. 

Why was George Pell allowed to go free in 2020?

Allegedly protected by the Vatican:

Citing heart problems, the then 74-year-old cardinal, a former archbishop of Melbourne and former the Vatican’s economy minister testified in 2016 via video conference from a hotel in Rome. 

Thanks to the video format, around twenty victims and relatives came to listen to him. Stephen Woods who was raped like two of his brothers by monks from his school in Ballarat, Bishop Pell’s hometown near Melbourne, remains bitter. Just imagine this poor victim’s sense of justice when Bishop Pell is released in 2020.

The fact that he spends obscene amounts of money on lawyers says very clearly that he always seeks to protect” his person and the Church he believes in. 

Those who have suffered abuse have had catastrophic lives”, summarizes Stephen (with one brother that went mad and another who rotted in prison), while his mother suffered rejection when he spoke publicly about his ordeal 20 years ago. “The bishops control the parishes and the money. It is the bishops who control the lawyers.

In his eyes, the bishops showed “criminal blindness” and sought to protect the property of the Church rather than the children! 

All in all, we know George was not a small name for the church: 

Australian Cardinal George Pell is the most senior church official charged in an alleged sexual assault case. Appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, then of Sydney in 2001, he was chosen in 2014 by Pope Francis to bring more transparency to Vatican finances.

The former senior Catholic Church official from Australia had been ordained a priest in 1966 in Rome, before returning to Australia in 1971 where he had climbed through the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy.

The former adviser to Pope Francis will slither away:

The announcement of his indictment for sexual violence against minors coincided with the end of a long national inquiry into Australia’s institutional responses to sexual abuse against children!  

The government ordered the national inquiry opening in 2012 after a decade of pressure from victims. 

The royal commission of inquiry, which conducted the investigations for four years, had collected harrowing testimonies from thousands of victims of pedophile abuse in churches, orphanages, sports clubs, youth organizations and schools. 

Cardinal Pell had been heard three times in this context and had admitted having “failed” in his management of pedophile priests in the state of Victoria in the 1970s. 

The Inquiry concluded that Australian institutions had “seriously failed in their duty” to children for decades. Among other things, it had recommended a modification of canon law in order to establish voluntary and no longer compulsory celibacy for priests. 

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