Pope Francis met George Pell in his first audience with the cardinal since Pell was acquitted this year of allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia.
Pell, a former Vatican economy minister, returned to Rome in late September, just days after a prominent Italian cardinal with whom he had long-standing differences was asked to step down amid requests for embezzlement.
An audience with the pontiff on Monday morning was scheduled and the Vatican has not provided further details. Pell later told reporters 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 has always liked Cardinal Pell and admired his honesty,” said Edward Pentin, Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. NCR).
“His meeting with Pell today, amid a wave of recent financial corruption allegations in the Vatican, will be welcomed as a clear demonstration of Francis’ support for Pell’s efforts, as well as a full vindication for Pell himself.”
The cardinal at the center of the allegations of embezzlement is Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Pell’s deputy in the Ministry of Economy. The couple frequently clashed over the Vatican’s financial review until Pell left Rome for Australia in 2017 to face allegations of child sexual abuse.
The Vatican did not disclose any details on the allegations against Becciu, but Italian press reports last month said he would steal funds to help his brothers. Becciu denied any allegations, telling the press that he found the allegations against him “surreal”.
The Italian press later claimed Becciu was suspected of paying bribes to an Australian witness in Pell’s sexual abuse case to try to influence the outcome, prompting Pell’s attorney to seek an investigation into the allegations. Becciu denied the allegations.
Becciu was involved in a controversial deal in which the secretariat used church money to buy a luxury building in London as an investment. Becciu defended the investment, saying it was consistent with standard practice and did not lose money to the Vatican.
In 2014, when Pell was tasked with overseeing the Vatican’s finances, he acknowledged that “hundreds of millions of euros” had been discovered “hidden” and off the city-state budgets.
Robert Mickens, the Roman editor of the English-language edition of the Catholic newspaper La Croix, said it was possible the pope wanted to get Pell’s view on the allegations against Becciu.
“If he feels he has been deceived by Becciu, and people say Becciu undermined everything Pell wanted to do, perhaps the pope will want to have a more complete picture of what he was,” Mickens said. “But it is difficult to say where the pope’s mind is at the moment because we do not know the real reasons for Becciu’s dismissal.” In any case, Mickens said, the meeting adds “fuel to the fire”.
Pell was charged with multiple sex offenders in June 2017. A Melbourne jury convicted him of five counts in December 2018 after a previous jury was unable to reach a verdict. The Victoria Court of Appeals upheld the sentences last year, but the Australian High Court overturned the sentences in April.