The Age (theage.com.au) (Australia)
14 June 2010
CARDINAL George Pell, whose promotion to a top Vatican job was expected this month, has been dropped from consideration because of former abuse allegations against him, according to informed sources in Rome.
Cardinal Pell stood down as Archbishop of Sydney in 2002 after he was accused of abusing a teenager at a church camp in the 1960s, but an independent investigation by a retired non-Catholic judge cleared him.
Vatican watchers now say important officials have worked to undermine Cardinal Pell as the next head of the Congregation of Bishops, partly from concerns over negative publicity about the abuse allegations and partly for internal political reasons, including the desire for an Italian to take the job.
According to the 2002 complaint, the cardinal, then a seminarian, several times stuck his hand down a youth’s pants and fondled his genitals at a church camp at Phillip Island. The inquiry, by retired Victorian Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell, found the complainant and the cardinal were honest witnesses, and concluded he could not be satisfied the complaint was established.
Last month, well-informed Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli wrote in Il Giornale that Cardinal Pell had been approved to head the bishops congregation, one of the most important Vatican posts. The announcement was expected this month, when Pope Benedict XVI returns from summer holidays, the traditional time.
But now, according to Tornielli, Cardinal Pell has declined the post and “everything seems to be in doubt”. He said the Vatican was quoting age and health reasons but the Pope might still try to persuade Cardinal Pell to take the post.
However, another well-informed journalist, Marco Tosatto, wrote on his blog that the health reasons were a diplomatic veil. “Pell was blocked by elements in the Vatican because of the abuse allegations against him from the early 1960s,” he said.
According to Tosatto, the fear in the Vatican was that appointing someone to the Congregation for Bishops who had been accused in the past, even if cleared, created the danger of a civil case being brought against him because he was such a high-ranking church official.
Questions were also being asked in the Vatican about the desirability of appointing a non-Italian, particularly someone from the Anglo-Saxon world, which the Italians perceive as suffering from a scourge of abuse that is worse than elsewhere, he wrote.
Tosatto noted that Cardinal Pell had been strongly supported by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and it was plausible that Vatican figures hostile to Cardinal Bertone “wrecked the Australian project of the Secretary of State”.
Veteran Australian Vatican-watcher Paul Collins – a former priest and now commentator – said it was hardly accidental that the other two leading contenders for the Congregation of Bishops post were Italian. Collins said two other high-ranking Romans had confirmed the rumours to him.
He said: “While Rome remains a rumour mill, the consensus among the well-informed is that Pell will be in Sydney for some time to come.”
Mr Collins said Cardinal Pell staying in Sydney would be better for the Australian Catholic church as it would maintain stability rather than having a reorganisation, and would prevent the cardinal from having an excessive influence over appointments of Australian bishops.
A spokeswoman for Cardinal Pell said this was just another rumour, like the recent one that he would head an investigation of abuse in Ireland, which turned out to be wrong.
She said the cardinal’s office had never confirmed that he was a candidate for the bishops’ appointment, let alone being withdrawn.