ROME — According to Pope Francis’s right hand man, the conviction of Australian Cardinal George Pell for historic allegations of sexual abuse is “shocking and painful.”
Pell served as the head of the Vatican’s secretariat for the Economy and was also a member of the pope’s council of cardinal advisors, making him the highest ranking Catholic prelate to be convicted on charges of sexual abuse.
Speaking with journalists on the sidelines of a conference at Rome’s Gregorian University, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of of State, said the process against Pell was “bumpy,” alluding to the fact the first trial against the cardinal ended in a mistrial, after the jury failed to reach a verdict.
Parolin also said that during the Feb. 21-24 summit on clerical sexual abuse held in the Vatican, the 190 participants had discussed the role of civil authorities “in dealing with this grave phenomenon.”
The Pell case, Parolin said, “is an incentive to continue the pope’s line: Fighting against this phenomenon and paying attention to the victims.”
Speaking about the Vatican abuse summit, the cardinal said that the testimony of the survivors was something that touched all the participants, and it led to an “awareness” for the whole Church.
“We can’t be happy but it must serve as a call for transparency and an ever-clearer witnessing of the Gospel.”
Pell has vehemently denied the allegations, and gave up Vatican diplomatic immunity to face the Australian courts. He has appealed the verdict.
The Vatican said on Wednesday that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with cases of clerical abuse of minors, will launch a canonical investigation of the cardinal.
If he’s found guilty in the Vatican investigation, he could become the second cardinal to be removed from the priesthood for the abuse of minors, after the former Archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick.
When he headed to Australia in mid-2017, Pell took a leave of absence from the Secretariat for the Economy.
Last year, the Vatican announced that Francis had decided not to renew his mandate as a member of the pope’s advisory council, and his five-year job at the secretariat expired Feb. 24, two days before his conviction in Australia was made public.
The guilty verdict had come in December, but an Australian court’s gag order prevented it from being reported in the press.
Pell is currently in jail, awaiting for a sentencing hearing that will take place March 13. The 77-year old faces up to 50 years in prison.