Pope Francis met George Pell in his first audience with the cardinal since Pell was cleared of child sexual abuse charges in Australia this year.
Pell, a former Vatican economics minister, returned to Rome in late September, days after a senior Italian cardinal he had long-standing differences with was asked to resign amid complaints of embezzlement .
The audience with the pontiff on Monday morning was expected and the Vatican did not give further details. Pell later told reporters that the meeting went “very well.”
“Although the Pope seems to have made the mistake of listening to other senior Vatican officials opposed to financial reform, he has always loved Cardinal Pell and admired his honesty,” said Edward Pentin, Rome correspondent of the National Catholic Register (NCR).
“His meeting with Pell today, amid a wave of recent allegations of financial corruption at the Vatican, will be greeted as a clear demonstration of Francis’ support for Pell’s efforts as well as a deep rationale from Pell himself. .
The cardinal at the center of the misappropriation claims is Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who was Pell’s assistant at the Ministry of Economy. The two men frequently clashed over the Vatican’s financial overhaul until Pell left Rome for Australia in 2017 to face charges of child sexual abuse.
The Vatican has not revealed any details about the allegations against Becciu, but reports from the Italian press last month said he had siphoned off funds to help his siblings. Becciu denied any wrongdoing, saying to the press that he found the allegations against him “surreal.”
The Italian press later claimed that Becciu was suspected of pouring bribes on an Australian witness in Pell’s sexual abuse case in an attempt to influence the outcome, prompting the Pell’s lawyer to request an investigation into the allegations. Becciu denied the allegations.
Becciu was involved in a controversial deal in which the secretariat used the church money to buy a luxury building in London as an investment. Becciu defended the investment, saying it was in line with current practice and had not lost money at the Vatican.
In 2014, when Pell was appointed to oversee Vatican finances, he admitted that “hundreds of millions of euros” had been discovered “hidden” and off the city-state’s balance sheets.
Robert Mickens, the Rome-based editor of the English-language edition of the Catholic daily La Croix, said the pope may want to know Pell’s views on the allegations against Becciu.
“If he feels misled by Becciu and people say Becciu has undermined everything Pell wanted to do, maybe the pope will want a more complete picture of what it was,” Mickens said. . “But it is difficult to say where the pope is at the moment because we do not know the real reasons for Becciu’s dismissal.” Either way, Mickens said, the meeting adds “oil on the fire.”
Pell was charged with multiple sexual offenses in June 2017. A Melbourne jury found him guilty of five counts in December 2018 after a previous jury was unable to reach a verdict. The Victoria Court of Appeal upheld the convictions last year, but Australia’s High Court overturned the convictions in April.