Cardinal George Pell isn’t the sort of man to say ‘so there is a God after all!’ – but plenty of his long-time supporters must be thinking exactly that right now.
It was always baffling that until earlier this year Pell seemed certain to die in an Australian jail on the basis of obviously fabricated sex abuse charges. How could a second jury – the first was split– find him unanimously guilty of abusing a teenage altar server in a busy cathedral right after Sunday Mass when he didn’t have either time or the opportunity to commit such a gross act? And on the basis of the testimony of one accuser, his supposed victim? (Another boy had also claimed to have been abused, but confessed that it was a lie before his tragically early death.)
Some of us suspected that the cardinal’s enemies in the Vatican had conspired with fanatically anti-Pell police in the state of Victoria to assemble the risible case against him. It was a convenient conviction given that Pell, charged by Pope Francis with cleaning up the Vatican’s finances, had been closing in on them. And the suspicion lingered after the charges against him were thrown out by the High Court of Australia in April.
But no one, including Pell himself, really believed that those suspicions would be fuelled by an actual Vatican official.
Then, at the end of last week, a bombshell. We had just learned that Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who until 2018 was sostituto at the Secretariat of State – effectively the Pope’s chief of staff – had been sacked by the Pope for allegedly stealing spectacular amounts of money. And now Becciu’s former deputy, Monsignor Alberto Perlasca, himself suspected of dodgy investments of hundreds of millions of euros, has decided to help out Vatican prosecutors by singing like a Sistine chapel castrato.
To quote the Catholic News Agency, the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero ‘reported on Friday that, in discussions with Vatican prosecutors, Perlasca accused Becciu of transferring €700,000 (£635,000) from a Vatican account to an Australian account during the course of Pell’s trial in Victoria on charges of child sexual abuse. The paper did not specify when Perlasca first made the accusation, did not give a precise date for the alleged transfer, and did not indicate to whom the account in Australia was supposed to belong.’
If further details do emerge, don’t expect the left-wing Australian media to make the running on this one. They have hated the trenchantly conservative Pell for years and were ecstatic when he was thrown into prison.
Make no mistake about it: for the army of professional Pell-haters in the Australian media, the allegation that corrupt officials may have opened the Vatican’s coffers in order to ‘help’ the prosecution is more humiliating than even the cardinal’s acquittal. If Perlasca is indeed suggesting that, then at the very least they have been unwittingly manipulated by a gang of rancid old crooks.
I say ‘at the very least’, because for some time I’ve suspected that one or more anti-Pell journalists, very probably not Australian, liaised between the Vatican and Victoria. If so, this bean-spilling season in Rome must be torture for them.
And the season is just beginning, I think. On my Holy Smoke podcast last week, I interviewed CNA’s Dr Ed Condon, the canon lawyer-turned-reporter who has done more than any other English-speaking journalist to expose what he calls Becciu’s ‘byzantine’ financial dealings. I hope you’ll listen to it, because you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Vatican ‘experts’ prepared to do some digging that might embarrass Pope Francis.
And in Australia, what passes for news about the Church is even more grotesquely unreliable. Sooner rather than later, we may learn more about what that Vatican money was used for during the Pell trial. And I think it’s inevitable that, despite reporting restrictions, we shall discover more about the cardinal’s solitary accuser. God only knows what will happen then.
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