Cardinal Pell set to return to Rome

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Cardinal Pell speaks during an interview with The Catholic Weekly. Photo: Abbel Gaspi, The Catholic Weekly

Pope Francis “to be congratulated” for action on finances

Cardinal George Pell is set to return to Rome on Tuesday at the Vatican’s invitation. It is believed the invitation emanates from Pope Francis.

If so, it will be a triumphant return to Rome for Cardinal Pell and comes just days after the resignation from the college of cardinals by then-Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who last week stepped down from his role at the Secretariat of State following a long-developing scandal surrounding his involvement in Vatican financial issues and a London property deal gone bad.

Then-cardinal Becciu is reported to have done more than almost any other figure in the Vatican to oppose and sideline Cardinal Pell’s investigations into Vatican finances and related corruption and his program for financial reform during his tenure of Prefect for the Vatican Economy from 2014 to 2017.

If the invitation does come from the Holy Father, it is likely that discussions will take place over the Vatican’s financial situation, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and Cardinal Pell’s work with Vatican finances before returning to Australia to face sexual abuse charges in Victoria in 2017.

Cardinal Becciu had worked previously as the number two-ranking official in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, where, CNA has previously reported, he repeatedly clashed with Cardinal Pell over the reform of Vatican finances.

Cardinal Pell, who had not spoken publicly about his former Vatican role since his exoneration, responded to the news of Cardinal Becciu’s resignation with gratitude.

“The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments,” Cardinal Pell wrote in a statement sent to CNA on 25 September.

“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” Cardinal Pell said.

In an interview with The Catholic Weekly’s Monica Doumit in August, Cardinal Pell said 2020 had been a particularly trying year for the Vatican financially.

He said his successor at the Vatican told him the Vatican was losing AU$70 million ($US50.4 million) a year before the pandemic struck. Meanwhile, the Vatican Museums, which were closed for three months and reopened with limited visitors, would normally bring in revenue of at least AU$80 million a year.

The return to Rome will be the first time for Cardinal Pell since 2017, when he took a leave of absence from his role as prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy to travel to Australia.

The cardinal is set to fly on 29 September, sources close to Cardinal Pell confirmed to CNA on Sunday, following an initial report by Australian journalist Andrew Bolt.

Cardinal Pell has been living in his former Archdiocese of Sydney since his acquittal by Australia’s High Court in April on charges of sexual abuse.

In 2014, the cardinal was appointed by Pope Francis to take charge of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy and to lead efforts at reforming Vatican financial affairs.

Following his return to Australia to fight charges of sexual abuse, followed buy his conviction and imprisonment, Cardinal Pell was unanimously declared innocent on appeal by the full bench of the High Court.

“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” Cardinal Pell

Cardinal Pell’s term of office as head of the Vatican’s financial secretariat expired during his time in prison, with Pope Francis naming Fr Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves SJ to succeed him in 2019.

It was revealed last week that Pope Francis asked Cardinal Becciu to resign as prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints and from the rights extended to members of the College of Cardinals on 24 September after he was linked to an ongoing investigation of financial misconduct at the Vatican.

CNA has reported that in 2015 Cardinal Becciu seemed to have made an attempt to disguise loans on Vatican balance sheets by cancelling them out against the value of a property purchased in the London neighbourhood of Chelsea, an accounting maneuver prohibited by new financial policies approved by Pope Francis in 2014.

The alleged attempt to hide the loans off-books was detected by the Prefecture for the Economy, then led by Cardinal Pell. Senior officials at the Prefecture for the Economy told CNA that when Cardinal Pell began to demand details of the loans, especially those involving the Swiss bank BSI, then-Archbishop Becciu called the cardinal in to the Secretariat of State for a “reprimand”.

In 2016, Cardinal Becciu was instrumental in bringing to a halt reforms initiated by Pell. Although Pope Francis had given the newly created Prefecture for the Economy autonomous oversight authority over Vatican finances, Cardinal Becciu interfered when Pell’s financial secretariat planned an external audit of all Vatican departments, to be conducted by the firm PriceWaterhouseCooper.

Unilaterally, and without permission of Pope Francis, Cardinal Becciu cancelled the audit and announced in a letter to all Vatican departments that it would not take place.

When Cardinal Pell challenged internally the audit’s cancellation, Cardinal Becciu persuaded Pope Francis to give his decision ex post facto approval, sources inside the prefecture told CNA. The audit never took place.

Cardinal Becciu held a press conference in Rome on 25 September at which he protested his innocence of financial wrongdoing.

Elements of this article first appeared at Catholic News Agency.

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