‘If Pell goes down, it is not good news’ for reform, says veteran journalist John L Allen Jr

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Veteran “vaticanista” and writer for cruxnow.com John L. Allen Jr. speaking with Pope Francis.

Corrupt Vatican officials are delighting in the current troubles of Cardinal George Pell, says veteran journalist and Vatican-specialist John L Allen Jr, a visiting associate editor of the Boston Globe – the paper that broke news of the Catholic child sex abuse scandal in the US.

Mr Allen said he was puzzled that the Italian view of the man Pope Francis had appointed to clear up widespread corruption in the Vatican – that of a feared reformer – had not appeared in recent Australian discussions.

“The corrupt old guard in Rome that takes care of its own, they live in mortal terror of Cardinal Pell, because his mandate was to take a flamethrower to that entire culture; to burn it down to the ground and to rebuild with a system that is more transparent, more modern,” Mr Allen told a gathering at Catholic Mission headquarters in North Sydney.

“There is a system of vested interests and crony alliances that sustains that system. That’s the real opposition to reform … and, after Francis, Pell is public enemy number one”.

Mr Allen prefaced his comments by acknowledging that current controversy centred on the cardinal’s time in Ballarat and that he could only comment on what he knew to be the case within the Holy See.

“George Pell over there is not the George Pell over here. George Pell over there is the antidote to the old privilege. And it’s just interesting to me that that never seems to factor into the Australian discussion.”

The amount of resistance to Pope Francis and his reforms – organised largely along “old guard” and not ideological lines – was no greater than that faced by his two predecessors, he said, and “substantially less” than that faced by his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Something as elementary as forcing Vatican departments to tender for substantial building repairs might be “an absolute no brainer” in Sydney or New York, but represented “a complete, cultural revolution” at the Vatican, where nepotism and favouritism were more typical.

Allen said that he did not know where “the George Pell story” will end.

“What would count as a satisfactory resolution for people? It seems to me that we are in the middle of a drama that doesn’t have a clear climax; a clear denouement…

“I don’t know where this is going to go.

“I will tell you, in my area of expertise – in my little idiosyncratic corner of the world – if George Pell goes down, it is not good news”.