Cardinal George Pell has met Pope Francis in Rome for the first time since the Australian’s conviction for child sexual abuse was overturned.
The Vatican ex-treasurer, 79, was the most senior Catholic figure ever jailed for such crimes. However, his conviction and six-year term were quashed in April.
Afterwards Cardinal Pell told reporters that his private meeting “went very well” and that the pope had “thanked me for my witness.”
A video clip of the meeting reveals the pope saying “more than a year” to the cardinal, a reference to the length of time he spent incarcerated.
The cardinal, who always maintained his innocence, left his role at the Vatican in 2017 to fight the charges. It remains unclear whether he will return to a senior position within the Holy See, though Church commentators have suggested it is highly unlikely. Since the court’s ruling, Cardinal Pell has been living quietly in Sydney.
A jury in December 2018 had found him guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choir boys in St Patrick’s Cathedral in the mid-90s when Archbishop of Melbourne. However, on appeal the High Court ruled the jury had not properly considered all the evidence.
Cardinal Pell’s arrival in Rome was something of a surprise as Australia has closed its border since the pandemic struck in March. However, Cardinal Pell received an exemption to leave Australia on 30th September, and to return later.
His appearance was also somewhat neatly timed as it occured in the immediate aftermath of the sacking of Cardinal Becciu over financial misconduct accusations. Becciu and Pell had repeatedly clashed over financial reforms while the Australian oversaw Vatican finances.
Cardinal Pell said: “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.”