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World News

Cleared Australian cardinal links child abuse charges to corruption fight

by Press Association

Cardinal George Pell has linked his fight against corruption in the Vatican with his prosecution in Australia for alleged child sex abuse.

Mr Pell was the third highest-ranking Vatican official in 2018 when he became the world's most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse.

He served 13 months in prison before Australia's High Court last week acquitted him for molesting two choirboys in St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, while he was archbishop of Australia's second-largest city in the 1990s.

Pope Francis's former finance minister said in a television interview that some church officials believed he was prosecuted by Australian authorities because of the trouble he had caused in the Vatican with financial reforms.

"Most of the senior people in Rome who are in any way sympathetic to financial reform believe that they are" linked to his prosecution, the 78-year-old cleric told Sky News.

"What was surprising was even my theological opponents in Rome didn't believe the stories" of sexual abuse, he added.

He said he did not have evidence of a link but he suspected that a man who swore he had been sexually abused by Mr Pell as a 13-year-old choirboy more than two decades ago had been "used".

Francis created the secretariat for the economy, and named Mr Pell its prefect, as a key part of his financial reform plans after being elected pope in 2013. Mr Pell had tried to wrestle the Holy See's opaque finances into order and align them with international standards, but his efforts and brusque style were rebuffed repeatedly by the Vatican's old guard.

He stood aside from the job in 2017 to return to Australia, determined to clear himself of decades-old allegations of child sex abuse.

Francis last year named a 60-year-old Spanish economist, the Rev Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, as Mr Pell's successor a day after Australia's
Victoria state Court of Appeal agreed to hear his case to overturn the convictions. The court upheld the convictions in a 2-1 majority decision.

Mr Alves came to his new job in a period of financial crisis, after Vatican prosecutors raided the secretariat of state and the Holy See's financial watchdog after receiving reports of a suspicious property transaction.

Mr Pell said Francis had "absolutely" supported him. "My theological views... don't line up exactly with Pope Francis," he said. "I think he values my honesty and perhaps that I would say things that some other people mightn't say, and I think he respects me for that."

He said that neither Francis nor Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin were corrupt, but he did not know how high Vatican corruption rose.

"Just how high up it goes is an interesting hypothesis," he said.

Mr Pell said he will return to Rome after the coronavirus pandemic to pack up his apartment, but that he plans to make his new home in Sydney, where he had been archbishop.

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