We are disturbed but not surprised by Pope Francis’ support of Cardinal George Pell after Australian authorities charged him with multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses” on Thursday. The Vatican stated it learned of the charges “with regret” and that Pope Francis appreciated Pell’s honesty and commitment during his three years at the Vatican, where he is the third-ranking official.
“This comment about Pell’s ‘honesty’ is a rebuke to survivors and another step backwards for the papacy and any perceived progress regarding clergy sex abuse,” said attorney Jeff Anderson. “Pope Francis gave hope to survivors that there would be change but he has not followed up on his words and his support of Pell now is a disappointing affirmation of a lack of commitment to transparency or any kind of change at the top.”
For years, Pell faced allegations that he mishandled and covered up clergy abuse cases when he was archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney. He admitted to government investigators that his “instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the church from shame.” As head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis is surely aware of this conduct, which exhibits neither honesty nor commitment.
Pell has also been accused of sexually abusing choir boys himself over the years, although he was never charged until Thursday. It is unknown whether the charges brought Thursday are related to the prior abuse allegations connected to Pell over the years.
“The Pope’s comments supporting Pell again raise serious doubts and questions about any commitment by the Vatican to do anything different from his predecessors, which is deny, minimize and blame,” Anderson said. “The Pope’s comments are business as usual, standing by and with accused offenders. It’s an outrage to every survivor of sexual abuse and their families, and we have to keep fighting to make sure the safety of the children comes first.”