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Vatican: Cardinal Pell says he’s innocent but news hurts

Pope maintains bans on his adviser having contact with children during appeals process

Alessandro Gisotti reads a statement on the sentence in the first instance against Cardinal George Pell, AFP
Alessandro Gisotti reads a statement on the sentence in the first instance against Cardinal George Pell, AFP

The Vatican on Tuesday insisted on Cardinal George Pell’s right to further defend himself after being convicted of molesting two choirboys in Australia.

But it said Pope Francis was keeping in place restrictions banning his adviser from having contact with children during the appeals process.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti read a brief statement that called Pell's conviction painful.

The Australian court’s verdict was delivered unanimously in December and appealed against by Pell, 77, last week.

Due to a court order, news of the verdict could not be published until Tuesday.

Pell faces a maximum prison term of 50 years for his conviction on charges that he sexually abused the boys in a cathedral in the 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

Sentencing hearings were set to begin in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Pell was appointed by Pope Francis as the Vatican’s treasurer to help reform the Holy See’s scandal-plagued financial institutions.

The restrictions against contact with children were imposed by Australian church authorities after Pell went back to his homeland in 2017 to defend himself in the criminal case.

Mr Gisotti said Pell “maintains his innocence.” He said that while awaiting the appeal, Pell was also “prohibited from exercising public ministry".

That includes no celebration of Mass in public.

In 2016, reports emerged that Australian police were investigating child abuse allegations against Pell.

But Pope Francis allowed the cardinal to keep his Vatican roles as leading financial adviser and as the Holy See’s economy chief, and did not impose any restrictive measures.

Pope Francis had named Pell as his economy minister in 2014, early in his papacy, even though some allegations against the Australian were known at that time.

Pell’s term in that role runs out this year.

The verdict brought “painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia”, Mr Gisotti said.

Pope Francis has in some cases cast doubt on victims’ allegations of abuse and cover-ups against high-profile clergy, including a notable case in Chile.

This month, Francis expelled former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood after a Vatican trial found the churchman guilty of sexual abuse of minors and adults, including in the confessional.

The Pell and McCarrick cases drastically escalate the gravity and reach of the sexual abuse scandals for the Vatican, where last week bishops from around the world met to come up with prevention strategies.

Updated: February 26, 2019 11:57 PM



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