Pope Francis meets Cardinal Pell, whisks hand away
VATICAN CITY, October 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis and Cardinal George Pell have met together in person for the first time since the latter was acquitted of a crime and released from prison.
The Australian cardinal met the Argentinian pontiff in the library of the Apostolic Palace yesterday morning, following Francis’ meetings with an ambassador, an archbishop, and a bishop.
“It is a pleasure to see you again,” Francis told Pell, 79.
Little is known about this meeting, save that afterwards Pell, the Prefect Emeritus for the Vatican’s Secretariat of the Economy, told reporters that it “went well.”
According to Roman newspaper, Il Messaggero, it may be significant that the coveted last spot on the agenda was saved for the Cardinal.
“The scheduled face-to-face meeting was scheduled for the end of the morning, probably to have more time available if the meeting went on longer than expected,” it said.
However, the meeting lasted the allotted 30 minutes, including the photo session.
As Pope Francis welcomed Cardinal Pell to the Apostolic Palace, he was filmed pulling his hand away from the cardinal before Pell could kiss his ring. For centuries, it has been customary for Catholics to kiss the rings of the pope and bishops as a sign of respect for their office. However, Pope Francis has shown a reluctance in allowing visitors to kiss his ring; after one incident he expressed a concern for the spread of germs.
But despite the awkwardness of that particular moment, the return of Cardinal Pell to Rome is yet another sign of his vindication. In April, the Australian High Court unanimously acquitted Pell of convictions for historic child sex abuse and ordered his release from prison. The cardinal, who had always maintained his innocence and voluntarily went to Australia to clear his name, had been in prison for 14 months.
In December 2018, a jury found Pell guilty of two counts of sexual assault against a child after decades of anti-Pell sentiment in the Australian press and an investigation dubbed “Operation Get Pell” by critics of police in the Australian state of Victoria. Pell’s lawyers alleged that police set up their inquiry into the cardinal at least a year before they received any complaints about him. The trial, and Pell’s imprisonment, hinged on the uncorroborated testimony of one man. Later, the Victorian Court of Appeal, despite the objections of one of its three justices, upheld the guilty verdict.
Before his arrest, Cardinal Pell was the Holy See’s Prefect for the Secretariat of the Economy, tasked by Pope Francis for reforming the Vatican’s finances. Last week Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper alleged that Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciù, then the Vatican’s high-ranking Substitute for General may have had a hand in removing Pell from his post: for some unknown reason, Becciù had deposited €700,000 ($821,453 US) into an Australian account.
Becciù, known to have opposed Cardinal Pell’s attempts at reforming the Vatican’s finances, resigned from his post as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from his prerogatives as a cardinal, at the end of September. He revealed at a press conference that Pope Francis had accused him of embezzlement. Becciù has denied the allegation and also that he had had any hand in Cardinal Pell’s arrest.