The Pell Case – how question about a trial unite Catholics

It is quite remarkable. In a time when we are all learning to take up a zero-tolerance position against sexual abuse within our ranks (and, subsequently, outside our ranks as well), Catholics of all stripes are coming together in their opinions on one particular case. But on the side of the alleged abuser.

cardinalAustralian Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Sydney and, it turned out yesterday, retired Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy as well (his mandate, which ended this month, was quietly allowed to end), has been convicted of the sexual abuse of two boys in late 1996. But, while official statements from the Australian bishops and the Vatican underline their respect for the legal establishment and their hope that the victims find some form of consolation and peace, manny commentators have expressed their doubts. Looking at the evidence available to the public (which, it has to be said, is not a complete picture as not all evidence and statements have been released by the court) many wonder if the events for which Cardinal Pell has been convicted could really have happened.

Father Frank Brennan, who attended part of the court proceedings, has an excellent article about his questions on the case. In short, he wonders not just how the alleged abuse could have taken place when and where they did, but also why some of the very convincing arguments regarding location and the liturgical vestments said to have been worn by Cardinal Pell when he is said to have abused the two boys, were not taken into consideration. A least, they seemed not to have been.

Again, we do not known everything about the court proceedings. But what we do know has been enough reasons for Catholics on both sides of the spectrum – both those who think an orthodox cardinal like Pell can do no wrong, and those who automatically suspect him for being conservative – to wonder at the truth behind the conviction. The facts as we know them remain very hard to reconcile with the details of the allegations.

It is important to ask in how far a recollection of 20-year-old events by people who were teenagers at the time can ever be wholly accurate, and the jury must have taken this into account, reaching a verdict based on facts as well as the victims’ situation. In the end, a verdict must take their emotional involvement and the passage of time into account as well.

In the meantime, Cardinal Pell has been barred from exercising any form of ministry by the archbishop of Melbourne, where the trial took place – a standard precautionary measure – and remains in custody awaiting his sentencing, currently scheduled for 13 March. The cardinal’s legal team is appealing the verdict.

Photo credit: AAP Image/Erik Anderson via Reuters

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Merger number two, as the new Curia takes form

Another week, another dicastery. Today, Pope Francis announced the upcoming merger of four Pontifical Councils into one new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Quite the impressive title, and in today’s world it’s mandate should be equally impressive. The Apostolic Letter Humanam progressionem, which announced the establishment of the dicastery today, summarised it as follows: “This Dicastery will be competent particularly in issues regarding migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.”

The new dicastery – once again neither a Congregation nor as Pontifical Council – will take over and combine the mandates of four separate Pontifical Councils from 1 January 2017. These are the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, “Cor Unum“, for Pastoral Care for Migrants and Intinerant People and for Health Care Workers. Judging from this, the dicastery will not only have responsibility for people in need, but also for those who try to help them: aid workers, disaster relief personnel, hospital staff and the like.

turkson

The new dicastery will be led by a Curia veteran, Cardinal Peter Turkson, today the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. A secretary and possibly an undersecretary are forthcoming. Cardinal Turkson has been working in Rome since 2009. Before that, he was archbishop of Cape Coast in Ghana.

The mergers have little effect on the presidents of the other Pontifical Councils set to be suppressed in the new year. “Cor Unum” has been without a president since Cardinal Robert Sarah was appointed as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2014; Cardinal Antonio Vegliò of Migrants is 78 and will therefore enter retirement; and Health Care Workers has also been without a president since Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski died in July of this year.

With this new dicastery, as well as the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life established earlier this month, the Roman Curia is slowly changing its appearance. Previously largely made up of Congregations and Pontifical Councils, with the Secretariat of State at the top (and rounded out with several smaller offices as well as the three canon law tribunals), a new structure is now emerging. There are now three secretariats: of State, for the Economy and for Communications, but these do differ greatly in mandate and influence. The nine Congregations remain unchanged, while the Pontifical Councils decrease in number from twelve to five. New is the category of the dicastery, which is a general term denoting a department of the Curia. Exactly where these fit in the structure of the Curia remains to be seen. They are led by prefects, one of whom is a cardinal and the other a bishop, but are not called Congregations, which are what prefects normally head. Neither are they Pontifical Councils, which is what they were formed out of.

On the day of the announcement of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, its prospective prefect was in the Netherlands, speaking at the Christian Social Congress in Doorn, east of Utrecht. His talk is available online. In it, Cardinal Turkson describes via quotes from Gaudium et Spes how the involvement of Christians in the world is a necessary condition of the Christian life, which is, ultimately, why the new dicastery exists:

“The pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes, opens with a resounding embrace of the lived realities of humankind: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (GS §1). And to truly follow Christ, we must accept our “earthly responsibilities”. The followers of Christ understand that their faith is incarnated in the world: “by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation.” Conversely, it is entirely erroneous for people to “imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life” (GS §43.1). The only true path is that which unites faith and action.”

Integral human development is not only something that we should strive for for ourselves, but for humanity as a whole, especially for those who need it most, “those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture”.

Abuse of trust – in Vatileaks 2, arrests at the Vatican

The spectre that haunted Pope Benedict XVI in the last year of his pontificate once again rears it ugly head. In 2012, under the moniker Vatileaks, sensitive information and documents were leaked by a butler working in the papal household, and recently something similar happened, once again by persons personally selected by the Pope and appointed by him to help clear up the economic affairs of the Holy See.

vallejo baldaThe Vatican gendarmerie arrested Msgr. Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda (pictured at left) and Ms. Francesco Chaouqui and held them in detention overnight. This morning both arrests were validated but Ms. Chaougui was let go, after having cooperated fully with the authorities, a Holy See press statement said. Msgr. Vallejo remains in detention, Andrea Tornielli says.

Msgr. Vallejo was the secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organisation of the Economic-Administrative Structure of the Holy See, of which Ms. Chaouqui was a member. The commission was established in July of 2013, and had an advisory role to the Pope.

In addition, Msgr. Vallejo is also the secretary of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and a member of the Financial Security Committee (he was its highest-ranking official since Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi was transferred to the Congregation for Catholic Education last March). Not the lowest employee in the Vatican, then, with, it can be assumed, high-level access to confidential information related to the reforms of the Vatican Bank and the entire economic apparatus of the Holy See.

chaouquiAlarm bells about the appointment of Francesca Chaouqui (pictured at right)  were rung by Sandro Magister as early as August of 2013, suggesting a link between the first crisis of Vatileaks and the current case, which once again sees the announcement of books purporting to confidential information about the economic reforms and affairs in the Vatican.

The reforms of the Vatican Bank and the entire economic structure of the Holy were one of the first major spear points of Pope Francis’ pontificate. It was clear that much needed to change, and the Vatican Bank had already begun to be investigated and cleaned out under Pope Benedict XVI. The greatest development was the establishment of Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat of the Economy and the announcement of an independent auditor with free ranges to check the books of all departments in the Vatican. The commissions and committees of which Msgr. Vallejo and Ms. Chaouqui were members, with the exception of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs, which was established in 1967, are also part of these efforts.

This may turn out to be a major challenge for Pope Francis. Until now, his reforms seemed pretty straightforward as new dicasteries were established, with new personnel, to do new things. This would clear up a lot of old problems just by calling in new expertise. It now turns out that the new gang is not necessarily much different from the old gang, and the efforts by Pope Francis are not immune from abuse.  Whether the problem lies with the selection process or the personal faults of the appointed parties remains to be seen, but one thing it does show is that the economic reforms are by no means a done deal.

The many works of Cardinal Marx

101020marx250In five rounds, the German bishops this morning elected Reinhard Cardinal Marx to succeed Archbishop Robert Zollitsch as chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference. He is the sixth chairman since the conference came into being in 1966, and with his election it is once more led by a cardinal, as was the case pre-Zollitsch.

One of the first questions that come to mind is how the cardinal will balance this new duty with the many responsibilities he already has. In chronological order, Cardinal Marx is:

  • Archbishop of München und Freising
  • President of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences
  • Member of the Council of Cardinals that assist Pope Francis in reforming the Curia
  • Coordinator of the new Council for the Economy

In addition, he is, like other cardinals, also a member of various dicasteries in the Curia. In Cardinal Marx’s case these are:

  • the Congregation for Catholic Education
  • the Congregation for the Oriental Churches
  • the Pontifical Council for the Laity
  • the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

During the presentation to the media, this morning, Cardinal Marx already addressed this question, saying he might have to consider resigning from some of these functions. As chairman of the bishops’ conference, he logically can’t resign as archbishop of Munich. Likewise, it is probably not wise that he resign from the Council of Cardinals or the Council for the Economy, considering their importance and the fact that both are still in their infancy. His presidency of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences is probably fairly easy to retire from, as is the membership of one or more dicasteries in the Curia.

In any case, the question if his coordinatorship of the Council for the Economy would require permanent residency in Rome (as it does for Cardinal George Pell in his new role as president of the related Secretariat for the Economy) is now answered.