(NCR Online) Cardinal George Pell, who this week will become the highest ranked church official ever to face sex abuse charges in court, may be the most polarizing religious leader in Australia’s brief history.
The former Archbishop of Sydney will appear in the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on July 26 to answer yet-unspecified charges of historical sexual abuse involving multiple complainants, which he resolutely denies.
The complaints apparently long predate his present Vatican role as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, often but misleadingly referred to as number three in the Vatican hierarchy behind the pope and secretary of state.
It is a staggering fall from grace for the combative cardinal. Even if he is utterly exonerated, mutterings from Rome suggest the 76-year-old will not return to his secretariat post. His credibility seems destroyed — largely self-inflicted in a series of appearances before official inquiries into how the church handled child sexual abuse. Increasingly he revealed himself — and confessed to being — a man who put the institutional church first, second and third. He also revealed a man deeply deficient in compassion and empathy. Of this, more below.
No Australian prelate has been so admired and so excoriated: He is adored by his followers for his fearlessly strident support for a highly conservative orthodoxy and old-fashioned authoritarianism and loathed by his critics for his relentless determination, often perceived as brutal. [More]