John L. Allen Jr.: Abuse charges against Pell not good news for Vatican financial reform

(Crux) In the wake of news that police in the Australian state of Victoria have filed criminal charges of sexual abuse against Cardinal George Pell, many questions will be asked, most of which likely will have to do with the charges themselves and Pell’s defense, which he has declared he intends to pursue vigorously once he’s back in his native country.

Some observers suspect the prosecution is politically motivated, and others have raised the question of whether it’s even possible for Pell to receive a fair trial given the way Australian media have demonized the 76-year-old prelate. Yet, bitter experience of abuse scandals in the past has taught Catholics everywhere to withhold judgment until all the evidence is in.

In the meantime, from a strictly Vatican point of view, there’s another question that cannot help but surface, which is the impact of all of this on the financial reform Pope Francis has said he wants to execute, and which was the reason he brought Pell to Rome in 2014 in the first place.

Probably the best immediate take-away is that Pell’s new troubles don’t portend anything good for the reform project.

To be clear, the question of whether Pell is good or bad for the pope’s aim of reform has been debated intensely since his arrival on the Vatican scene in early 2014.

Fans believe Pell has done everything in his power to bring a recalcitrant system to heel, and the criticism he’s encountered is about entrenched interests defending business as usual – even, in some extreme cases, actually trying to conceal corruption.

To critics, however, Pell from the beginning was more about concentrating power in his own hands than delivering a lasting reform that made sense in the context of the Vatican, and his overreaching has alienated people who should have been allies and thereby needlessly slowed things down.

Those latter perceptions are widely believed to be the primary reason Pope Francis has pulled back from his support for Pell, from taking away his office’s control over management of Vatican assets and returning it to the Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA), to supporting those in the Vatican who objected to Pell’s plan for an external audit of Vatican finances entrusted to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). [More]