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Pope aide Pell hits out at ‘anti-religion’ agendas

Vatican finance chief George Pell on Thursday hit out at calls that he return to Australia to assist in a child sex probe into him, railing against "anti-religion" agendas.

Pope aide Pell hits out at 'anti-religion' agendas
George Pell has appeared before the royal commission three times. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Pell, the country's most senior Catholic cleric, was interviewed in Rome by Australian police last October over historical sex assault claims. He strongly denies the allegations and no charges have yet been laid.

The Melbourne Herald Sun this week said a brief of evidence concerning the matter had now been handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It coincided with the final stages of a long-running national inquiry into institutional responses to child sex abuse, which heard on Monday that seven percent of Catholic priests were accused of abusing children between 1950 and 2010.

Pell has appeared before the royal commission three times, once in person and twice via video-link.

The Greens party on Wednesday filed a motion in the upper house Senate, which was widely supported, calling for him to return to assist police and prosecutors.

“The Greens have opted for an obvious political stunt while knowing full well Cardinal Pell has consistently cooperated with the royal commission and the Victorian police,” his spokesman said in a statement to AFP.

“The suggestion that Cardinal Pell should be accountable for all the wrongdoings of Church personnel throughout Australia over many decades is not only unjust and completely fanciful but also acts to shield those in the Church who should be called to account for their failures.”

The statement added that Pell had taken “decisive actions to address the evils of abuse”.

“Their (the Greens) anti-religion agenda is notorious and most fair-minded Australians would see this motion as pathetic point-scoring,” he said.

The Greens said Pell had “done a very good job at avoiding a return to Australia”.

“We know that the Victorian police now have allegations of criminal misconduct against Cardinal Pell. It is time he came back to Australia to assist with investigations on this matter,” they said in a statement.

The allegations against him came from two men, now in their 40s, who said he groped them in summer 1978-79 at the Eureka pool in Ballarat, Australia, where the cleric grew up and worked.

The allegations were the subject of the police interview in Rome.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also alleged Pell was naked in front of three young boys, believed to be aged eight to 10, in a surf club changing room in summer 1986-87.

There have also reportedly been complaints relating to his time as Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

During the royal commission, ordered by the government in 2012, Pell admitted he “mucked up” in dealing with paedophile priests in Victoria state in the 1970s.

ABUSE

Pope calls for ‘concrete measures’ at Vatican’s landmark summit on sex abuse

Pope Francis on Thursday opened a landmark summit at the Vatican on fighting child sex abuse, saying that the world expected "concrete measures" on tackling paedophilia in the Catholic church.

Pope calls for 'concrete measures' at Vatican's landmark summit on sex abuse
Pope Francis prays at the opening of the Vatican's first global summit on sexual abuse. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

The pontiff will dedicate the next three and a half days to discussing the Church's response to child abuse by members of the clergy with bishops from around the world.

“The holy people of God looks to us, and expects from us not simple and predictable condemnations, but concrete and effective measures to be undertaken. We need to be concrete,” he said as the summit opened, the first of its kind.

“Hear the cry of the little ones who plead for justice.”

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The ongoing scandal has again escalated in a crisis which has touched many countries across the globe, with recent cases affecting Chile, Germany and the US.

The 82-year-old pontiff hopes to raise awareness about abuse through prayers, speeches, working groups and testimonies from victims. He said the summit was a moment to “turn this evil into an opportunity for awareness and purification” and “heal the grave wounds that the scandal of paedophilia has caused, both in the little ones and in believers”. 

Those gathered heard from unnamed abuse survivors, one of whom told them: “You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed — in some cases — into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith”.

Another described the horrors of being forced to undergo three abortions after being abused by a priest.


Survivors of child abuse by clergy stand outside St Peter's Square ahead of this week's summit. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“We humbly and sorrowfully admit that wounds have been inflicted by us bishops on the victims and in fact the entire body of Christ,” Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle told the assembly.

“Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people, leaving a deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve,” he said.

The summit aims to educate 114 top bishops who will then return home with clear ideas on how to spot and deal with abuse and paedophilia. The scale of the task has been further complicated by the fact that some churches, in Asia and Africa in particular, deny the problem exists. 

“My hope would be that people see this as a turning point,” said American Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of the pope's trusted allies in the United States and one of the summit's four organisers.

The US Catholic Church has been shaken by one of the gravest crises in its history, following last week's defrocking of a former cardinal — American Theodore McCarrick — over accusations he sexually abused a teenager 50 years ago.


Theodore McCarrick in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/AFP

'Silence a no-go'

“It's not the end game, no one can ever say that… (but) we're going to do everything possible so people are held responsible, accountable and that there is going to be transparency,” Cupich told journalists said ahead of the meeting.

These three themes — responsibility, accountability and transparency — will form the backbone of the summit and provide its 190 participants with the keys to ensuring child safety, he said.

There are reforms in the pipeline, such as the “tweaking” of certain canon laws, according to another of the organisers, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

But the suggestion that Church laws need only fine-tuning has angered many, including Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a public database that documents cases of proven or suspected cleric sex crimes.


Protesters in Rome earlier this week denounced the “wall of silence” surrounding abuse in the Church. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

“Canon law has to be changed: not tweaked, not modified, but fundamentally changed, so that it stops prioritising the priesthood… over the lives of children, and vulnerable adults who are sexually assaulted by them,” she said.

Scicluna insists that summoning Church leaders from all continents to Rome “is in itself a very important message”.

He spent ten years as the Vatican's top prosecutor on paedophilia cases, and was picked by Francis to travel to Chile last year to hear from victims whose voices had previously been silenced by an internal Church cover-up. Scicluna has called for an end to the code of silence and culture of denial within the centuries-old institution.

“Silence is a no-go, whether you call it omerta or simply a state of denial,” he said this week. “We have to face facts because only the truth of the matter, and confronting the facts, will make us free.”

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