The Pope has met George Pell for the first time since the cardinal was convicted, then acquitted, of sex abuse in Australia.
In what has been viewed as a clear indication that Pope Francis wanted the world to see he remained on good terms with Cardinal Pell, the Vatican released a short video of the pair smiling and shaking hands.
Pope Francis can be heard saying “good to see you” and “more than a year” – an apparent reference to the time the 79-year-old Australian spent in a Victorian prison.
The men then posed side-by-side for photographs.
Neither man was wearing a protective mask, despite the surge in coronavirus infections in the Lazio region surrounding the Vatican, and despite four Swiss Guards testing positive.
“It went very well,” Cardinal Pell said on Monday (local time) in front of his residence just outside the Vatican walls.
Cardinal Pell returned to Italy on September 30 for the first time since 2017. He had said in April after he was absolved by the High Court that he wanted to return to Rome to clean out his Vatican apartment.
He arrived on September 30 amid a swirling financial corruption scandal implicating a half-dozen Holy See employees including one of his Vatican nemeses, Cardinal Angelo Becciu.
European anti-money laundering evaluators began a periodic visit to the Vatican that same day.
Cardinal Pell, brought in by Pope Francis in 2014 to bring accountability and transparency to the Vatican’s opaque finances, was convicted but ultimately absolved by the High Court of allegations he molested two choirboys in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne while he was archbishop in the 1990s.
The Pope never turned on the cardinal throughout the lengthy court proceedings, keeping his job vacant for two years and maintaining he would not prejudge the outcome.
Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and suggested, without evidence, that his prosecution was linked to his efforts to clean up the Vatican’s finances.
For seven years, Cardinal Becciu largely controlled the secretariat of state’s multi-million-euro asset portfolio and donations from the faithful.
Pope Francis sacked Cardinal Becciu in September amid allegations he embezzled Holy See money.
Cardinal Becciu has denied wrongdoing.
Pope Francis receives Cardinal George Pell in an audience today – Vatican News
After spending 400 days in jail, this past April, he was unanimously acquitted by the Australian High Court of the charge of the sexual abuse of minors.https://t.co/m8T2W9SQ0k pic.twitter.com/4A7LBW7vvV
— Catholic Sat (@CatholicSat) October 12, 2020
While Cardinal Becciu was No.2 in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and Cardinal Pell was economy minister, the two had a stormy relationship.
The day after he was sacked, Cardinal Becciu revealed a meeting between himself, Cardinal Pell and the Pope where – he said – Cardinal Pell told Cardinal Becciu, “You are dishonest”, and Cardinal Becciu replied: “How dare you!”
After Cardinal Becciu was sacked, Cardinal Pell said: “The Holy Father was elected to clean up Vatican finances. He plays a long game and is to be thanked and congratulated on recent developments.”
He said he hoped the “cleaning of the stables” would continue.
Cardinal Becciu’s lawyer has denied Italian media reports that his client sent money to Australia to help Cardinal Pell’s “enemies” while he was facing the sexual abuse charges.
Through his lawyer, the Australian man who accused Cardinal Pell of sexually abusing him two decades ago denied Italian reports speculating that he might have been bribed to testify.
The Australian cardinal’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, called for an investigation “to track the money trail”. He said it should include Italian and Australian investigators.
“If one is to give any credence to what has been alleged, then it is critical that all proper money-tracing exercises be undertaken,” Mr Richter said.