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Cardinals Pell, Müller and the Pope: A Reality Check

On June 29, Australian police charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offences. The Vatican Press Office stated they learned this “with regret,” that Pell “chose to return to Australia in full respect for civil laws” and that Pope Francis has “appreciated” Pell’s “honesty,” “collaboration” and “energetic dedication to the reforms in the economic and administrative sector, as well as his active participation in the Council of Cardinals (C9).”

On July 1, the Vatican Press Office stated that Pope Francis “thanks Cardinal Müller at the end his quinquennial mandate as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” and “now calls the former Secretary [of the Congregation], Archbishop Ladaria, to take on this role.”

If not stating it outright, the U.S. media is inferring that the above is about the good “liberal” pope v. two bad “conservative” cardinals. That is grossly misinterpreting these events since the pope is not a liberal.

“Pope Francis referred to detractors of Bishop Juan Barros of the Chilean city of Osorno as ‘lefties’” after “more than 1,300 church members in Osorno, along with some 30 priests from the diocese and 51 of Chile’s 120 members of Parliament” sent letters in 2015 to the pope “urging him to rescind” his appointment. Barros was accused of “covering up dozens of sexual abuse cases.”

Last August, Pope Francis said “the epoch of sin against God the Creator” was teaching children that being transgender is acceptable.

In November, the pope said that women will never be Roman Catholic priests. He has also said that all abortion, even to save the life of the mother, “is a crime. It is killing one person to save another. It is what the Mafia does.”

In December, a decree that men with “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” couldn’t be priests was “restated in a new document under Pope Francis” reaffirming the Church’s teaching that “this inclination is objectively disordered.”

The pope called same-sex marriage an “anthropological regression.”

Cardinal George Pell

“Pell, 76, has been plagued by scandal for decades.

Pell was ordained in 1966 and assigned to Ballarat, the town where he was born in 1941. Ballarat is in the state of Victoria and Melbourne is the capital.

Pell’s roommate and close friend in the 1970s was Fr. Gerald Ridsdale. A 2012 police report linked the suicides and premature deaths of 34 people to Ridsdale and another Ballarat priest, Fr. Robert Best, both of whom are now both serving lengthy prison sentences. “It would appear that the organisation in charge of… Best and Ridsdale (Catholic Church) would be well and truly aware of the existence of these figures regarding these two clergy and would no doubt be aware of many other similar deaths, however have chosen to remain silent on the matter.”

While Pell served as the bishop’s vicar for education 1973-84 in Ballarat, “untold numbers of children were beaten and sexually assaulted by priests and nuns at the St. Alipius Primary School.” A February 2016 story by the Australian public broadcasting network SBS called the school “a pedophile’s paradise and a child’s nightmare.” Abuse was rampant throughout the parish in the 1970s, according to the Australian newspaper The Age, which once called Ballarat “probably the worst of Australia’s 32 dioceses for sexual abuse.”

In testimony before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Pell said at the time he knew nothing about Ridsdale’s crimes.

Pell was appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987 and archbishop in 1996. He created the “Melbourne Response,” a system “designed to control the victims and protect the Church … Pell intended to minimize the crimes, conceal the truth, manipulate and intimidate the victims. … Some relatives of abused children have called the cardinal a ‘sociopath.’”

Pell was appointed archbishop of Sydney in 2001 and elevated to cardinal in 2003 by Pope Benedict XVI. The infamous John Ellis case “was all about deterrence.” Ellis sued Pell and the trustees of the Sydney archdiocese in 2006 over abuse he suffered as an altar boy. Pell spent more than $1m fighting Ellis despite him asking for just a tenth of that amount in settlement, put him through “distressing and unnecessary cross-examination” and threatened him with legal costs. Pell had “instructed his lawyers to crush this victim.” Pell’s “Ellis Defense” is “an exemplar of litigation causing further trauma for a victim of abuse.”

When Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the formation of a royal commission to study child sex abuse in 2012, Pell’s response was to complain about a “’persistent press campaign’ and ‘general smears that we are covering up and moving people around,’ and then capped it off with the claim that abuse by Catholic priests had been singled out and exaggerated.’”

“Catholic clergy commit six times as much abuse as those in the rest of the churches combined, ‘and that’s a conservative figure,’” Patrick Parkinson, a Sydney University law professor, told the commission on May 30, 2013.

“Pell personally knows hundreds of the people involved – the victims and their families as well as the abusers. … He was a very senior authority in the Catholic Church when the court cases began in the 1990s and the top Catholic figure in Australia” until 2013. “[H]e was the leader of a system that protected the guilty and failed innocent people. [H]e was the man in charge during many years of this scandal. Therefore, he can be held accountable and responsible for it.”

Regardless of Pell’s record, Pope Francis chose him as a member of his Council of Cardinals a month after his election on March 13, 2013. He appointed Pell as head of his newly created Secretariat for the Economy in Feb. 2014.

Pope Francis also chose Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa as as one of his closest advisers. Errazuriz had made national headlines for protecting Fr. Fernando Karadima, the “worst scandal” of the Chilean Church. “Power is the true point of the case. The [sexual abuses against children] were not possible without a network of political, social and religious power working for 50 years,” stated political analyst Ascanio Cavallo, Dean of the Journalism School of the Adolfo Ibáñez University.

Church officials were warned as early as 1984 about Karadima’s “improper conduct.” The first known reports to reach Errazuriz were in 2003. In 2006, a priest appointed by Errázuriz to investigate the claims reported to the cardinal that he believed “the accusers to be credible.”

According to court testimony in a 2011 civil complaint filed against Karadima, Church officials, including Errázuriz, tried to shame accusers into dropping claims, refused to meet with them and failed to carry out formal investigations for years. A judge had dismissed the criminal case against Karadima in November 2011 because the statute of limitations had expired but also determined that the allegations were “truthful and reliable.”

One of the claimants called it “a shame and a disgrace” that Errazuriz was honored by the pope.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller

“When Müller was appointed bishop of Regensburg in 2002, he inherited the case of Fr. Peter Kramer, who had been convicted in 2000 of sexually abusing two boys … Kramer was sentenced to three years probation on July 7, 2000, on condition that he not work with children. But when Müller became bishop, Kramer was already working with children in the parish of Riekhofen, and when Kramer’s probation expired, Müller named him pastor. Müller concealed Kramer’s conviction from his parishioners.”

“Kramer was again convicted of child abuse. Müller combatively disclaimed responsibility for the children who had been abused because of his decision, and even threatened legal action against his critics. When the bishop of Fulda, Heinz J. Algermissen, affirmed the bishops’ guidelines, that a priest who has abused children must not be permitted further contact with children, Müller countered that ‘there is no space free of children and youth.’”

On April 5, 2013, Pope Francis met with Archbishop Müller, now prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the department that has dealt with all sexual abuse cases since Pope John Paul II consolidated its role on April 30, 2001. “Various issues were discussed” in the meeting with Müller, but “in particular” the pope “recommended that the Congregation continue along the lines set by Benedict XVI” who had appointed Müller as prefect in 2012.

On September 21, 2013, Pope Francis approved Müller as prefect of the CDF.  “It is highly problematic (that) he re-appointed a known enabler of a convicted pedophile priest to lead the Holy See’s office with sole responsibility for abuse cases,” stated Terence McKiernan, President, and Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, of BishopAccountability.org., a group dedicated to documenting the Catholic sex abuse crisis.

Pope Francis elevated Müller to cardinal in 2014.

Pope Francis

In the about a dozen American articles I’ve read the past three days about Pell, none hold the pope accountable for appointing Pell, Errazuriz or elevating Müller to cardinal despite their appalling records regarding child sex abuse. None have suggested that the pope’s apparent contempt for the victims stems from his own terrible record.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio “refused to meet with victims, and he stayed largely silent on the issue of clergy sex abuse, except to issue a surprising denial that he had ever handled an abusive priest. His only known action was to commission a behind-the-scenes report to judges that sought exoneration of a criminally convicted priest by impugning the credibility of the priest’s victims.” BishopAccoutability.org, showed Bergoglio’s involvement in five specific cases.

After missing the Nov. 1, 2013, deadline for responding to a request for information by the U.N. Committee of the Rights of Children, Pope Francis responded on Dec. 4 by stating that it was not the practice of his government to “disclose information on specific cases unless requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings” and “that the Vatican can provide information only about known and alleged child sex crimes that have happened on Vatican property,” generating the first negative publicity of his reign. Within two days, the pope announced that he would form a commission to study the problem of sex abuse.

Since then, Pope Francis has personally protected six pedophiles. He had reinstated Fr. Mauro Inzoli to the priesthood in 2014 after he had been defrocked for sex abuse by Pope Benedict in 2012. On June 28, the pope defrocked Inzoli again after the priest was “found guilty of the sexual abuse of minors [and] sentenced to nearly five years in prison.”

On May 19, Fr. Dante Simón – sent by Pope Francis to investigate the horrific sexual assaults in the Provolo Institute for the Deaf in Argentina by another priest protected by the pope – dismissed some cases. He said, children can be “spiteful. For example, [when] a girl or a boy falls in love with a priest, and he doesn’t respond back.”  On the same day, the Simón stated he was refusing to cooperate with the civil court prosecuting the atrocities.

Amoris Laeticia

The New York Times, NPR, CNN and others have characterized Müller as “conservative,” mentioning his opposition to the pope’s “exhortation,”Amoris Laeticia. But Pope Francis’ animus toward Pell and Müller predates this.

The procedures for the October 2015 synod of bishops should have been written by bishops chosen by their confreres. Instead, Pope Francis wrote them himself. Thirteen cardinals – including Pell and Müller – wrote a letter to the pope. Among their objections were “the lack of input by the synod fathers” and that the procedures were “designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.”

It was reported that the pope shouted in response, “If this is the case, they [the 13 cardinals] can leave. The Church does not need them. I will throw them all out!” Another account has the pope declaring “Who do these cardinals think they are? I will remove their [red] hats.”

When the 2015 synod ended, the bishops voted 190 to 64 on the question of whether communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be left to private consultation with their priest or bishop. “As written, however, it’s not entirely clear.” Traditionalists saw this as the majority of attendees being against changing the Church’s doctrine.

Pope Francis accused the bishops who voted against liberalizing the doctrine of having “closed hearts,” “blinkered viewpoints,” judging “sometimes with superiority and superficiality,” being cowardly and “burying their heads in the sand.”

Which is unfortunate seeing as how in Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:32 Mark 10:11 Jesus said that those who divorce and remarry commit adultery, a view held by most of Christendom until recently. It’s only been a little over 50 years since Nelson Rockefeller’s divorce and remarriage made him unsuitable for the Republican nomination in 1964.

Pope Francis released his “apostolic exhortation,” Amoris Laetitia, in April 2016. The document only inferred that the civilly remarried could receive communion under the guidance of a priest or bishop. Endless discussion ensued and is still going on. Four cardinals “asked Pope Francis five dubia questions, or ‘doubts,’ about [Amoris] in a bid to clear up ambiguities and confusion surrounding the text. On Nov. 14, 2016, they went public with their request after they learned that the pope had decided not to respond to their questions.” If the pope refused to clarify the matter, then “a formal act of correction” within the parameters of Church tradition could be sought, they wrote.

Pope Francis responded by stating these cardinals have “a nasty spirit in order to sow division” and are psychologically “born from something missing, from trying to hide one’s own sad dissatisfaction behind a kind of armor.” He warned that they are a “cancer of the Church” in pursuit of glory rooted in “the logic of ambition and power.”

If Müller’s opposition to Amoris Laeticia makes him unfit to hold office, then the pope is going to have to dismiss Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household, most of the Polish and African bishops among others.

Additionally, as noted Catholic reporter, John L. Allen, Jr., wrote today, “It’s not as if [Müller’s replacement] Ladara is anybody’s idea of a flaming liberal. He was appointed to the number two post at the CDF by Benedict XVI in 2008, and obviously the former prefect of the congregation wasn’t going to name anyone he regarded as doctrinally suspect to such a key post … Ladaria has always been seen as representing the Jesuits’ conservative wing. Even on the contested issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried, it’s not clear that Ladaria represents a dramatic departure from the Müller line.”

So, we have more of the same skewed, biased reporting by U.S. on just about everything connected to this pontificate.


(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (2009) and the blog, “Duped by the Media on Pope Francis, Progressives Wonder How Republicans Get Elected” (2014))


4 Responses

  1. BC might have ended this piece: I rest my case!
    A good lawyerly presentation against Francis’ malpractice – being political rather than pastoral. And the male crew on the barque of Peter are as political, all jockeying for power. Not falling over themselves to truly serve the least ones. The Vatican’s celibate males infighting is the priority, not the gospel.
    The Pell episode is turning an international spotlight on Francis’ malfeasance. Numerous article in the wake of Pell’s charge are questioning how serious is Francis in tackling the issue of clerical sex abuse. To me, this is a game changer.
    I suggest Francis will resign as Pell’s Australian malfeasance will widen its lens to take in Francis’s role in clerical sex abuse in Argentina.

    • I don’t know that Francis will resign, but I have no doubt Pell’s malfeasance will spread to Francis. Why not, Francis is not a pillar of rectitude when it comes to clerical abuse. If there is one thing that binds them all together, in spite of theological differences, it’s protecting their own. How do lay Catholics get beyond the great black wall?

      Great job Betty. I think I lost a great deal of trust in Francis with his appointments to the C9. Pell was one nail in that coffin and another was Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. What this tells me is there will be no reform of the Roman Catholic Church as long as these upper level ‘spiritual men’ are most vested in protecting the power, prestige, and influence of the Holy See. Until the Siamese twins are separated, there will be no real reform.

      • Reply to colkoch: I agree. The C9 appointments were horrific on multiple levels and there will be no real reform.

    • Agree. The gospel is definitely NOT the priority. How many times during this pontificate has the Congregation for the Evangelization of the People been mentioned? Almost zero because that’s not what this pope is about.
      I’m sorry that I don’t think this is a game changer. The US media’s coverage has not held the pope accountable.

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