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Cardinal Pell weighs legal action after harsh criticism by member of papal abuse commission

June 01, 2015

Cardinal George Pell is pondering legal action against a member of the special papal commission on sexual abuse, who said in a television interview that the Australian prelate has an “almost sociopathic” approach to sex-abuse issues.

In an interview broadcast by the “60 Minutes” television program in Australia, Peter Saunders, one of the 17 members of the papal commission on abuse, lashed out at Cardinal Pell, calling for his removal from his current post as prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy and saying that the cardinal is “a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis’s papacy if he’s allowed to stay.”

Saunders told the Australian television audience that Cardinal Pell had shown “callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic” in his response to sex-abuse complaints during his tenure as an archdiocesan leader in Australia.

Cardinal Pell quickly fired back. A spokesman issued a statement saying that the cardinal was conferring with legal advisers about the proper response to the criticism aired on “60 Minutes.”

The spokesman said that Saunders was clearly not well informed about the record of Cardinal Pell’s actions in Australia, and that the cardinal “has not met and has not been approached by Mr. Saunders.”

Cardinal Pell has been under relentless attack in the Australian media, and last week the press carried headline coverage of an old claim that while acting as an auxiliary bishop, the future cardinal had failed to report abuse by a notorious pedophile priest. Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied that charge, saying that he was unaware of the abuse at the time. The cardinal has also said that he is anxious to speak to a royal commission investigating the abuse scandal, to answer any new questions.

In answer to the “60 Minutes” program, the cardinal’s spokesmn said that “Saunders is not well informed about the claims made against Cardinal Pell in the Ballarat hearings of the Royal Commission and the fact that no new material emerged during recent hearings.” He observed that the claims made against the cardinal have already been investigated by a parliamentary commission, which produced “no adverse findings against Cardinal Pell.”

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, indicated that Saunders was speaking “in an entirely personal way,” and not representing the papal commission, in his public criticism of Cardinal Pell. The Vatican spokesman went on to say that Cardinal Pell “has always responded carefully and thoroughly to the accusations and questions posed by the competent Australian authorities, and his position has been made known again in recent days by a public declaration on his part, which must be considered reliable and worthy of respect and attention.” Saunders, however, vowed to continue his criticism of the cardinal, saying: “If my place on the commission is jeopardized because I wish to speak my truth, then so be it.” He said that the cardinal’s threat of legal action was “very unfortunate, very sad, and very un-Christian.”


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: feedback - Jun. 02, 2015 9:27 AM ET USA

    Quote: "Saunders said that the cardinal’s threat of legal action was “very un-Christian.”" Actually, Can. 220 of the Code of Canon Law says: "No one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses." Legal action against slander would be beneficial to the Church, given the caliber of the persons involved in this case.

  • Posted by: jplaunder1846 - Jun. 02, 2015 6:36 AM ET USA

    claims and encouraged victims to come forward. At a personal level Pell is a big fairly gruff man, but I do not think he is unsympathetic to the victims - he just lacks an apparent empathy of which many of his critics seize upon to demonise him, especially the secular media. The cases for the most part, that are currently before the public are the same ones that came out during the 1990s. The Ridsdales, Best, Dowlan, Farrell and undoubtedly further down the track will be Kevin O'Donnell.

  • Posted by: jplaunder1846 - Jun. 02, 2015 6:30 AM ET USA

    What disturbs me about the comments of Mr Saunders a UK citizen, he has never met Card Pell or spoken to him yet he comes out and condemns him. Like a lot of Catholics I have been upset the way many Bishops have handled child sex abuse - trying to avoid scandal and thereby creating far greater scandal and worse still many more victims of abuse because of the moving the abusers all round the dioceses. Pell when he became Archbishop did establish around 20 years ago an independent body to receive