Pope Francis welcomed Cardinal George Pell back into the fold on Monday, making specific reference to the year the Australian spent in prison for his sex abuse conviction, which was ultimately overturned.
Cardinal Pell was granted an audience with the Pope in the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican.
The Holy See disclosed nothing about what the two men discussed, but did release a short video of their encounter, indicating that the Pope was keen to publicise Cardinal Pell’s rehabilitation.
Greeting the Australian, Pope Francis said “thank you for your testimony”, in an apparent reference to the trial in Melbourne in which Pell faced allegations of sexually molesting two choirboys.
The Pope was then heard to say “more than a year” – a reference to the 13 months Pell spent in jail before his conviction for sexual abuse was overturned by Australia’s High Court in April.
It was the first meeting between the pair since the cardinal’s sex abuse conviction was quashed on appeal.
He returned to Rome at the end of last month after an absence of nearly three years.
Although he had his conviction for molesting the choirboys overturned, a report released in Australia in May said he was aware of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy as far back as the 1970s and failed to sack or remove priests.
Cardinal Pell still faces a civil suit brought by the father of one choirboy who died in 2014.
When he left Rome in 2017 to face the charges in Australia, Pell had been tasked with cleaning up the Vatican’s finances as its economy minister.
His return comes amid a financial scandal in which the Pope last month forced the resignation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, whom he accused of misappropriation of Vatican charity money.
The cardinal, who was one of the most powerful figures in the Vatican hierarchy, has denied any wrongdoing.
He was involved in a controversial €324 million property deal – the Vatican’s purchase of a former Harrods car showroom in Sloane Avenue in Chelsea, which it intended to convert into luxury flats.
Millions of euros were paid to middlemen who brokered the deal and the Pope has ordered an investigation.
Cardinal Becciu clashed with Cardinal Pell over the latter’s attempts to introduce greater accountability and transparency to the Vatican’s often opaque finances.
Neither the Pope nor Cardinal Pell, 79, wore face masks during their meeting.
Francis, who is 83 and lost part of one lung to illness in his youth, has come under criticism for his repeated failure to wear masks during large gatherings in St Peter’s Square and other official events.
The Vatican disclosed on Monday that four soldiers from the Swiss Guard, the Pope’s personal protection force, have come down with the coronavirus.
“There are currently four Swiss Guards, with symptoms, who have been placed in isolation,” said Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni.
There are around 110 officers and men in the Swiss Guard. They have served the papacy for five centuries, first coming to Rome to protect Pope Julius II in 1506. Members of the tiny corps must be Swiss, Catholic, single and under the age of 30.
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