VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer who was recently cleared of historic sex abuse charges in his native country of Australia, spoke about his experience in prison, Pope Francis’ financial reform and the need to avoid corruption in a video released Tuesday (June 30).
“In jail, of course, I was there as a Christian, inspired by the teachings of Christ,” Pell said, adding that his time in prison offered plenty of opportunity to pray every day. “And that I did,” he said.
The cardinal was sentenced to six years in prison by the County Court of Victoria, Australia, in late 2018 for the sexual abuse of minors when he was bishop in Melbourne between 1996 and 1997. Pell had vehemently denied all charges against him and, in April, the highest court in Australia dropped all charges for lack of sufficient proof.
The newly released video is the cardinal’s first public appearance since he was acquitted. In it he said that though prison was “an adventure I would not have chosen,” he had “survived it.”
He relayed details of his time in prison, from waking up early to exercising and dieting. “My life was very regular,” said the 79-year-old cardinal, adding that beyond praying he spent his time looking after his health.
The remarks were made for the inauguration of the Global Institute of Church Management, a lay-driven nonprofit aimed at promoting best practices and education within Catholic institutions. The group, based in the United States, was created at Pell’s request and it currently serves over 100 students from dioceses, parishes, schools, hospitals and universities.
Before being called back to Australia for trial, Pell was the Vatican’s secretary for the economy, a position created by Pope Francis to spearhead his reform of the murky and flailing Vatican finances. In the video, the cardinal stated that he “thoroughly enjoyed” his work at the Vatican, but he also cautioned against the “temptation” of money.
“The church is not a business; the church is supernatural,” he said. “To say that the church is not a business provides no justification for us to be inefficient or much less for us to be corrupt.”
In the video, Pell said he was “startled” to find truth in the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, who said that the “two great challenges” for clergy are money and sexuality.
Pell added that, in his opinion, the temptation for clergy when it comes to money is “far greater and stronger” than temptations of sexuality.
He emphasized the need to “control and manage” money and praised Pope Francis’ effort to institute a reform of the Vatican’s financial institutions. On June 1, Francis released a “game-changer” document that promised to centralize the economy at the Vatican, eliminate corruption and ensure sustainability.
“This course got off the ground quickly,” Pell said, referring to the papal document, and he added that “things move slowly in Rome.”
The cardinal said financial reform is “not the main priority” within the walled city-state, but he did not offer any indication as to what are the real urgencies at the Vatican.
Priority or not, Francis’ reform efforts are “helping lay honest competent foundations to improve the service and the work of the church,” Pell said.