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Published: 28 October 2020
Author: Penny Savidis

Acquitted Sex-Abuse Cardinal returns to Rome

Cardinal George Pell, who was previously the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy prior to his sexual assault charges in 2017, has returned to the Vatican amid a mounting financial scandal. The Vatican is being scrutinised regarding its compliance with anti-money laundering laws. Pell has stated to the media that he had been fighting to bring greater transparency to the Vatican’s balance sheets.

However, the two matters have become intertwined, with media outlets reporting that Pell’s rival regarding Vatican finances, former Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, is suspected of paying the equivalent of $1.1m to people in Australia to help fuel the criminal proceedings against Pell.

Pell’s defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, has called for an internal investigation into these claims, and the Australian Federal Police are reportedly examining evidence from Australia’s anti-money laundering agency AUSTRAC of a money trail of transfers from the Vatican to Australia allegedly linked to measures to try to adversely influence Pell’s criminal trial. The man who accused Pell of sexually assaulting him at Pell’s criminal trial has denied any knowledge of receipt of any Vatican payments.

Upon release from prison in April 2020, following his convictions being overturned, Pell returned to Rome in September to meet with Pope Francis. The Vatican confirmed that the pair met on 12 October 2020 and released a short clip of the affair. The short clip portrayed Pope Francis warmly welcoming Pell, which some believe indicates the Catholic church’s support of Pell’s acquittal and a symbolic exoneration of the Cardinal’s sex abuse convictions.


In 2015 a former choirboy alleged to Victoria Police that he and another boy were sexually abused by Pell when they were roughly 13 years old. In 2017, Pell was charged with historical child sex abuse offences, in which he denied wrongdoing. The Cardinal stood for trial in 2018 and was eventually convicted of sex abuse charges, which were upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2019. However, in April 2020, in Pell’s final attempt to appeal the convictions, the High Court found in favour of the cardinal and acquitted him of all convictions on the basis that there was a “significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted”.

What does this mean for survivors?

RCT Law stands with all survivors of historic child sex abuse and is aware that media reports about Pell can be triggering for abuse survivors. As we have previously noted, Pell’s acquittal does not mean that survivors don’t have an opportunity to obtain justice. (RCT Blog: Pell conviction quashed, but civil action still an option). Since Pell’s trial, the Royal Commission released previously redacted material from its findings from inquiries into child sex abuse involving the Melbourne Archdiocese and the Ballarat Diocese. (RCT Blog: Royal Commission finds Pell aware of child abuse).

Essentially, some of these documents show that Pell had knowledge of child sex abuse occurring within the Church but turned a blind eye. With these newly released findings, some survivors now more than ever have stronger grounds to pursue claims against the Church.

If this story has raised any issues, we recommend you contact the following services:

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Sexual Assault Crisis Line (Victoria): 1800 806 292
Lifeline: 13 11 14
1800 RESPECT (Australia): 1800 737 732

Our Abuse law team understands the difficulty in sharing your story. We believe you and stand with you. If you or someone you know has suffered abuse we encourage survivors to make a confidential enquiry for a free appointment with us at 1300 366 441 or via email at

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