In April 2017, Cardinal George Pell of Australia, who as the Vatican’s finance chief is one of the Holy See’s highest officials,
was ordered to stand trial in an Australian court on several charges of sexual abuse.
The next month, Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, was convicted of covering
up a claim of sexual abuse in the 1970s.
Victims and their advocates have long held that bishops have not been held accountable for hiding sexual abuse.
With his conviction, Archbishop Wilson became the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be convicted of
concealing abuse crimes.
The charges relate
to claims of historical sexual abuse spanning three decades and include events that allegedly
took place at a swimming pool in rural Victoria in the 1970s and at St Patrick's Cathedral
during Pell's time as Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
Pell is essentially the treasurer of the Vatican and the Holy See in Rome, a high-ranking position that puts him
third in charge after the pope. Prior to his appointment to the Vatican in 2014, he held senior positions within the
Catholic church in Australia, including the archbishop of Sydney and the archbishop of Melbourne. He is
Australia’s most senior Catholic, and he was once believed to be in the running to replace Pope Francis when he dies.
Pell is now also the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be facing trial over historical sexual offence allegations.
Pell was one of hundreds of people summoned to give evidence during public hearings held throughout Australia. He gave evidence to the commission in person and via videolink, and was questioned about the structure of the archdiocese of Melbourne.
There had been no suggestion in these commission hearings that Pell was a perpetrator. The commission asked questions about whether he knew of any abuse and what he did to address it. This is because in 1996, while Pell was archbishop of Melbourne, he was approached by senior politicians, judges and officials who raised concerns about historical child sexual abuse by clergy and church personnel. More complainants were coming forward with their stories and historical charges were being laid. As a result, Pell established a scheme within the archdiocese of Melbourne to investigate such claims. This initiative was known as the Melbourne Response, and those in charge of it, including Pell, have been criticised by complainants for an inconsistent and inadequate response to claims.
Pell also faced questioning by the royal commission about how the archdiocese of Melbourne responded to and investigated allegations of child sexual abuse within its institutions.
When allegations of historical sexual abuse by Cardinal Pell first came to light in 2016 the Pope
stressed that "we must avoid a media verdict based on gossip."
While Pell is being investigated he is still allowed to teach other young Priests by the Pope. In January, CNN revealed Pell is staying
at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, Sydney, with 40 trainee priests while he fights the case.
Philip Wilson, the archbishop of Adelaide, became the most senior Catholic cleric convicted of concealing child abuse
after he failed to report the abuse of two altar boys by a priest in the 1970s. For two months after his conviction
he refused to resign his position, leading Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian prime minister, to publicly call on the pope to remove him.