The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation all the worse, Pell noted. In particular, the Vatican Museums have suffered a steep decline in revenue from the lack of visitors.
Pell noted that the Vatican has a patrimony— or church endowment— to draw on, which is probably less than many major universities, but nevertheless can offer some relief in the short term.
“It’s a little bit graphic to say the Vatican is going broke. It isn’t,” he said.
“But they can’t keep losing money at the rate they are forever...In the published sense, I haven’t seen any suggestions that would really address what is a significant financial challenge, if not a radical one.”
It is also public knowledge, Pell said, that the Vatican has a “very looming and considerable” deficit in its pension fund, as do many countries in Europe.
Inefficiency and corruption have hurt the Vatican for years, he said, citing the recent London property scandal as an example of a situation that typifies both.
The Church is not a business, he stressed; those in leadership roles in the Church must be very strong and vigilant against corruption.
Still, he expressed some optimism that the Vatican’s Council for the Economy— to which Pope Francis appointed 13 new members, including six women, in April— will be successful in rooting out corruption by taking a “firm stand on the basic issues.”
“Most if not all of the crooks are out of the system,” he opined.
Pell said the Christian concept of redemptive suffering was a great comfort to him while enduring the humiliation, quiet, and boredom of prison.
“I was quite confident that my small sufferings— and they weren’t enormous— were something that could be offered, with Christ’s suffering, for the good of the Church,” he said.
“I knew I was innocent, I knew logically and forensically that I had a very strong case, that I would be vindicated. But in a spectacular failure, the most senior judges in Victoria were unable to see that.”
Pell acknowledged that the Church in many parts of the world is under tremendous pressure, in Australia most of all, in his mind, from anti-Catholicism.
In 2017, Australia’s Royal Commission released a report on sexual abuse of minors in the country, the result of a five-year enquiry into the behavior and responsibility of institutions including the Church, with redacted portions relating to Cardinal Pell released in May 2020.
In the newly available material, the commission said that Pell knew about the abusive activities of two priests during his own years as a priest, and that he failed to act to stop them, which Pell has since denied.
Pell said the scandal of pedophilia, and the very real crimes committed by some in the Church, are making it even harder for the Church to proclaim the Gospel message.
“There is no getting away from the crimes that were committed. Those were infamous. Nor were they dealt with well. But in Australia, we broke the back of the offending in the early ‘90s. This was even acknowledged by the council assisting in the Royal Commission,” Pell said.
The Commission did not explain to people that the Church had acted “resolutely and effectively” to impede the plague of abuse starting in the mid-90s, Pell opined. He said it is clear from statistics that very few offenses have occurred in Catholic institutions “this century” in Australia.
Pell sought to remind the U.S. Catholics that the Church in the U.S. is, for the whole Western world, “vitally important for us in smaller countries.”
Though the U.S., like many places, has had problems and scandals, including with leadership, Pell said it is important for smaller countries to rely on the U.S. Catholic Church for leadership, scholarship, and pastoral methods.
He mentioned Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago as, in his mind, particularly outstanding Church leaders.
“The irony of it is— and it’s demonstrated in the liberal Protestant world, it’s demonstrated in the Catholic world, in Belgium, Holland, Quebec and to some extent in Switzerland and Austria— the more you adapt to the world the faster the Catholic Church goes out of business.”
Still, Pell said he believes that if the Church remains true to Christ, and the teachings of the Gospel, new leaders and renewal movements will come along, as they did in the times of the Benedictines, Franciscans, and Jesuits.
“Adversity is not necessarily bad for the Church. Adversity can bring the best out of us,” he said.