“[O]ne of the great differences between us and people without religion is that we believe in some mysterious way suffering can be turned to good. So many people wrote to me and said me they were offering their suffering for me: a young fellow who was dying, a woman wrote and said she was about to give birth and she said would offer up the pains of childbirth for me,” he said in the December 9 interview.
“I felt I could offer up my suffering for the good of the Church, for the victims [of clerical sex abuse], for my family, for my friends, and that helped,” he continued.
“And it also helps to realize that ultimately there's one judgement that’s supremely important and that's before the good God when you die. Now if I had thought that death was the end of everything, that the ultimately important thing was my earthly reputation, well obviously my approach would have been different.”
Pell said that although he had faced animosity in his career, the type of infamy that comes with allegations of sex abuse are extremely challenging, especially when he had to remain silent in the face of unfair reporting.
Still, the cardinal said he never despaired during his time in prison, although losing his appeal at the Victoria Supreme Court “was a very low moment.”
“I knew rationally, that my case was enormously strong, but things are not decided on rationality and that Appeal court decision in Victoria reminded me of that,” he said.
“One of the interesting things in Rome was that even my ideological enemies didn’t believe that I was guilty,” he noted. “Now one reason for that was because they knew what a Cathedral is like after a big Mass on Sunday. Many of the people in Australia, even a few of those who were helping me, think of churches as being small and empty and nobody around. But in a cathedral on Sunday, we were, you know, there were hundreds in the big Mass, 50 in the choir, 15 servers, half a dozen people in the sacristy, plus the visitors. The suggestion that I would have attacked two youngsters I didn’t know, nobody said I knew them, in such circumstances, is doubly implausible.”
In Australia, however, he said some people treated him as a scapegoat, seeing not just him but the Catholic Church more broadly on trial for sex abuse.
Pell said his time in prison was somewhat like a retreat – removed from the world and isolated from social interaction.
While there were moments where he wondered why God was allowing his suffering, he also hopes that his ordeal can bring souls to Christianity.
Pell said he is not angry looking back at his experience, but is glad to be back in Rome to thank Pope Francis for his support.
Although he is no longer prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, as his term expired last year, he said his successor, Jesuit priest Fr. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves is “a good man, a competent man.”
(Story continues below)
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“He’s headed in the right direction and I totally support him,” Pell said. “I just hope he’s not thwarted the way I am. The Holy Father says there’s got to be an investment committee set up to manage Vatican investment. We recommended that 5 years ago. Now that's got to be men and women by honest and really professional investors and given effective control. That’s what my successor wants and I fully support that so that we can get away from this shadowy world that the Vatican has dealt with, not all always, but so many times, for decades.”
Reflecting on his own time heading the secretariat, Pell said he “didn’t quite realize just the level of sophistication, corruption, and a good measure of incompetence that would be there.”
During his time as prefect, he discovered more than 1 billion euro in accounts that had not been declared.
Pell addressed speculations that the sex abuse allegations against him were an attempt to prevent his anti-corruption work in Vatican finances. He said that while there is evidence to support this idea, there is not proof, and more investigation is needed.
“A lot of the people who were working for serious reform here believed there was a connection. Amongst my supporters in Australia, almost nobody believed that there was a connection,” he continued. “We now know that quite a number of the criminal elements around the place hoped that I would come to grief in Australia, whether they knew more than that we don't know.”
Some of this speculation involves media reports that Cardinal Angelo Becciu sent 700,000 euros of Vatican funds to Australia during Pell’s sexual abuse trial, possibly as a payment for Pell's accusers.