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Inside the dark story : Paedophile priests or church is plagued by sex scandal and foes.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, the pope's powerful finance minister, is under fire on two fronts. For the outside world he is most notably accused of protecting paedophile priests. But closer to home he has made many Vatican enemies in his drive to shake up the secretive and archaic institution. 

© AFP / by Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere | Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell was picked in 2013 to be one of a key group of advisors to the pope set up to help the Argentine reform the unruly Vatican's administrative body, the Curia, famed for infighting
What that means is that, while he swears he has Pope Francis's full support over clerical abuse allegations, his controversial reformist zeal means that many would relish his downfall.
Pell was picked in 2013 to be one of a key group of advisors to the pope set up to help the Argentine reform the unruly Vatican's administrative body -- the Curia -- famed for infighting.

In 2014 he was appointed finance minister, the number three spot in the tiny city state, and charged with dragging it into the 21st century, increasing profitability and bringing its scandal-hit institutions into line with international standards.

The cardinal, 74 -- a former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney -- did not hesitate to bring in top, and very costly, American firms to help him clean house.

The shock to the system was severe: the centuries-old Curia, enthralled to tradition and above all loathe to spill its secrets, wriggled under the scrutiny of outside auditors and blanched at its affairs going public.

- Making enemies -

In December 2014, Pell revealed that hundreds of millions of euros had been found "tucked away" in accounts and desk drawers of various Holy See departments, which did not appear on the Vatican's balance sheets.

He admitted that the city state had always tried to keep its problems "in-house", but swore its workings would from then on be "transparent" -- in a statement to the press which intensely irritated many in Saint Peter's corridors of power.

Pope Francis wants "a poor Church for the poor" and that means cracking down on mismanagement, he said. 

An in-house leaks scandal at the end of last year revealing misuse of Vatican funds gave his words further weight.

But the moral grandstanding did not sit well with those who accused the Holy See's most senior English-speaking official of splashing out on business class flights, costly robes and home furnishings.

And he infuriated his boss as well: during a synod on the family in October, Pell ignored Francis's call for clemency towards those considered sinners by the Church, blocking attempts to open the door to remarried divorced people.

He was also part of a conservative group of cardinals which wrote a leaked strongly-worded letter to the pope warning him of attempts by the progressive wing to undermine him -- forcing Francis to slam conspiracy theorists.

 - Paedophile priests -


But the darkest shadow over Pell's head is the charge that he knew children were being abused by priests on his watch in Australia, and failed to act -- an accusation he categorically refutes.

The cardinal's testimony, given this week via video-link to Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse -- under the watchful gaze of victims -- has created much unwelcome publicity for the Vatican.

Pope Francis said last month that those who move priests from one parish to another in an attempt to hide abuse -- thus placing ever more children at risk -- should resign.

Pell has not made his life any easier by saying he wasn't interested in the abuse, which dated back to the 1970s and 80s, and denying connections to serial paedophiles, despite once sharing a house with one of them.

"If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, I don't think it appropriate for the... leadership of that company to be held responsible," he said in 2014.

While slightly more contrite at the hearings, he still insisted he had not had any reason to investigate rumours of child molestation and blamed others for not stopping clerical abusers in Australia, including a gun-toting paedophile priest.

British survivor and member of the Vatican's commission on sex abuse Peter Saunders in June described Pell as "almost sociopathic" and "a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis?s papacy if he's allowed to remain". 

On Monday, the cardinal insisted he had "the full backing of the pope" -- but with abuse survivors in town asking for an audience with Francis, the pontiff may be feeling under increased pressure to find Pell another job.

by Jean-Louis de la Vaissiere
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