Pope’s top aide faces trial

Australian Cardinal George Pell, who has taken leave from the Vatican to defend himself from sexual abuse charges in his home country, is a combative figure who has ruffled many feathers during a long career in the Catholic Church.
A nearly 2-metre-tall son of a heavyweight boxer who played Aussie rules football in his youth, the 76-year-old Pell has never worried about taking on his critics.
Born in Ballarat in the state of Victoria, Pell was ordained a priest in 1966 and became a public figure when he served as Archbishop of Melbourne and Archbishop of Sydney. Church expert Chris McGillion wrote in 2012 that fellow bishops did not like Pell because “he’s too orthodox, too ambitious, too bullying.” Under his watch, the Catholic Church developed a programme to compensate victims of sexual abuse by priests.
But he was later accused of taking too little action about such cases, and now will face charges of “historical” sexual assault.
Many at the Vatican would be happy to see the back of him. It is an open secret that Pell has antagonised much of the Roman Curia with his attempts to modernise its financial management and, in the process, centralise power in his hands.  Pope Francis, who made him secretary of the economy in 2014, has largely stood by him, telling reporters in 2016 that there were ‘‘doubts” about Pell’s culpability, but “in dubio pro reo” — a Latin maxim that means “When in doubt, rule in favour of the accused.”
Pell sits on the nine-member cardinal panel that advises Francis on wider church reforms, but he is no obvious political soulmate of the Argentine pope, given his views on climate change and opposition to Francis’ recent gestures towards accepting remarried divorcees for Communion.
A fiery 2012 TV debate with leading atheist and fellow Oxford graduate Richard Dawkins was a famous occasion in which the most dominant figure in Australian Catholicism displayed a capacity for courting controversy. He said ancient Jews were “intellectually, morally” inferior to the Egyptians or Persians. Later he said,“historically or culturally unequal might have been more appropriate than intellectually” and confirmed his “esteem for the Jewish faith.”
Whatever his flaws may be, the cardinal’s admirers say his other qualities are undeniable.  Australian Catholic historian Philippa Martyr wrote: “What you see is what you get — I have seen him abrupt, tender, unkind, generous, loving, impatient, argumentative, devout, gentle and angry.[…] He does not deserve anyone’s hatred; he does deserve our prayers.” — dpa