Catholic Church ‘at point of no return’
THE conviction of Cardinal George Pell on child sex offences is a shattering blow to the Vatican and has edged the church's credibility close to the "point of no return,'' according to a veteran Vatican observer.
Journalist Paddy Agnew, who has been covering the Vatican since 1986, told News Corp the church hierarchy didn't seem to understand how damaging the verdict against Pell was.
"It was one of the three or four biggest news stories anywhere in the world today - not just Australia, but the world,'' he said.
"I think it is a very serious problem, a very serious problem indeed for the Vatican.''
Mr Agnew, who writes for the Irish paper The Sunday Independent, said he was not sure an institution, even one as powerful as the Catholic Church, could continue to withstand such bad publicity.
He said the church's weekend summit which focused on responses to child abuse had been "book ended by the defrocking of (former American cardinal Theodore) McCarrick and Pell being found guilty.''
McCarrick, 88, was found to have sexually abused adults and children over many decades, and last week became the first cardinal ever to be defrocked for sexual abuse.
"I can't say this will ruin the Catholic Church, it's an organisation that has been around for 2000 years,'' Mr Agnew said.
"But it's another step down the road to the point where the damage being done by sexual abuse scandals, there's a point where there's no coming back from it.
"I'm not sure Pell will be the straw that broke the camel's back, but it's getting close to the point where this is a crisis from which there is no return.''
The Vatican press office responded to the scandal on Tuesday by going ahead with a statement about Lent, with interim press office director Alessandro Gisotti reading a prepared statement on Pell in Italian before the Lent statement, then reading it again in English after he'd discussed Lent.
The Vatican's director of media Greg Burke, an American who previously worked for Fox news and Time magazine, and his deputy, the well-regarded Spanish journalist Paloma Garcia Ovajero, both quit in December after years in their job, after a power play in the press office which has installed four Italians into the four highest-ranking positions.
While there was urgent activity behind the scenes in Sala Stampa, the Vatican's press office, on Tuesday, there was no outward sign of anything untoward in the public areas of the Vatican, where thousands of tourists were queuing as usual to enter the famed St Peter's Basilica, and thousands more were wielding selfie sticks outside in the piazza.
At the apartment building where Pell used to live just off the St Peter's piazza there was no sign of movement, with one of the tourist shops underneath the apartments closed and rubbish piling up from uncollected bins. The large blue station wagon that his driver used to collect him in outside his door had vanished.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, had posted on Facebook on Saturday that he was in Rome for the week to attend 25th anniversary meetings of the Pontifical Academy for Life. However he made no public comment about Pell.