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How much George Pell has cost the Catholic Church

Cardinal George Pell. Image: Getty

The third most powerful man in the Catholic Church, Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of child sex offences.

It’s a staggering blow to the embattled institution, and one that will likely have wide-reaching implications for the religion, its followers and its finances.

Followers

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse revealed an incredible 1880 perpetrators over a 60-year period.

The church’s inability to deal with the crisis has lost it many supporters. Pope Francis himself admitted that child sex abuse scandals have driven young people away from the church.

“We know – and you have told us – that many young people do not turn to us for anything because they don’t feel we have anything meaningful to say to them,” he told a group of Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox young people in Estonia last year.

“They are upset by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation, by our unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young, and simply by the passive role we assign them.”

He said the church itself needs to be converted.

Finances

But many followers in Australia also refused to believe the evidence against Cardinal Pell, and the Catholic Church at large.

Supporters of Pell in 2017 reportedly set up a fund to help the Cardinal fight the numerous charges against him.

According to News Corp reports, details about the fund were revealed after the Catholic Church said it couldn’t afford to pay Pell’s legal fees.

The Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the Sydney Archdiocese would help Pell pay for accommodation but its financial support would not extend beyond that.

“The point of this (fund) is that there are a lot of people who want to support the Cardinal and want to give him the opportunity to clear his name,” the head of the Institute of Public Affairs, John Roskam said at the time.

He said he had been given the bank account details of those looking to assist Cardinal Pell.

Those funds were likely necessary: Pell employed the services of Robert Richter QC. The lawyer’s fees are estimated to have cost Pell about $50,000 a day, The Guardian reported.

Peter Kelso from Kelso Lawyers put the cost of Pell’s legal defence in the millions.

“Over five million. Maybe well over,” he wrote on his website in 2017.

Huge for one man, insignificant for the $30 billion institution, maybe.

The costs were certainly high enough for Pell to call on his supporters to raise funds.

The Catholic Church made headlines again last year after it placed newspaper ads asking supporters to chip in for the Cardinal’s exorbitant legal costs.

The ads appeared in the Catholic Weekly, a news journal published by the Sydney Archdiocese.

“When Cardinal Pell took leave from his role as Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy to voluntarily return to Australia nearly 12 months ago to fight the charges, many supporters wanted to contribute to his legal costs,” the journal explained on its website.

But Peter Kelso from Kelso Lawyers put the cost of Pell’s legal defence in the millions.

“Over five million. Maybe well over,” he wrote on his website in 2017.

Huge for one man, insignificant for the $30 billion institution, maybe.

It is, after all, the largest non-government property owner, by value. And it enjoys a tax-free status. It has its own banks and its own super funds.

Catholic Super

In fact, super funds were a surprising casualty of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.

The Royal Commission into banks and financial services last year heard that the church’s brand crisis triggered a series of events that ultimately led to a conflict of interest at Catholic Super.

Catholic Super began looking for a new identity in 2013 as it realised its current identity would not succeed.

“The research indicated quite clearly that Catholic Super was not going to be an identity, to put it that way, which may well have gained traction in this new market that we were seeking as part of our business plan to grow the business in order to achieve the scale we’ve talked about earlier,” Catholic Super deputy chair Peter Haysey explained.

“And so part of that was you need to come up with a different identity to attract those people who might have issues with the Catholic name as a potential merger partner.”

They called on Australian Family to rebrand the fund – a marketing contract worth $2 million. But the contract was awarded through a dubious process; the people at Australian Family were connected to Catholic Super executive Rob Clancy.

They were brothers.

Catholic Church cries poor

While they left Cardinal Pell to cover his own expenses, the Church claimed last year that despite its sizeable fortune, it couldn’t afford to pay more in compensation to child sex abuse victims.

Journalists at The Age suggested payments to child sex abuse survivors would average $45,800 each and $68.7 million in total.

Their investigation found the church misled the Royal Commission by grossly undervaluing its massive property portfolio.

At $30 billion, the journalists put the church’s wealth on par with Westfield’s $34.2 billion in property.

Whether Pell’s conviction prompts the church to open its pockets further remains to be seen.

The challenge is then, while it can likely survive its financial losses, can it survive its followers’ loss of faith?

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