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Cardinal Pell up to the challenge

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge met with journalists yesterday to respond to questions concerning Cardinal George Pell’s appointment to a newly-created position in the Vatican, the possibility that he would succeed Cardinal Pell as Sydney’s archbishop and the recent findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

ARCHBISHOP Mark Coleridge has given a strong endorsement of Pope Francis’ appointment of Cardinal George Pell as prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy.

In doing so, the archbishop drew on his experience of working in the Vatican as an official in the Secretariat of State and his ongoing connections with the Holy See including his membership of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

He also offered insights from a close working relationship with Cardinal Pell.

Interviewed the next day after hearing the news, the archbishop told media representatives that the cardinal is “unusually well equipped for the role”.

“He is very energetic … once he sets his mind to something, he gets things done,” he said.

“He’s also a very good driver in heavy traffic … he will have to be as this will be a tough job.

“He will face opposition of all kinds, seen and unseen, so he’s going to need all his energy and all his experience.”

Archbishop Coleridge noted Cardinal Pell “for quite some time has been a member of a body of 15 cardinals which oversees the Vatican finances, so he knows the workings from inside.

“He’s also part of the G8, an elite group of eight around the Pope helping him to work out reforms to the way the Holy See operates,” he said.

Archbishop Coleridge said Cardinal Pell’s role “which sits very high in the pecking order” would involve much more than drawing up the Holy See’s budget.

“He will also be responsible for co-ordination of all the different elements of the financial operation of the Holy See.”

He the role would be particularly challenging, “because in the past all different elements operated as little fiefdoms, not having much communication one to the other”.

Cardinal Pell will also working in a body comprised equally of a specially selected council of cardinal and bishops and lay experts.

“Cardinal Pell has been saying for a long time that we need to get the best qualified lay people,” the archbishop said.

“The combination of his energy and their expertise will make for a formidable operation.

“Pope Francis must have thought: ‘If I want real change this is the man who can bring it about.’

“Because others have tried with Vatican finances in past but haven’t really succeeded.

“It won’t be magical change, but it will be real change … Cardinal Pell has said will take at least a couple of years to change things.”

Archbishop Coleridge’s thoughts on whether he would succeed Cardinal Pell as Archbishop of Sydney were sought at the media conference.

He acknowledged his name may be on the “short list” but added “that doesn’t make me a contender … there are excellent candidates south of the border and I prefer to leave the job to them”.

Brisbane archdiocese’s spiritual leader also noted it would be unusual to move an archbishop from his appointment after less than two years.

“I am very happy north of the border and, at the age of 65, I am sick and tired of being a rolling stone,” he said.

“It took me a long time to get to Brisbane and I feel very, very much at home here.

“I’m happy to spend the rest of my working life up until I’m 75 here in Brisbane.”

Archbishop Coleridge said “but if the call comes I would say ‘yes’ as I have done through my whole journey through adult life and pack my bags once again”.

He said there had been an enormous blow to morale, when answering questions about the impact of revelations of child sexual abuse within the Church as the royal commission.

“I’ve been a priest for more than 40 years,” he said.

“In those years nothing has come close to sexual abuse for being a blow to morale; it has sapped (the Church’s) confidence at the deepest level.

“It comes at us like a tsunami … it just keeps coming and coming … I’ve been grappling with it for 20 years.”

The archbishop said he had been “absolutely blown away by two things”, referring to the royal commission’s recent investigations into sexual abuse of female students at a Toowoomba Catholic primary school,

“One is it happened so recently when we claimed we’d learnt so much since about 1990,” he said.

“Secondly, it happened in a Catholic school when I’ve often thought our Catholic education system has got its act together in this area far better than anyone else in the Church.

“We have made progress I’m certain of that, but what’s happened in Toowoomba shows there’s absolutely no cause for complacency.”

Archbishop Coleridge called the royal commission “a gift”.

“In a sense it’s helping us to do what we on our own cannot do; we’ve shown we need help and the royal commission is providing this,” he said.

“All of this has been a huge blow to morale and also prompted questioning: How did this happen? How do we ensure it doesn’t happen again and how do we ensure justice and compassion for those who have been abused?”

He said, “there is absolutely no legal reason why he should not have been employed”, when questioned around the re-employment in Brisbane archdiocese of the principal dismissed from the Toowoomba school where the sexual abuse of 13 girls occurred,

He said “questions have arisen in meantime and those questions are being considered very seriously; but answers will have to wait until we know more from the royal commission”.

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