SYDNEY – Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, criticized outgoing Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday, describing his historic resignation as destabilising and questioning his governance skills.
Pell, Australia’s representative at next month’s secret conclave to elect a successor, said Benedict was a “brilliant teacher” but “government wasn’t his strong point” in a candid interview on the eve of the pope’s departure.
“I think I prefer somebody who can lead the Church and pull it together a bit,” Pell told commercial television.
He pointed to the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal, in which Benedict’s butler leaked secret papal memos revealing intrigues between rival groups of cardinals, though he said it was “very easy to be wise after the event”.
“I think the governance is done by most of the people around the Pope and that wasn’t always done brilliantly. And I’m not breaking any ground there — this is said very commonly,” Pell added in a later radio interview from the Vatican.
Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric also said the 85-year-old pontiff’s decision to resign — the first pope to do so since the Middle Ages — set a worrying precedent for the Church.
“People who, for example, might disagree with a future pope, will mount a campaign to get him to resign,” suggested Pell.
He said the German pontiff, formerly Joseph Ratzinger, had been “well aware that this was a break with tradition, slightly destabilising.”
Asked what he would be seeking in the next pope, Pell said he wanted somebody “who’ll maintain the tradition, both in faith and especially in morals, where it’s under attack.”
“I want somebody who is able to speak to the world,” he said.
“And also I would like somebody with strong pastoral experience in a diocese who is able to lift the morale of the Roman Curia, and perhaps provide a bit more discipline.”
Benedict bid an emotional farewell Wednesday to some 150,000 pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, speaking of the “stormy waters” of multiple scandals and Vatican infighting that have plagued his tenure.
The scourge of paedophile priests and cover-ups by their superiors cast a dark shadow over Benedict’s papacy, combined with a longstanding money-laundering scandal at the Vatican bank and the Vatileaks controversy.