After years in which victims saw Church officials as lax and unresponsive, more protective of the abusers than of the abused, civil justice has moved in and filled the gap. Pell isn’t the only cardinal who’s been on trial. A French court last month convicted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, on charges of covering up for an abusive priest in his diocese in a case brought by a vocal group of victims, La Parole Libérée. Their effort is now the subject of a feature film in France. In the United States, a grand-jury report in Pennsylvania released last summer found evidence of the abuse of 1,000 children—and since then, other states have begun exploring their own grand-jury investigations.
Until Pell went back to Australia two years ago to face trial, he was seen as a reformer inside the Vatican. An adviser to Pope Francis, who named him the prefect for the Secretariat of the Economy and a member of the pope’s nine-person advisory council, Pell was known in Vatican City as a straight-talking Anglophone in an opaque Italian-run bureaucracy, a man who garnered enemies by poking under the rocks in the Vatican’s finances. In Australia, though, he has become the emblem of the Church’s abuse of power: Delivering his sentence, a judge spoke of Pell’s “staggering arrogance,” The New York Times reported.