I always tried to give Cardinal George Pell the benefit of the doubt, which is why it is so disappointing to find out that the Australian prelate, who died Jan. 10, was the author of a memorandum attacking Pope Francis.

The memo, published on a Vatican blog last March under the pseudonym “Demos,” was circulated to members of the College of Cardinals in anticipation of the next conclave. After the cardinal’s death it was revealed as Pell’s work by the Italian journalist Sandro Magister.

Pell first came on my radar screen when Francis put him in charge of Vatican finances. My friends Down Under, where he had been archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, were happy to see him go to Rome because he had been more pugnacious than pastoral. A former Australian rules football player, he was always ready for a brawl with anyone who opposed him.

Although these are not the qualities you look for in a bishop, they were exactly the qualities needed for someone reforming Vatican finances. The pope needed someone who would not be intimidated by high-ranking clerics with fancy titles, someone willing to take on an entrenched bureaucracy.

I thought the appointment was brilliant. It got him out of Sydney and put him where his talents fit the job. I did not care about his theological views as long as he rooted out corruption and inefficiency in the Vatican.

Pell was attacked by insiders for not understanding the culture of the Vatican, for not understanding how things work. But Pell did not come to Rome to make friends. He came to upset the status quo, and I cheered him on.

When he was accused of abusing an altar boy, I neither condemned him nor defended him. I was willing to let the Australian justice system do its job. Australia’s highest court eventually ruled in his favor.

Pell did not hide the fact that he was a doctrinal conservative who opposed modifications that made the church more pastorally sensitive to people in complex situations, such as LGBTQ and divorced Catholics. Since Francis had urged members of the synod of bishops to speak boldly and not be afraid of disagreeing with him, I cannot criticize Pell for speaking his mind.

But in authoring an anonymous memorandum attacking Francis, Pell crossed a line….

Compare this memo to the writings of Cardinal Walter Kasper and Archbishop John Quinn. Both of those prelates were known to have disagreements with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but they wrote in a fraternal and scholarly tone that respected the papal office. Pell, on the other hand, joined Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in mudslinging. What a disgrace….

Full story by Father Thomas Reese at Religion News Service.