THE Vatican treasurer, Cardinal George Pell, has been charged in Australia with “historic” sex offences. He has been ordered to appear at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 18 July.
At a press conference on Thursday of last week, the Cardinal said that he was “totally innocent of these charges”, and complained of “relentless character assassination”.
“I’m looking forward, finally, to my day in court,” he said. “The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
The Deputy Commissioner of the Victorian Police in Australia, Shane Patton, said that the Cardinal was facing “multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offences, and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges”.
A statement from the Vatican said that he had been accused of “decades-old actions”. The Pope has granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence to return to Australia to face the charges.
“The Holy Father, who has appreciated Cardinal Pell’s honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration, and in particular, for his energetic dedication to the reforms in the economic and administrative sector, as well as his active participation in the Council of Cardinals,” the Vatican statement says. “The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system that will have to decide the merits of the questions raised.
“At the same time, it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors; has cooperated in the past with Australian authorities (for example, in his depositions before the Royal Commission); has supported the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; and finally, as a diocesan bishop in Australia, has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse.”
The Archbishop of Sydney, the Most Revd Anthony Fisher, told the congregation of St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, on Sunday, that Cardinal Pell was “a man of integrity in his dealings with others, a man of faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The archdiocese would assist with the Cardinal’s accommodation and support, but was not responsible for his legal bills.
The head of the Institute of Public Affairs, John Roskam, confirmed this week that a private bank account had been set up to help with the Cardinal’s legal costs.
In 2013, Cardinal Pell told Australia’s Royal Commission on institutional responses to child sexual abuse that complaints had been covered up to protect the RC Church’s name and finances (News, 31 May 2013). He denied any personal involvement in the cover-up, and argued that the Church did not necessarily have legal responsibility for abuse perpetrated by its priests, as a truck company was not responsible if one of its drivers molested a woman (News, 29 August 2014).
Last year, he said that his heart was too weak to allow him to fly to Australia to appear again before the Commission, and would appear by video link (Comment, 26 February 2016).
The Cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne and later of Sydney. The Pope appointed him, in 2013, to serve on a panel of Cardinals who were advising on the reform of the Curia. In 2014, he was appointed Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, one of the most senior offices in the Vatican.