Accused cardinal denies Australia sex abuse allegations, takes leave of absence
ROME – One of the Vatican’s top officials to be charged with sexual offenses on Thursday denied allegations made against him by Australian police, saying he would leave as an advisor Francisco to defend.
Speaking to reporters at the Vatican, Cardinal George Pell has denounced the “relentless murder” in the media and confirmed that he would return to his native Australia to face charges.
Australian police on Thursday announced Friday that Pell faces multiple counts of “historical action against sexual assault,” the nation’s term for past conduct charges.
Pell – the oldest Catholic prelate in Australia – has faced for years in his role in the astonishing scale of sexual abuse by the Australian church. But he was never directly responsible.
The controversy is a challenge for Francis Pope’s attempts to address the church’s longstanding scandal abuse, especially since many details on Australian issues were well known at the time the pontiff was appointed to his current position.
“I repeat that I am innocent of these charges, they are wrong.The idea of sexual abuse is horrible for me,” said the 76-year-old cardinal.
The Vatican, for its part, said that it had learned the charges “with regret” and that Francis appreciated the honesty and commitment of the cardinal during his three-year reform of the Holy See’s finances.
Spokesman Greg Burke noted in the statement to the press that Pell had in the past “repeatedly condemned as acts of immortal and intolerable abuse” against minors.
The cardinal plays a key role in the functioning of the Vatican and is considered the second most powerful official in Rome after the pope.
The charges “are likely to tip the Vatican as if nothing has ever been done,” said Peter Saunders, a survivor of British abuse who was sitting on a papal commission to investigate abuses.
“The fact that one of the men to the right of the Pope, the Ministry of Economy, has somehow been arrested and will be charged with crimes of such seriousness that it certainly has an effect on the Vatican and the hierarchy.”
Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton, the Australian state of Victoria announced Thursday that Pell had been summoned to face multiple felony counts of sexual assault.
He will appear in a Melbourne court on July 18.
Pell has been tried for years over whether he was aware of sexual abuse by priests. In 2016, he testified, via video, to an Australian court for child abuse in his hometown of Ballarat, where he was a priest.
Pell was advisor to the bishop of Ballarat in the 1970s before becoming archbishop of the first Melbourne and Sydney. He was elected to reform the old, opaque church finances in 2014.3
A victim of sexual abuse in Ballarat said Thursday she was not charmed by the allegations against Pell, who was the Episcopal Vicar for Education in the district in 1974 when the abuse occurred.
“There is a common element around the world – it was a global phenomenon,” Peter Blenkiron, who was sexually abused at St. Patrick’s University in Ballarat. “We can not let anyone draw attention to what should happen.”
Pell’s guilt or innocence is less important than the need to reform the church worldwide to prevent future sexual abuse, Blenkiron said.
“There are so many families who have lost one of their parents and siblings. This is very serious in Ballarat,” he said.
The accusations against Pell divide the Australian society. Former PM and conservative proministant Tony Abbott describes the cardinal as “a fine man”, reflecting an opinion among some members of the Catholic institution that Pell is responsible for the elements of media and left wing militants as church abuse in general .