29 Jun 2017

Australian cardinal charged with historical sexual abuse

1:00 pm on 29 June 2017

Australian cardinal George Pell has been charged with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offences.

Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell in Rome in March last year.

Vatican finance chief and cardinal George Pell has always denied wrongdoing. Photo: AFP

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said the Vatican-based cardinal was required to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on 18 July.

He said the charges involved multiple complainants.

Last July, police confirmed they were formally investigating complaints about offences that were alleged to have occurred in Ballarat in the 1970s.

Cardinal Pell has maintained his innocence and strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Patton said the "process and procedures" being followed had been the same as those applied "in a whole range of historical sex offences, whenever we investigate them".

"The fact that he has been charged on summons - we have used advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions and also we have engaged with his legal representatives, which is common and standard practice."

As head of the Vatican's finances, Cardinal Pell is considered number three in the Catholic hierarchy behind the Pope.

In July, Cardinal Pell said the allegations were part of a smear campaign by the media.

"The allegations are untrue, I deny them absolutely," he said.

"I'm like any other Australian - I'm entitled to a fair go."

He said he would cooperate with the process.

In October, three Victoria Police detectives flew to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell.

A Victoria Police statement at the time said: "Cardinal George Pell voluntarily participated in an interview regarding allegations of sexual assault."

Australia does not have an extradition treaty with the Vatican, even though it does with Italy.

Pell instigated response to child sexual abuse in the church

In 1996, then-Archbishop Pell was the first Catholic leader to address the child sexual abuse that has plagued the church.

He instigated a redress scheme called the Melbourne Response.

When announcing the scheme he said: "It's a matter of regret that the Catholic Church has taken some time to come to grips with the sex abuse issue adequately."

But the Melbourne Response, which capped compensation for victims at $50,000, was widely criticised as being legalistic and not offering enough support to victims.

He then became Archbishop of Sydney and was made a cardinal.

In 2014, he was chosen by the Pope to get the Vatican's finances in order and he moved to Rome.

Ill health prevented him from returning to Australia in 2016 to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

A conservative cardinal's road to Vatican

Cardinal Pell was the son of a Ballarat publican, a head prefect at school and a talented Australian Rules footballer, who was signed as a ruckman by the Richmond Football Club.

His studies took him to Rome and then Oxford.

In 1971, he returned to Victoria as an ordained priest, and rose through the ranks to eventually become Archbishop of Melbourne.

He rankled progressive Catholics with his resistance to reform.

He opposed the ordination of female priests, was anti-divorce and anti-abortion, and also refused communion to gay activists at one of his masses.

In 1990 he said: "Homosexuality - we're aware that it does exist. We believe such activity is wrong and we believe for the good of society it should not be encouraged."

His hardline conservatism caught the attention of Rome, and he was chosen to join a Vatican congregation dedicated to enforcing orthodoxy.

- ABC

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