Australian prelate, a top Vatican adviser, says he is looking forward to defending himself in court
Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, has strenuously denied allegations that he sexually abused people years ago, and he said he will travel to Australia to defend himself.
The police in the Australian state of Victoria have charged Cardinal Pell, an adviser to Pope Francis, with multiple counts of sexual assault offenses which date back some years. The cardinal now is the highest-ranking Vatican official to ever be charged for sexual abuse, the Associated Press said.
Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said Thursday that police have summonsed Cardinal Pell, 76, to appear in an Australian court July 18 to face multiple charges of “historic sexual offenses.” Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations against the cardinal, the wire service said.
“Cardinal Pell will return to Australia, as soon as possible, to clear his name following advice and approval by his doctors who will also advise on his travel arrangements,” said a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Sydney. “He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously.”
Patton cautioned that none of the allegations that have been made against the cardinal have been “tested in any court yet.”
“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process,” Patton told reporters in Melbourne.
The cardinal’s successor, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, echoed those sentiments. “It is important all in society recognize that the presumption of innocence applies and that Cardinal Pell like all Australians is entitled to a fair trial,” the archbishop said in a statement.
For years, Cardinal Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney, the AP noted:
Last year, Pell acknowledged during his testimony to the commission that the Catholic Church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. And he vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his Australian hometown of Ballarat. But more recently, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal.
Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, so it’s likely that either Cardinal Pell will voluntarily return to Australia to face the charges or the Vatican will tell the cardinal to do so.