Cardinal Pell, professing innocence, will face charges in Australia

| Cindy Wooden | June 29, 2017 | 11 Comments

Proclaiming his innocence after being charged with sexual abuse, Australian Cardinal George Pell said, “I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.”

“I’m innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said June 29 during a brief news conference in the Vatican press office.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said Pope Francis had granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence from his position as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy so that he can work on his defense.

Cardinal Pell, Burke added, will not participate in any public liturgies while his case is being considered.

“These matters have been under investigation now for two years,” Cardinal Pell told the press. “There’s been relentless character assassination, a relentless character assassination, and for more than a month claims that a decision on whether to lay charges was imminent.”

Without giving specifics about the number of charges or the incidents, police in Australia’s Victoria state announced June 29 that charges had been filed against the cardinal and that he has been called to appear in court July 18.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters June 29, “Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offenses and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges.”

Patton also told reporters, “It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have obviously been tested in any court yet.”

Australian Cardinal George Pell delivers a statement in the Vatican press office June 29. Speaking after Australian authorities filed sexual abuse charges against him, the cardinal denied all charges and told reporters he looks forward to having an opportunity to defend himself in court. CNS photo/Paul Haring

“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it is important that the process is allowed to run its natural course,” Patton added.

In his statement, Cardinal Pell said he had kept Pope Francis informed “during these long months” when police and the Australian media were talking about the possibility of charges being made.

“I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week, I think most recently a day or so ago,” Cardinal Pell said of Pope Francis. “And we talked about my need to take leave to clear my name, so I’m very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia.”

Cardinal Pell said he had spoken to his lawyers about the timing of his return to Australia and also had consulted his doctors about the trip.

In February 2016, Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse allowed Cardinal Pell to testify by video link from Rome because a heart condition prevented him from traveling to Australia.

A year ago, in July, allegations surfaced in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. featuring several people who accused Cardinal Pell of sexual assault; at least one of the accusations had been found to be unsubstantiated by an Australian court in 2002. Some accusations dated to the late 1970s, when Cardinal Pell was a priest in Ballarat, Australia.

Speaking to reporters at the Vatican June 29, the cardinal said, “All along I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations. News of these charges strengthens my resolve, strengthens my resolve. And court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here, back to Rome, to work.”

When the allegations surfaced last year, Cardinal Pell dismissed them as “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign,” and a statement issued by his office said that “claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong.”

In October, Australian police questioned Cardinal Pell in Rome regarding the accusations.

While Burke, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters that the Vatican respects the Australian justice system, he also said people should remember that Cardinal Pell “has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors” and, as a bishop, “introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, in a statement released shortly after the cardinal’s news conference, said, “Many people will be shocked, as I have been, by the news that Victoria Police have issued charges against Cardinal George Pell in relation to sexual abuse allegations.”

“Cardinal Pell has repeatedly and vehemently rejected these allegations and insisted that he is completely innocent,” the archbishop said. “He will now have the opportunity to put his case in court and is determined to clear his name.”

“The George Pell I know is a man of integrity in his dealings with others, a man of faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man,” the archbishop added.

Archbishop Fisher said the Archdiocese of Sydney will “assist with the cardinal’s accommodation and support, as it would for any of its bishops or priests” as the legal process unfolds, however, he said, “it is not responsible for the cardinal’s legal bills arising from these matters.”

“Where complaints of abuse are made, victims should be listened to with respect and compassion and their complaints investigated and dealt with according to law,” Archbishop Fisher said. At the same time, “no one should be prejudged because of their high profile, religious convictions or positions on social issues.”

Contributing to this story was Carol Glatz.

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  • Jonny Roster

    Couldn’t have happened to a nicer degenerate heathen criminal. Hope he rots in prison mate!

  • Tim Wold

    “Listen to the victims but make sure not to judge the priests who molested all those children and the bishops who covered for them too quickly.” That’s the real message and has been all along. If praying really works, then I pray that Pell goes to prison!!

    • Are you praying that he goes to prison if he is innocent of the charges?

      • Tim Wold

        Nope! Will you put your faith in him if he’s guilty? How can a person who raped children or protected rapists be connected to Jesus or be able to tell others how to get to Heaven?

    • Charles C.

      There is something rather frightening about the remarks which Tim Wold chooses to make. I suspect he wouldn’t say these things in person or if some emotional trigger hadn’t eliminated reason from his presentation. It sounds quite a bit like the cries of a lynch mob.

      “The Cardinal’s conduct has been repeatedly scrutinized over many years,
      including before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to
      Child Sexual Abuse, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the
      Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organizations and
      according to leaked reports, by Victorian Police’s SANO Taskforce,” the
      statement said.

      The current claims include events which are said to have occurred 35-40 years ago. I’m sorry, that alone makes it hard to believe the claim of inappropriate touching. Hmmmm . . ., “inappropriate touching.” I seem to remember another recent claim of “inappropriate touching” against an Archbishop much closer to home, which was dropped when the boy said he made it up.

      At least some of the claims against the Cardinal have already been dismissed as unsubstantiated. Perhaps people who hate the Church and want to attack it are making things up?

      If one really believes in “Innocent until proven guilty” (you should know that you don’t sound like you do,) one would pray for the accused’s soul and refrain from calling for punishment until guilt is established.

  • Ervin Miller

    The anti-Catholics just can’t help themselves, they have such a paranoia about judging and denigrating Catholic clergy. You would thing they believe themselves totally sin free and in a position to judge before the facts have been heard. They can’t wait to pounce on Catholic sites to to embellish and distort the truth. Do Catholics Come on there web site to lie and denigrate? I think not! If they don’t like Catholics, stay away from them and mind your own business. And we’ll mind ours!;

    • Tim Wold

      I have found it impossible to argue or reason with people who defends the clergy (if he’s guilty). Like I said, clergy first and victims a distant second

      • Ervin Miller

        That’s because you are defining all priests based on the behavior of a few pedophile priests. Less then 2% of priests are pedophiles, while over 4%, and some studies say it’s much higher, of the general population are pedophiles. Many of the pedophiles in the general population are the so call trusted male teachers. Pedophilia is a disorder like homosexuality and is considered intrinsic to humanity. A serious problem, not only for the Catholic Church, but numerous other organizations, like school’s, day care centers, assisted care units and the list goes on. Every sector of our society has pedophilia somewhere under the radar. Catholic bashers and the liberal media focus solely on the Catholic church as having a significant problem. That’s because they are ant-Catholic and use pedophilia has their main way to justify denigrating the Catholic faith. Do some research and your lights will come on as to pedophilia in the general population. Yes! Protestant minister, congressmen, coaches, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, fathers, professionals of all areas and the list goes on. My advice, get over yourself, get on with something construct in your life.

      • Charles C.

        Who defends clergy proven to be guilty? No one I’ve ever heard of.

  • Ervin Miller

    Society doesn’t define all humans base on the guilt of a few, however that doesn’t’ mean we aren’t all sinners in some way. Priest bashers embellish and define all priest based on the behavior of a few errant priests. They seem to imply that they themselves are above reproach and sin free. My advice, before you judge all priests based on an errant priest, get your facts in order. If after that you still have the satanic urge to bash priests, stay away from them. Get over your mindless paranoia and focus on something that brings joy into your life. Priest and Catholic bashing is nothing new, started over two thousand years ago on the plains of Galilee. Devout Catholic clergy and laity have a powerful resolve to deflect that kind of stuff and let it sail in to empty space.

  • Charles C.

    Has anyone noticed, in the world of possible offenses by Cardinals, the story on the recently elevated Cardinal Zerbo?

    “ROME (AP) — Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Bamako Archbishop Jean Zerbo “has confirmed his presence” at the Wednesday ceremony where Zerbo and four other churchmen will be elevated to cardinal’s rank.

    “European media have speculated that Francis might not make Zerbo cardinal
    following reports that he and two other Mali bishops had opened Swiss bank accounts totaling 12 million euros ($13.5 million.)

    “Citing poor health, Zerbo canceled an interview with The Associated Press in
    Rome Tuesday. Another Mali bishop who reportedly was one of the alleged
    bank account-holders, Jean-Gabriel Diarra, declined to explain the
    money’s origins . . .”

    The Pope shows no hesitation in promoting him and The Catholic Spirit doesn’t cover the story.

    I wonder if readers will comment that they pray Cardinal Zerbo goes to jail before he’s convicted of anything? At least, in Cardinal Zerbo’s case, we know the money is church funds and we know that it was placed in European bank accounts. There has been no explanation offered yet, but that doesn’t amount to proof of guilt.

    Pray for the Church and her shepherds.