GIVE ME MY DAY IN COURT
CARDINAL TO FIGHT MULTIPLE ALLEGATIONS
CARDINAL George Pell has vehemently declared his innocence and vowed to clear his name after being charged with historical sex offences.
The 76-year-old cardinal yesterday became the most senior Catholic charged with sex offences.
Victoria Police announced the cardinal was facing multiple charges relating to multiple victims, and must return to front court in Melbourne on July 26.
Addressing the world’s media from the Vatican, the cardinal said: “I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
Pope Francis had granted him a leave of absence as head of the Vatican’s finances to fight the charges, he said. And he vowed to return to Rome after clearing his name.
The Pope praised the cardinal’s “honesty” and “energetic dedication” in his three years in Rome. But a Vatican spokesman said the Holy See respected Australia’s justice system.
The cardinal’s public duties were to cease immediately. He missed yesterday’s St Peter and Paul feast mass, where he had been expected.
Police did not release any detail of the charges, but the timing of some of the allegations coincides with the cardinal’s time at Ballarat’s St Alipius parish, where he lived with notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale.
Cardinal Pell said: “These matters have been under investigation now for nearly two years. There have been leaks to the media, relentless character assassination and, for more than a month, claims that a decision on laying charges is ‘imminent’.
“I am looking forward finally to having my day in court.”
Cardinal Pell said he had spoken to his lawyers about when he needed to return to Melbourne and had consulted doctors about the journey.
Last year, the cardinal was declared too ill from a heart condition to travel from Rome to Melbourne to personally attend the child abuse royal commission.
He gave evidence via videolink from Rome instead.
Cardinal Pell said yesterday: “I have kept Pope Francis regularly informed throughout this lengthy process, and have spoken to him in recent days about the need to take leave to clear my name.
“News of these charges strengthens my resolve, and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return to my work in Rome.”
Catholic leaders publicly threw their support behind the Cardinal but were said to have been left privately “distressed” by the charges.
Cardinal Pell was charged on summons and is required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court next month.
Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said the multiple charges related to multiple complainants but gave no further information.
The Herald Sun revealed in February 2016 that Cardinal Pell was being investigated by the Sano Taskforce over historic sexual abuse allegations.
The Herald Sun understands some of the charges allege offending in the Ballarat suburb of Sebastopol between 1973 and 1976.
For several months in 1973 the cardinal lived with notorious paedophile Gerald Ridsdale at the St Alipius presbytery in Ballarat East.
Mr Patton defended Victoria Police’s handling of the case. Advice had been sought from the Office of Public Prosecutions, but the decision to lay charges had been the force’s.
“For clarity, I state that our process and procedures … have been adopted in other similar historical sexual assault cases.
“It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made are yet to be tested in any court. As with any other person who is charged with a criminal offence, Cardinal Pell is entitled to due process,” he said.
Cardinal Pell declares his innocence at the Holy See Press Office in Vatican City yesterday.
HOW WE BROKE THE STORY FEB 20, 2016