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.

Pic­ture: AFP

Car­di­nal Pell de­clares his in­no­cence at the Holy See Press Of­fice in Vat­i­can City yes­ter­day.


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