GE­ORGE Pell knew the charges were com­ing.

The car­di­nal and those clos­est to him formed the view months ago that po­lice would charge him with his­tor­i­cal sex of­fences. This was based in part on de­tec­tives’ lengthy ques­tion­ing of him in Rome last Oc­to­ber.

But at no point has Pell wa­vered from his in­sis­tence on his in­no­cence.

The sense that charges were in­evitable did not lessen the global shock­waves that re­sulted to­day.

His­tory will judge the lay­ing of these charges as the church’s big­gest scan­dal in the mod­ern era, and quite pos­si­bly since the first public mass was cel­e­brated in Aus­tralia.

As well as stalling — and quite pos­si­bly halt­ing — Pell’s Vat­i­can ca­reer, the charges will con­tinue to thwart the church’s at­tempts to move on from the child abuse scan­dal.

No one within the church who has any cred­i­bil­ity un­der­es­ti­mates the dam­age caused by clergy abuse. It is a stain that could last decades.

This is the broader chal­lenge facing the Catholic hi­er­ar­chy.

An 18-month or two-year court bat­tle in the Pell case, re­gard­less of the re­sult, will mark more lost time as the church tries to deal with the af­ter­math of the abuse scan­dal.

This neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity will be com­pounded by the con­tin­ued re­port­ing of the child sex abuse royal com­mis­sion, which is still to hand down ma­jor re­ports on the Mel­bourne and Bal­larat case stud­ies.

Pell, be­ing the di­vi­sive fig­ure that he is and has been, is sup­ported by many of his se­nior peers.

But the church is also home to many who be­lieve the in­sti­tu­tion can only move for­ward when it sees the car­di­nal’s back.

Per­haps a fairer perspective is to with­hold judg­ment un­til the ev­i­dence is pre­sented to the court.

It has of­ten been said, but it is worth re­peat­ing: the least the vic­tims de­serve is the truth, which has been in short sup­ply for too long.

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