Aust car­di­nal on sex charges

Marlborough Express - - WORLD -

AUS­TRALIA: Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, Aus­tralia’s high­est-rank­ing Catholic, will face at least three se­ri­ous child sex as­sault charges, in­clud­ing at least one count of rape.

Vic­to­ria Po­lice con­firmed yes­ter­day that Pell had been charged over mul­ti­ple al­le­ga­tions against mul­ti­ple vic­tims and was due to face Mel­bourne Mag­is­trates Court on July 18 for a fil­ing hear­ing.

A state­ment from the Catholic Arch­dio­cese of Syd­ney said Pell had been in­formed of Vic­to­ria Po­lice’s ‘‘de­ci­sion and ac­tion’’.

‘‘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.

‘‘He said he is look­ing for­ward to his day in court and will de­fend the charges vig­or­ously. He has again stren­u­ously de­nied all al­le­ga­tions.’’

Arch­bishop of Mel­bourne De­nis Hart said that while he was aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of the charges, he hoped his long-term friend of more than 50 years would re­ceive a fair trial.

Pell is the third most se­nior Catholic at the Vat­i­can, where he is re­spon­si­ble for the church’s fi­nances. He is likely to step aside from his Vat­i­can post while he fights the charges.

Vic­to­ria’s Deputy Po­lice Com­mis­sioner, Shane Pat­ton, con­firmed that Pell had been is­sued with mul­ti­ple charges re­lat­ing to his­tor­i­cal sex­ual abuse al­le­ga­tions.

Pat­ton said there had been a lot of spec­u­la­tion about the process that had been in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

‘‘The process and pro­ce­dures that are be­ing fol­lowed in the charg­ing of Car­di­nal Pell have been the same that have been ap­plied in a whole range of his­tor­i­cal sex of­fences, when­ever we in­ves­ti­gate them,’’ he said. ’’Car­di­nal Pell has been treated the same as any­one else in this in­ves­ti­ga­tion.’’

Soon af­ter the po­lice an­nounce­ment, the car­di­nal’s lawyers ap­peared in the Mel­bourne Mag­is­trates’ Court in re­la­tion to the charges. A mag­is­trate will de­cide on July 6 whether any de­tails can be made public.

All was quiet at Pell’s res­i­dence in Rome as the news broke. He lives in an apart­ment block on a square just out­side the Vat­i­can walls, me­tres from St Peter’s Square and a minute’s walk from the doors to the Basil­ica.

Thurs­day is a public hol­i­day in Rome – the fi­esta of St Peter and St Paul. It is a day when many na­tive Ro­mans tra­di­tion­ally head to the beach.

But de­spite the ap­par­ent peace in Rome, the an­nounce­ment is set to send shock­waves through the Catholic Church in Aus­tralia and around the world.

Pell has re­tained lead­ing Vic­to­rian crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter Robert Richter QC, and it is likely that some of the ar­gu­ments Richter will make in court will con­cern the ques­tion of whether Pell can re­ceive a fair trial given the large amount of pre-trial pub­lic­ity.

The pre­cise de­tails of the charges are not known. How­ever, a le­gal source told Fair­fax Me­dia that the Vic­to­rian Di­rec­tor of Public Pros­e­cu­tions, John Cham­pion, had been as­sess­ing whether Pell should face charges of rape, bug­gery or in­de­cent as­sault.

As Aus­tralia has no ex­tra­di­tion treaty with the Vat­i­can, Pell may avoid pros­e­cu­tion should he choose not to re­turn to Vic­to­ria, but he is ex­pected to come back to fight the charges.

Three de­tec­tives from Vic­to­ria Po­lice’s Sano Task­force trav­elled to Rome to in­ter­view Pell about the al­le­ga­tions last year, af­ter he was de­clared unfit to travel to Aus­tralia.

He has re­peat­edly and em­phat­i­cally de­nied all al­le­ga­tions, but said he would con­tinue to co­op­er­ate with the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pell was a pri­est in Bal­larat be­fore be­com­ing Arch­bishop of Mel­bourne and then be­ing ap­pointed as a car­di­nal.

When it comes to his­tor­i­cal sex abuse pros­e­cu­tions, the charge an al­leged of­fender faces and the ap­pli­ca­ble max­i­mum penalty are de­ter­mined by when the al­leged of­fence oc­curred.

There have been sev­eral over­hauls of sex­ual of­fence laws since the 1980s.

Bug­gery was re­pealed as a crime in 1981, but of­fend­ers ac­cused of crimes be­fore that date will be charged with laws rel­e­vant to the time of the al­leged of­fence. For of­fences com­mit­ted prior to Fe­bru­ary of that year, rape was punishable by a max­i­mum prison term of 20 years, and bug­gery with a term of 15 years.

- Fair­fax, AAP

Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, Aus­tralia’s high­est-rank­ing Catholic of­fi­cial, has al­ways ve­he­mently de­nied the sex abuse al­le­ga­tions made against him.

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