Aust cardinal on sex charges
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.