Herald Sun

POLICE PROBE PELL

TOP-SECRET INVESTIGAT­ION INTO SEX ABUSE CLAIMS AGAINST CARDINAL

- LUCIE MORRIS-MARR

A VICTORIA Police taskforce has been investigat­ing allegation­s that Cardinal George Pell sexually abused between five and 10 boys.

Detectives from Sano Taskforce have compiled a dossier containing allegation­s that Cardinal Pell committed “multiple offences” when a priest in Ballarat and when archbishop of Melbourne.

It has been alleged the 74-year-old, now in charge of finances at the Vatican in Rome, sexually abused minors by “both grooming and opportunit­y’’.

The allegation­s span four decades, with the Ballarat-born cardinal accused of abusing children — now adults aged in their late 20s to early 50s — between 1978 and 2001.

Legal sources have told the Herald Sun that more than a dozen detectives from Sano Taskforce — set up to probe allegation­s arising from the child abuse royal commission — have worked for the past year on the investigat­ion, interviewi­ng “numerous” alleged victims.

Their evidence has been presented to superiors at Victoria Police, sources say.

Last night, the cardinal released a statement vehemently denying any wrongdoing, saying allegation­s were “without foundation and utterly false’’.

The taskforce has not yet heard from Cardinal Pell or considered his position.

The Herald Sun is not suggesting the cardinal is guilty, only that there have been allegation­s made, which are being taken seriously enough by police to justify a year-long investigat­ion.

Victoria Police was yesterday asked about its investigat­ions into the allegation­s against Cardinal Pell.

Spokeswoma­n Sergeant Sharon Darcy said: “Taskforce Sano is currently conducting a large number of investigat­ions into historic sexual offending.”

“Victoria Police will not provide a running commentary on these investigat­ions as it would be inappropri­ate to do so. Victoria Police encourages all victims of sexual assault and child abuse, and anyone who has knowledge of such a crime, to make a report.’’

Heraldsun.com.au broke the story at 7.45 last night.

Cardinal Pell was due to come to Melbourne in December, to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutio­nal Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, but cancelled, saying he could not fly due to ill-health.

Sources close to the police probe have speculated Cardinal Pell would want to avoid returning for fear of being questioned over allegation­s.

It is claimed Cardinal Pell’s alleged offences occurred at two locations in Victoria.

While working as archbishop of Melbourne at St Patrick’s Cathedral, between 1996 and 2001, he is alleged to have sexually assaulted altar boys as young as 14.

He is also alleged to have committed offences against several child victims at a swimming pool in Ballarat in 1978.

At that time, he was a priest in Ballarat East and also serving as the episcopal vicar of education as well as working as the director of the Aquinas campus of the Institute of Catholic Education.

In recent months, the Sano Taskforce has executed warrants at buildings linked to abuse allegation­s, including St Patrick’s Cathedral, Maidstone and Toorak.

In a rare public statement in December, the taskforce made an appeal for informatio­n about assaults at the cathedral, urging people to come forward with “any informatio­n relating to the alleged sexual assaults being investigat­ed’’.

One source close to the investigat­ion told the Herald Sun: “Alleged offences by Pell occurred as a result of both opportunit­y and grooming. They are very serious allegation­s regarding sexual assault.’’

Sources said the investigat­ion team was currently waiting for the “green light’’ from police superiors “in terms of what the next move is in terms of questionin­g Pell himself”.

“There is no extraditio­n treaty with the Vatican so Pell cannot be questioned unless he agrees to it,’’ a source said.

“It would be up to him to allow officers into the Vatican or he could decide to come to Australia to be questioned.”

Sano detectives are also actively investigat­ing the alleged abuses of an altar boy during a camp in 1961 at Smiths Beach on Phillip Island. At the time, Cardinal Pell was a trainee priest aged 20.

The incident was not investigat­ed by police then, but was investigat­ed by the church in 2002, with Cardinal Pell cleared by retired Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell.

A legal source close to the alleged victim said Sano detectives had requested informatio­n. It is understood the victim was too upset to co-operate and has refused to give a police statement. Sano detectives are seeking other potential victims.

Sano Taskforce was establishe­d in 2012 to investigat­e historic and new allegation­s emanating from the Victorian parliament­ary inquiry into child sex abuse involving religious and non-government organisati­ons.

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