Serving as a senior Vatican official and top aide to Pope Francis, Cardinal George Pell was charged this week with several counts of historical sexual assault. According to law enforcement officials from Pell’s home country of Australia, Pell will be required to appear in an Australian court next month to face criminal charges.
On April 13, 2013, Francis appointed Pell to a nine-member advisory council tasked with studying plans to reform the Catholic Church. Less than a year later, Pell became responsible for overseeing the Vatican’s annual budget as the first cardinal-prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy.
In July 2016, Australian police confirmed Pell was under investigation for historical sexual assault charges committed in his hometown of Ballarat between 1976 and 1980 and East Melbourne between 1996 and 2001. According to his alleged victims, Pell sexually abused them after returning from Rome to be ordained as a priest.
On Thursday, an Australian police official confirmed that Pell had been charged with multiple counts of historical sexual assault, while refusing to disclose the specific criminal charges or any details concerning the alleged victims. During a press conference, Victoria State Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton announced that Pell has been charged on summons and he is required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 18.
“All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations. News of these charges strengthens my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name,” Pell stated in response to the accusations. “I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.”
In a recent statement defending the cardinal, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney wrote, “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.”
“The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system, which will have to decide the merits of the questions raised,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke recently stated. “At the same time, it’s important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse against minors.”
Accused of mishandling misconduct cases against his fellow clergy members, Pell testified before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse via video link in 2013, and apologized for the ongoing sexual abuse within the ranks of the Catholic Church. Despite the fact that Pell openly condemned sexual abuse against children and vowed to end the increased suicide rate of church abuse victims in his hometown of Ballarat, Victoria, numerous victims have come forward in the past few years alleging sexual assault charges against the cardinal.
Denying the allegations against him, Pell is scheduled to appear in court on July 18 for a hearing.