Australian cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s head of finance and one of the most senior figures in the Catholic hierarchy, has been summonsed on charges relating to multiple allegations of sex abuse.
Police said Pell needed to answer the summons in court in Melbourne on July 18.
“Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation,” said Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton in a short media briefing in Melbourne.
Pell faces multiple charges but no details of those alleged offences have been released other than that they related to “multiple complainants”.
“Today Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with historical sexual assault offences,” said deputy Commissioner Patton.
“Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect to historical sexual offences, and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges.”
The summons was served on Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne today.
Australia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the Vatican and Pell cannot be forced to attend court in Victoria.
However, Pell says he will return to Australia as soon as possible to clear his name. He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges “vigorously”.
His doctors are advising him on his travel arrangements.
Deputy Commissioner Patton noted that none of the allegations against Pell had been tested in court.
“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has the right to due process,” Patton said. “Therefore, it’s important that the process is allowed to run its natural course. Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to all of us.”
The 76-year-old cardinal was interviewed in Rome last October by members of the Victorian Police task force Sano, investigating child exploitation.
Pell has denied allegations concerning his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s and while he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
As head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, he runs the Vatican’s budget and has authority over all of the Vatican’s administrative activities. In 2013, he was appointed to a special advisory council along with seven other cardinals to advise the Pope on reform of the Church.
In March 2016, Pell told the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse that senior members of the Catholic church deceived him over the extent of abuse in Victoria.
On the rare occasions where he became aware of any “problems”, he was rebuffed by senior clerics or kept in the dark, he said.
Testimony at the royal commission
He spent several days giving testimony to the royal commission via video link from Rome.
Pell was quizzed about priests who were moved between parishes by senior clergy in response to abuse claims.
One of those was Edward Dowlan, who was convicted in 2015 of abusing 11 boys over a 15-year period in a number of Catholic schools.
Pell has also denied knowledge of the activities of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, who abused at least 54 children, until his conviction in 1993.
Asked whether it was common knowledge that Ridsdale was interfering with children in the Inglewood parish in the 1970s, Pell responded:
“I couldn’t say that I knew that everyone knew. I knew that a number of people did. I didn’t know whether it was common knowledge or it wasn’t.
“It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.”
Counsel assisting, Gail Furness, asked why he wasn’t interested.
Pell replied: “The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evil that Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
Cardinal Pell, then an assistant priest, shared a house with Ridsale in the 1970s.
Police investigations found that senior church authorities, including the bishop of Ballarat during that era, Ronald Mulkearns, knew about the allegations as Ridsdale was moved from one parish to another, and it was also “common knowledge” in the congregation.
Pell told the royal commission that he only found out about the abuse when Ridsdale was jailed in the 1990s.
“Certainly, there was never any discussion in my presence about the dreadful story of Ridsdale,” he told the royal commission.
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