Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic and the third ranking official in the Vatican, has been charged with multiple sexual offences by the police.
The charges were served on the Pell legal representatives, in Melbourne, on Thursday and were presented to Melbourne magistrates court. He will appear in court on 18 July.
“Cardinal Pell is facing more charges … and there are multiple complainants,” Victoria police deputy commissioner Shane Patton said. The allegations were “historic ” sexual violence is a crime”.
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In a statement released by the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney 90 minutes after the charges were announced, Pell announced that he would “get back to Australia as soon as possible, to clear his name”.
Pell is the highest ranking Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic church over the sexual abuse scandal.
Pell statement, released at 4: 30 in the morning Rome time, said: “even if it is still in the early hours of the morning in Rome, Cardinal George Pell was informed of the decision and action of the Victoria police. He has again strenuously denied all the accusations.
“Cardinal Pell will return to Australia as soon as possible, to clear his name following advice and approval from your doctors, who advice his journey.
“He said he is looking forward to his day in court and defend the charges vigorously.”
It is not at all clear that the allegations Pell has been accused of. Pell was because of a subsequent declaration in Rome later on Thursday.
Detective Victoria police Sano task force, established to investigate the allegations that emerged during a parliamentary inquiry in Victoria and the subsequent royal commission, interviewed Pell to Rome in the month of October on the accusations against him.
Last year, citing poor health, Pell has refused to return to Australia to give evidence to the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse in person last year and instead gave evidence by videolink from Rome.
The royal commission, ordered by the then Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, in 2012, and established in 2013, is due to deliver its final report by December 15.
In February, the Senate of the Australian called the cardinal to return home to assist the Victorian police and the office of the public prosecutor and with their survey on these issues”.
Pell has rejected the parliament’s resolution as “an interference by the Senate in the process of the Victoria police investigation”.
The cardinal, a former archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne. 2014 has been the prefect of the secretariat for the economy – the Vatican and the treasurer. He was ordained a priest in Rome in 1966.
When Pope Francis was asked about the allegations against Pell last year, he told reporters: “it Is true, there is no doubt. We have to wait for justice and not to do before a judgment in the media – a judgment of gossip because it does not help. Once the justice has spoken, I will speak.”
Shane Patton, Victoria police deputy commissioner, announces charges against George Pell in Melbourne. Photo: Reuters
Patton said at the press conference: “During the course of the investigation, in relation to Cardinal Pell, there has been a lot of news in the media and speculation about the process that was involved in the investigation and also the charging.
“For the sake of clarity, I want to be very clear, the process and the procedures that are followed in the office of Cardinal Pell were the same that were applied in the whole range of historical sexual offences every time that we investigate.
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“The fact that he has been charged on the quotation, we have used an opinion from the office of public prosecutions and, in addition, we are committed to its legal representatives, it is common practice and normal. There has been no change in the procedures of the sort. The council has been received and sought from the office of public prosecutions, however, in the final analysis, the choice of load Cardinal Pell was the one that was made by the Victoria police.
“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has the right to a fair trial, and then, as a result, it is important that the process is allowed to run its natural course.”
Patton said as the matter was now a case before the court, the police would be making no further comment.