The accusations against Cardinal George Pell – explainer

What happened?

Cardinal George Pell, who is responsible for the management of the finances of the Vatican and the Holy see in Rome, has been charged with historic sexual assault offences in Australia. He was appointed to the Vatican by Pope Francis in 2014.

Pell’s legal representatives were served with the charges Thursday in Melbourne, where police investigated the allegations. The charges relate to a number of complainants and the alleged offences are said to have occurred in the state of Victoria. However, the police did not detail exactly how much of the costs of the Pell is facing, or appointed to, what the specific charges are.

A statement released by Pell’s office in Sydney on Thursday said he has “vigorously denied all allegations”.

It is the highest Vatican figure to be accused of sexual abuse.
Who is Cardinal George Pell?

Pell is Australia’s most senior Catholic, and his role is to manage the finances of the Vatican means that it is the third highest figure in the Vatican. It has already been identified among the more than 200 cardinals from around the world as one of the most likely candidates to replace Pope Francis when he resigns or dies.

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The now 76 years old, was appointed to the Vatican for a five-year term in 2014. He moved to Rome from Australia, where he had been archbishop of Sydney since 2001.

In 2013, Pell was one of eight cardinals chosen from around the world to be part of an advisory committee to help Pope Francis reform the Catholic Church.

He was Archbishop of Melbourne between 1996 and 2001, and prior to that was auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Melbourne since 1987. Pell grew up in the small town of Ballarat, in the state of Victoria, which is located about 100 km north-west of Melbourne. He was assistant parish priest of a parish in Ballarat East from 1973 to 1983. In 1996, Pell was appointed archbishop of Melbourne, a role he held until his move to Sydney in 2001.

In 1996, while Pell, archbishop of Melbourne, he was approached by political leaders, judges and officials who have raised concerns about historical sex abuse of children, in the hands of the clergy and the staff of the church. Most of the survivors have been coming forward with their stories and historical charges have been laid.

As a result, Pell has established a regime within the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne to investigate child sex abuse claims. This initiative was known as the Melbourne Response, and those in charge of it, including Pell, have been criticised by victims of abuse for the treatment of abuse claims inconsistently and poorly.
Why has Pell was charged?

Because the police believe that their evidence is now strong enough to withstand a cross-examination in court.

Pell vehemently denied the allegations, describing them in a statement as “outrageous”, “without merit”, “totally bogus” and “designed to embarrass”. He also called for an investigation into the Victorian police force to identify the source of the claims. Detectives travelled to Rome to interview Pell in October, and it has cooperated with their requests for information.

In February of this year, the police gave its memorandum of evidence to the office of public prosecutions, which prosecutes the most serious crimes, to take into account. The board considers all of the evidence and may make a recommendation to the police whether an investigation should be abandoned, studied further, or if the evidence is sufficient to justify the charges. It has been back and forth between the police and the office, including the collection of additional evidence.

New allegations around Pell have been raised in the interval, he vehemently refused.

Thursday, police made their move, charging Pell.
What is the broader context?

In 2012, Australia’s then prime minister, Julia Gillard, has ordered an official investigation into historic sexual abuse of children within Australian institutions, including religious institutions.

This survey is known as the royal commission on institutional responses to child sexual abuse. The commission is still in progress, and will publish its final report in December. He has no attorney of powers, or the ability to compel a person abroad to give evidence, but may refer matters of police and make recommendations to governments and institutions.

In the course of its investigations, the commission has examined the Catholic church and its response to allegations of abuse.

Pell was one of the hundreds of persons summoned to give evidence at the public hearings held throughout Australia. He has given evidence to the commission in 2014 via videolink and was questioned about the structure of the archdiocese of Melbourne, Melbourne Response, and the way the organization handled the allegations of abuse.

There was no suggestion in these hearings of the commission that Pell himself was the author, although questions have been raised about how much he knew about those were from abuse and ill-treatment, and that it is enough to treat the abuse.

Pell was a figure known and had been the subject of scrutiny. But this figure rose in December 2015, on which date he was due to fly to Australia in order to provide more evidence relating to abuse which took place in Ballarat. A week before he was to appear, Pell’s lawyers have told the commission that he was too sick to fly. The commission delayed the hearing until the end of February 2016 to give him the time to recover and in the hope that it would be able to return.

On February 5, Pell’s lawyers said he was still too ill to travel, and to avoid further delays to the abuse survivors eager to hear his testimony, and the commission has agreed that he may appear via videolink from Rome to the place. In the days prior to his appearance, it has been reported to the police to investigate the Pell compared to the “many offences”.

Pell has given evidence to the commission in Rome for four days, but as none of the charges against him had been asked, and because the commission has no prosecutor powers, it has not been questioned about the allegations of abuse.

Although its testimony has been given by videolink, he nevertheless had a hearing, after a fundraising campaign helped by the comedian Tim Minchin raised enough money to send survivors of abuse to Rome.
What the pope said about the case in the past?

Not large-thing. When Pell was interviewed by detectives in Rome last year, the pope said that it was important that the police proceeded to go ahead without him to do a “first stop”.

“We don’t know what will be the result, he said, adding that it would be “attentive to what the justice decides.

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“Once the justice talking, I’m going to talk to you about,” he said.
Will Pell have to face a court and where?

His lawyer is going to be in Melbourne magistrates court on 18 July for a filing hearing. This is the first step in the filing process and involves a fair bit of the admin. The court will set a timetable for the judicial process and the exchange of evidence between the police and Pell attorneys.

But it is unclear if Pell will be there, or if the list of charges will be released to the media.

In a statement, Pell to the Australian office said it was “back in Australia, as soon as possible, to clear his name”, but the statement has also said that it would be to follow the advice and approval of his doctors, who will also advise on its preparations for a journey”.

“He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously,” the statement said.

Australia has an extradition treaty with Italy, but not with the Vatican, which has diplomatic immunity. It might complicate things. However, Pell of the house is outside the walls of the Vatican, he has cooperated with Victoria police, to this day, and has said that he will be back in Australia after having received clearance from his doctors.