Cardinal returns to Australia to face sexual assault charges

Australian Cardinal George Pell leaves at the end of a meeting with victims of sex abuse at the Quirinale hotel in Rome on March 3, 2016. Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

SYDNEY (AP) — The most senior Vatican cleric to ever be charged in the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal returned to Australia on Monday (July 10) to stand trial in his home state on charges alleging he sexually assaulted multiple people years ago.

Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, avoided waiting media when he arrived at Sydney Airport on a flight from Singapore. He had declined to comment in Singapore over the weekend as he made his way home from Rome.

The 76-year-old cleric is due to appear in a court in the Victoria state capital, Melbourne, on July 26 on what Victoria Police described as multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses” — meaning crimes that generally occurred years ago. There is no statute of limitations on such crimes in Australia. Police said there were multiple complainants but have released no other details.

Pell is free ahead of his court hearing, during which he can formally apply for bail.
When police announced the charges last month, Pell vowed to fight the allegations, saying: “The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

On Monday, the Sydney Archdiocese said the cardinal had made multiple stops on his journey to Australia to avoid long-haul flights, based on the advice of his doctors. Last year, Pell said he was too ill to make the long flight back to his home country to testify before a government inquiry into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to child sex abuse allegations.

“When he was told of the charges by Victoria Police, Cardinal Pell said in Rome he totally rejected the allegations, was completely innocent of the charges and would return to Australia to vigorously defend himself and clear his name,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “Cardinal Pell will not be making further comment other than to say he is grateful for the numerous messages of support he continues to receive.”

Pell has taken a leave of absence to fight the charges in Australia and has said he intends to return to the Vatican to continue his work as a prefect of the church’s economy ministry.

The pope thanked Pell for his “honest” work and collaboration and said he would wait for Australian justice to run its course before making a judgment himself.

For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse as archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney. But more recently, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican to interview him last year.

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  • The Catholic Church has a long shameful worldwide history of clergy sexual abuse and coverups.Let;s hope that the Australian courts will cast more light into these dark corners. Ordinary Catholics, of course, are the victims of all this abuse. Perhaps the exposures of this abuse is one of the reasons for the decline in church membership, parochial school enrollment, and donations.

  • “For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse as archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney.”?? In fact, he was known for trying to cheat victims out of compensation and for telling his lawyers to “crush” a former altar boy who had sued the archdiocese. His actions and words were described as being that of a “sociopath.” Yet, a month after his election, Pope Francis chose Pell to be one of his closest advisers.

  • There are no nonstop commercial flights from Rome to Sydney (unless this has changed since last year or his health has conveniently improved), so I tend to doubt Pell’s sudden realization that he could fly via layovers.

  • unfortunately, edd, it isn’t strictly the RCC. This tragedy is happening more and more in every church family. It is such a tragedy.

  • Providing dozens of websites that these are not “allegations” would be a waste of my time.

  • Au contraire mon ami. Catholic school enrollment dropped from 5.5 million in 1965 to 1.8 million today, due largely to the Supreme Court’s 1962 and 1963 rulings against essentially Protestant prayers and Bible reading in public schools. All church membership and attendance have declined in recent years. Giving to Catholic churches is less than 1/2 of Protestant giving. Catholics are fed up with the Vatican’s abuse coverups, bans on contraception and abortion (Catholics use contraception and abortion the same rate as non/-Catholics), its discrimination against women, and its financial secrecy. — ED

  • Facts are not whines. Catholic schools developed as a reaction to Protestant hegemony in public schools. When the SCOTUS removed that hegemony in 1962 and 1963 a main reason for Catholic parochial schools went away. (I should note that I am an honors grad of Indiana’s leading Catholic high school.) President Nixon, who favored tax aid to church schools, had studies made by two leading Catholic universities (Notre Dame and Boston College), which concluded that parochial school decline was due to “changing parental preferences” and not to economics.

    Protestants as well as Catholics contribute heavily to non-parish chartties.

    My comment stands; yours does not.


  • Marty. your grasp of the history of Catholic schools in the US is totally at variance with history. Your comment about Nixon makes no sense; he favored tax aid for parochial schools but Congress was not buying it. All church attendance in the US is down to about 30%, if that. The % of religiously unaffiliated in the US is now about 25%. The Catholic abuse scandal was not cooked up by the media; in fact, they kept quiet until the Cardinal Law mess surfaced and could no longer be ignored. The scandal is age old and worldwide. I have two books by Spanish writer Pepe Rodriguez exploring the matter in detail — just in Spain. Your comment is naive and uninformed. — ED

  • Marty, your fact-deficient post embarrasses you. My comments are based on facts that I have been writing and publishing about for decades. My Nixon reference was to studies that he authorized from Catholic universities that backed what I wrote. You cannot deny the clergy abuse scandals, which Catholic writers have explored at length, which does not deny that there have been abuse scandals in other traditions. Anti-Catholicism? Not in what I wrote. BTW, I have been published numerous times in Catholic journals. ED

  • Marty denies clergy abuse scandals and then admits they they exist. Yes, there have been some abuses in public schools, but they are generally exposed and the culprits prosecuted. Re Nixon, you deny that Notre Dame and Boston College studies support what I said? Really?

    As Marty is hostile to facts, I see little point in continuing this discussion.


  • And as I have demonstrated multiple times in response to your comments, facts from multiple and reliable sources have no effect on your preconceived misconceptions.