By Elise Harris
After years of fighting allegations of sexual abuse and negligence in handling abuse cases, Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s top finance man, will be charged on multiple counts of abuse, Australian police announced Wednesday.
Pell, who has fervently denied the allegations, will be charged on summons, and will be required to return to Melbourne in July order to answer the charges.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Victoria police were the ones who decided to charge the cardinal. In a June 29 statement, Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said Pell is facing “multiple charges in respect to historic sexual offenses,” which multiple complaints in each of the charges.
Due to heavy media speculation surrounding the investigation, Patton clarified that “the process and the procedures that have been followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offenses whenever we investigate them.”
“There has been no change in any procedures whatsoever,” he said, noting that Pell has been treated the same as anyone else.
The deputy commissioner stressed the importance of remembering that “none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have, obviously, been tested in any court yet.”
“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it’s important that the process is allowed to run its natural course,” he said.
“Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to all of us, so for Victoria police it’s important that it’s allowed to go through unhindered, and its allowed to see natural justice is afforded to all the parties involved, including Cardinal Pell and the complainants in this matter.”
Pell has been summoned to appear before the Melbourne Maginstrate’s court July 18 for a filing hearing to face the charges, which were served to his legal team Wednesday (Thursday Australian time).
The charging of Cardinal Pell, who in 2013 was tapped to oversee the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy and is a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, makes him the most senior Vatican official to ever be charged with abuse.
Cardinal Pell was ordained in the diocese of Ballarat in 1966, where he served as a priest and later as a consulter to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who oversaw the diocese from 1971-1997. Pell was appointed auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987, and was named archbishop in 1996.
In February 2016, he testified for the third time before Australia’s Royal Commission regarding claims that surfaced in 2015 accusing the cardinal of moving “known pedophile” Gerald Ridsdale, of bribing a victim of the later-defrocked priest, and of ignoring a victim’s complaint.
Established in 2013, the Royal Commission is dedicated to investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges, Pell was again summoned to return to Australia for deposition in December. However, the cardinal’s doctor advised against the long flight, due to health issues.
As a result, Cardinal Pell volunteered to appear by way of video conference from Rome. His proposal for the video conference was accepted, and he gave his testimony again with abuse survivors present, who crowd-funded in order to attend the hearing in person.
Shortly before the hearing, abuse allegations surfaced accusing the cardinal of multiple counts of child sexual abuse dating as far back as 1961, which he fervently denied at the time.
In a statement released after the accusations arose, Pell said “the allegations are without foundation and utterly false.”
At the close of the hearing, the cardinal admitted that he should have done more to protect the children of Australia during his time as a bishop.
“One of the things I regret as a Catholic priest is the damage that these crimes do to the faith of survivors, of the victims, and their friends and family, and generally throughout the society,” he said, and voiced his willingness to work with authorities.
In a June 29 statement following the announcement of the Victoria police department’s decision to charge him, Cardinal Pell’s office said he has “again strenuously denied all allegations.”
The statement said Pell would return to Australia as soon as possible “to clear his name” after consulting with his doctors, who will advise him on his travel arrangements, and that he looks forward to “vigorously” opposing the charges in court
Pell is set to give a statement to journalists in Rome at 8:30a.m. local time in the Holy See Press Office regarding the announcement of the charges.