VATICAN CITY — Cardinal George Pell on Friday forcefully denied an alleged police investigation’s claim of “multiple offenses” of child sexual abuse, calling the accusations patently untrue.
“The allegations are without foundation and utterly false,” a Feb. 19 statement from Cardinal Pell’s office read.
The timing of the media leak on the alleged investigation “is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the Royal Commission,” it said.
Cardinal Pell is a member of the council of cardinals advising Pope Francis and a past archbishop of the Sydney and Melbourne Archdioceses. He is also the prefect of the newly formed Secretariat for the Economy, which is overseeing Vatican finances.
He is scheduled to testify before Australia’s Royal Commission Feb. 29 regarding claims that surfaced last year 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.
In a May 20, 2015, statement, Cardinal Pell fervently denied the accusations. Having previously testified twice before the commission in person, examining institutional responses to child sex abuse, the cardinal again assured his full cooperation.
The commission then summoned Cardinal Pell to return to Australia to testify again 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.
Cardinal Pell’s proposal for the video conference was accepted, and the commission scheduled him to testify at the end of February.
However, with just over a week until the cardinal is set to appear, a report from News Corp Australia came out alleging that the state of Victoria is investigating him for committing “multiple offenses” of child sexual abuse both while he was still a priest in Ballarat, as well as when he worked with the archbishop of Melbourne.
According to the News Corp report, detectives from Victoria’s task force Sano have been investigating for a year and have complied a dossier claiming the cardinal abused minors “by both grooming and opportunity.”
In its Feb. 19 statement, Cardinal Pell’s office said that not only do the accusations of the investigation lack foundation, but that it was “outrageous” that the cardinal was only informed of them through a “media leak.”
Cardinal Pell has called for a public inquiry into the “spurious claims” on the part of certain members of the Victorian police.
Several media outlets have received confidential information that can only have been leaked by someone within the Victorian police force, the statement read.
For members of the police “to publicly attack a witness in the same case study that has exposed serious police inaction and wrongdoing is outrageous and should be seen for what it is,” the cardinal said.
The way in which the claims were made, the statement said, was done “in a manner clearly designed to embarrass the cardinal, in a case study where the historical failures of the Victorian police have been the subject of substantial evidence.”
“These types of unfair attacks diminish the work of those good officers of the police who are diligently working to bring justice to victims.”
According to the Herald Sun, the Sano taskforce is allegedly investigating allegations as far back as a 1961 accusation that the then-20-year-old Pell, who was a seminarian at the time, abused an altar boy during a camp at Smiths Beach on Phillip Island.
While the alleged incident was never investigated by police, the Catholic Church itself led an investigation into the incident in 2002, ultimately leading to the cardinal’s exoneration by now retired-Supreme Court justice Alec Southwell.
In Cardinal Pell’s statement, it was noted that the records for the Phillip Island allegations have been on the public record “for nearly 15 years” and that Justice Southwell’s exonerating report has been in the public domain since 2002.
It noted that the police “have taken no steps in all of that time to pursue the false allegations made,” but assured that Cardinal Pell “certainly has no objection” if they wish to review the materials that led to his exoneration.
He said he is sure it won’t be long until the police reach the same conclusion as Judge Southwell.
The statement also stressed that in all of this time the Victoria police “have never sought” to interview Cardinal Pell in relation to any allegations of abuse. Apart from the “false allegations” investigated by Justice Southwell, it read, “The cardinal knows of no claims or incidents which relate to him.”
It was emphasized that Cardinal Pell “strongly denies any wrongdoing,” but he remains open to cooperate with the police, should they wish to speak with him.
He called on both the premier and the police minister to “immediately investigate the leaking of these baseless allegations.”