Victoria Police have charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple serious sexual offences and have ordered him to appear in court next month.
Police confirmed Thursday that Australia’s most senior Catholic clergyman in the Vatican was summonsed to face charges over alleged historical child sex offences.
“The charges were today served on Cardinal Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne and they have been lodged also at the Melbourne Magistrates Court,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told a media conference.
Deputy Commissioner Patton said Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges.
“Cardinal Pell has been charged on summons and he is required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 this year for a filing hearing,” he said.
Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied allegations of abuse against him, branding them as false and part of a “smear campaign” to discredit him.
The charges will send shockwaves through the Catholic Church both in Australia and around the world.
Cardinal Pell is the Vatican’s finance chief and considered the third most powerful person in the Catholic Church.
Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, but Cardinal Pell is expected to return to fight the charges.
He previously refused to return to Australia to front the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2016, citing illness.
He instead appeared via video link from Rome to refute allegations he helped cover-up abuse by other members of the clergy.
Deputy Commissioner Patton said police received advice from the Department of Public Prosecutions regarding the investigation in May.Three detectives from the Victoria Police Sano Taskforce travelled to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell about the allegations last October.
“Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation,” he said.
“It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have been tested in any court yet.
“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it is important that the process is allowed to run its natural course.”
The allegations of sexual assault reportedly were made by two men now aged in their 40s, from Cardinal Pell’s home town of Ballarat.
The men said Cardinal Pell, then a parish priest, touched them inappropriately in the summer of 1978-79, when he was playing a throwing game with them at the city’s pool.
The ABC’s 7.30 program aired the details of the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Pell last year.
The Cardinal has vehemently denied the allegations, accusing the ABC of mounting a smear campaign against him and saying the broadcaster had “no licence to destroy the reputation of innocent people”.
He again denied any wrongdoing in July upon news he was being investigated
“The allegations are untrue, I deny them absolutely,” he said.
“I’m like any other Australian — I’m entitled to a fair go.”