Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s top financial officer, is facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse in his native country, according to a new report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
As he has in the past when suggestions of impropriety have arisen, Pell has vigorously denied the allegations while expressing sympathy and concerns for victims of clerical abuse.
According to a program on the ABC network, Pell faces accusations from the Australian cities of Ballarat, Torquay and Melbourne dating from the period in the 1970s, 80s and 90s when Pell served as a priest and, later, as the Archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell today is the Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, a new body created by Pope Francis to oversee his project of financial reform.
According to ABC, a police taskforce in the state of Victoria — which includes Melbourne — called SANO, set up to investigate complaints coming out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has been examining the allegations against Pell.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton confirmed last month that the taskforce was investigating multiple allegations against the cardinal and, if necessary, detectives would fly to Rome to interview George Pell, although the Chief Commissioner said “it had not been put as necessary to me at this point in time”.
In a statement to the ABC, Pell’s office said he “emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse against him”, and accused the network of mounting a smear campaign against him.
The complaints include those by two men now in their forties, from Pell’s home town of Ballarat, who say he touched them inappropriately in the summer of 1978-79 when he was playing a throwing game with them at the town’s Eureka pool.
In another complaint, Torquay businessman Les Tyack gave a statement to the Royal Commission last year relating to an incident at the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club in the summer of 1986-87.
He said he walked into the club change rooms to discover a naked Pell behaving in a manner that caused him concern in front of three boys he estimated to be aged between 8 and 10 years old.
A further complaint about George Pell that ABC is aware of relates to the period in the 1990s when George Pell was setting up the Melbourne Response — the Australian Catholic Church’s first attempt to seriously address child abuse.
It involves two teenage choirboys who asked their parents to leave the choir soon after the alleged abuse had occurred.
Pell’s statement insisted that these sorts of allegations have surfaced before, and have always been shown to be unfounded.
“The Cardinal’s conduct has been repeatedly scrutinized over many years, including before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organizations and according to leaked reports, by Victorian Police’s SANO Taskforce,” the statement said.
“The cardinal does not wish to cause any distress to any victim of abuse. However, claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong,” the statement said.
“He denies the allegations absolutely, and says that they, and any acceptance of them by the ABC, are nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign which appears to be championed by the ABC. If there was any credibility in any of these claims, they would have been pursued by the Royal Commission by now,” it said.