Vatican’s financial chief, who has always denied wrongdoing, faces fresh allegations of abuse, relating to his time as archbishop of Melbourne
By David Marr
New allegations of child abuse are being levelled against Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s financial chief and the most senior figure in the Australian Catholic church.
Fairfax Media has reported claims contained in a new book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, that he sexually abused two choirboys at St Patrick’s cathedral after becoming archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
The author Louise Milligan first flagged these claims on the ABC’s 7.30 Report in July last year. But according to Fairfax Milligan’s book, to be released on Monday, contains details of the accusations that have not been made public before.
After the 7.30 Report Pell accused the ABC of conducting a “scandalous smear campaign.”
Cardinal Pell’s office issued a statement on Saturday saying the cardinal had “not been notified by the Victorian Office of Public Prosecutions or Victoria police of the status of their investigations, which have been underway since at least February 2016.”
“Cardinal Pell will not seek to interfere in the course of justice by responding to the allegations made by Melbourne University Press (publisher of Milligan’s book) and media outlets today, other than to restate that any allegations of child abuse made against him are completely false,” the statement said.
“He repeats his vehement and consistent denials of any and all such accusations, and stands by all the evidence he has given to the royal commission.”
The boys, students at St Kevin’s College, sang in the cathedral choir and were allegedly abused by the archbishop in a room somewhere in the precincts of the cathedral. They left the choir and the school shortly afterwards.
Milligan claims one of the choirboys died of a drug overdose in 2014. His mother was subsequently told by the second boy that they had been abused by Pell when they were teenagers at the cathedral.
Milligan writes that both spoke to the Sano taskforce established to investigate allegations that emerged during a parliamentary inquiry in Victoria and the later royal commission into child abuse.
Pell has now been accused of abusing boys at three stages of his career: as a seminarian, a priest and as archbishop of Melbourne.
He has denied all these allegations on a number of occasions. No charges have ever been laid against him in relation to them. The cardinal, prefect of the secretariat for the economy at the Vatican, has stated that he willingly co-operated with the detectives of the Victoria police when they interviewed him in Rome in October last year.
Sano has also investigated allegations that as a young priest Pell abused boys in the swimming pool of his hometown Ballarat. Pell also denies these allegations.
Milligan writes that Pell and his defenders have been able to “bat off or gloss over” the swimming pool allegations by casting them as “horseplay or a bit of rough and tumble … The story of [the choirboys] has no such ambiguity. If these allegations are true, they point to utter, sinful hypocrisy.”
Citing ill health, Pell declined to return to Australia to give evidence to the royal commission in person last year and instead gave evidence by videolink from Rome. In February this year the Australian senate called on the cardinal to return home “to assist the Victorian police and office of public prosecutions with their investigation into these matters.”
Pell dismissed the parliamentary resolution as “an interference on the part of the Senate in the due process of the Victoria Police investigation.”
According to reports, the police have now twice sent briefs of evidence concerning Pell to the Victorian office of public prosecutions.
The Guardian is not claiming Cardinal Pell is guilty of any allegations of sex abuse, only that they have been investigated by police.
Operation Sano continues.
The Guardian contacted the Vatican, Pell’s office in Rome and his office in Australia for comment.
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