Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric has been ordered to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 18, after Victoria Police served charges on the Cardinal’s legal representatives.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters that the charges involved multiple complainants. The charges relate to allegations of sexual assault that are said to have occurred in Ballarat in the 1970s.
The Cardinal has vehemently denied all allegations put to him, saying that they are nothing more than a smear campaign against his character. “Cardinal Pell will return to Australia as soon as possible, to clear his name following advice and approval by doctors, who will also advice on his travel arrangements,” said a statement released by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. “He has again strenuously denied all allegations.”
The charges come after an investigation into the Cardinal was announced by Victoria Police last July, officially confirming they were looking into the Ballarat complaints. Last October, three Victoria Police detectives flew to Rome to interview Pell, as poor health prevented the Cardinal from appearing before the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The charges bring the Cardinal’s future with the church into question. Pell has long been one of the most prominent (and controversial) figures in the Australian Catholic Church. While others who hold senior positions inside the church have been involved in prosecutions, this case is unique given the ranking that Pell holds. As head of the Vatican’s finances, Pell is considered number three in the Catholic hierarchy behind the Pope.
A magistrate will decide next week whether to release the details and the nature of the charges. A hearing will take place on July 6.