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Cardinal Pell, professing innocence, will face sexual abuse charges in Australia

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Proclaiming his innocence after being charged with sexual abuse, Australian Cardinal George Pell said, “I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.”

“I’m innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said June 29 during a brief news conference in the Vatican press office. Read more »

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Sydney archbishop: No comment for now on allegations about Cardinal Pell

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SYDNEY — Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal George Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public.

Until police decide how to proceed, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he will not be commenting on the case.

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

Australian Cardinal George Pell celebrates Mass in 2014 in Sydney. Public prosecutors have submitted recommendations to Victoria Police on whether to try Australian Cardinal Pell on decades-old abuse allegations, but their advice has not been made public. (CNS photo/Jane Dempster, EPA)

“Justice must be left to run its course,” Archbishop Fisher said in a statement May 17.

Archbishop Fisher said Cardinal Pell, currently head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, “has cooperated in every way with multiple police, parliamentary and Royal Commission investigations.”

“Everyone supports just investigation of complaints, but the relentless character attacks on Cardinal Pell, by some, stand the principle of innocent-until-proven-guilty on its head,” Archbishop Fisher said. “Australians have a right to expect better from their legal systems and the media. Even churchmen have a right to a fair go.”

Last July, allegations surfaced in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. featuring several people who accused Cardinal Pell of sexual assault; at least one of the accusations had been found to be unsubstantiated by an Australian court in 2002. Some accusations dated to the late 1970s, when Cardinal Pell was a priest in Ballarat, Australia.

He served as archbishop of Melbourne 1996-2001 and archbishop of Sydney 2001-2014 before being asked to serve at the Vatican.

At the time the allegations surfaced, Cardinal Pell dismissed them as “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign,” and a statement issued by his office said that “claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong.”

In October, Australian police questioned Cardinal Pell in Rome regarding the accusations.

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Australian cardinal promises abuse survivors to support healing, protection

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Catholic News Service

ROME — Australian Cardinal George Pell promised to work with a group of abuse survivors to help prevent suicide among victims and support healing and protection programs.

“One suicide is too many. And there have been many such tragic suicides. I commit myself to working with the group to try to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering,” he said March 3 after meeting in Rome with a group of survivors from his hometown of Ballarat.

Australian Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to media in front of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome March 3. Cardinal Pell met Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse who were at the hotel during his testimony via video link to Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Australian Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to media in front of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome March 3. Cardinal Pell met Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse who were at the hotel during his testimony via video link to Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The closed-door meeting came after the survivors watched the cardinal give evidence over four days to Australia’s Royal Commission about what he knew about the actions of child abusers among clergy and about bishops reassigning them to other parishes during his tenure in Australia. A number of survivors and supporters had come to Rome thanks to a crowd-funding campaign in order to witness in person the cardinal’s testimony, which was delivered over a live video link-up with the commission in Australia.

The cardinal, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, had admitted during the hearings that church leadership “has made enormous mistakes” in confronting suspected and known abuse against minors. Hundreds of child abuse claims or complaints have been made against clergy in the Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Diocese of Ballarat, the cardinal’s hometown and the diocese for which he was ordained in 1966.

“It would be marvelous if our city had become well-known as an effective center and the example of practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse,” he read from his written statement while standing outside the Hotel Quirinale, where the meeting and his previous testimony took place.

He said that during his meeting with survivors, he heard “their stories and of their sufferings. It was hard; an honest and occasionally emotional meeting.”

He said he was “committed to working with these people from Ballarat and surrounding areas” and was willing “to help make Ballarat a model and a better place of healing, for healing, and for peace.”

He promised to continue to help the group work with church agencies in Rome and at the Vatican, especially the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. He helped arrange for some of the victims to meet with the commission earlier that same day.

He also said he supported plans to look into the possibility of creating “a research center to enhance healing and to improve protection.”

Earlier, the cardinal had said he was hoping to facilitate a possible meeting between Pope Francis and the survivors, who were set to fly back to Australia March 4.

After the meeting with Cardinal Pell, one survivor from Ballarat, Phil Nagle, told the Catholic Herald that they “talked about the future not the past. … I think he gets it.”

Nagle said they discussed the importance of counseling and care for survivors and how the church “from (Cardinal) George’s level down” would help with that.

David Ridsdale, whose uncle, a former priest, abused him and others, told reporters March 2 that people should “never underestimate broken people.” Gerald Ridsdale, who is now in prison, had lived in the same house with the cardinal for a few years in the 1970s.

With their presence in Rome and long years of advocacy work, “I hope we’ve shown everyone that when you face the truth with dignity you really can achieve so much,” David Ridsdale said.

“I think what we’ve been through over the years, all of us, to have pulled together, to pull this off, is a testament: don’t ever underestimate broken people,” he said.

When people notice someone who seems to be in need or hurting, “stop the judging. Pick them up like we picked each other up because that is how humanity is going to go forward. Not this hiding, not this power struggle, not this power imbalance,” he said.

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