ABC News Australia
The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney says it will not pay its former archbishop Cardinal George Pell’s legal costs as he returns to Australia to face charges relating to historical sexual offences.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher described Pell — his predecessor in the Archdiocese — as a man of “integrity … high faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man”.
“While the Archdiocese will assist with the Cardinal’s accommodation and support as it would for any of its bishops or priests, it is not responsible for the Cardinal’s legal bills arising from these matters.”
Cardinal George Pell has long been one of the most prominent and controversial figures in the Australian Catholic Church.
Pell will be taking leave of his duties as Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat, a very senior role in the papal administration, to return to appear in a Melbourne court next month.
He has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual abuse, and at a press conference in Rome said he was the victim of “relentless character assassination”.
“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said.
The charges against the Cardinal, the long-time leader of the Australian Catholic Church, will come in the final months of the gruelling and horrific Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Archbishop Fisher asked that, “victims should be listened to with respect and compassion and their complaints investigated and dealt with according to law”.
“We must now allow the impartial pursuit of justice,” he said.
“I would ask everyone to pray for truth and justice in this present case, pray for our Church at this difficult time, and to continue your prayers for all those affected by sexual abuse.”
Pell granted leave from Vatican
In a press conference from the Vatican on Thursday, Pell said he had spoken to Pope Francis about the case.
“I’ve kept Pope Francis, the Holy Father, regularly informed during these long months,” he said.
“I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week. We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name.
“So I’m grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia.”
Holy See spokesman Greg Burke said from now on, Pell would not be going out to do public liturgical events.
The Holy See will continue to monitor the case closely, as international media turns its attention on the Vatican’s track record on abuse allegations.
Josh McIlwee, a journalist with the National Catholic Reporter, said: “The Pope had no choice. This is an official at the highest level of the church. He’s now been charged, accused of sexual abuse, and he has to be put on leave.”
The Irish Times described the developments as “stunning,” with many Vatican watchers expecting it to cause major upheavals within the Holy See.
Legal system ‘needs to be fair’
A sexual abuse victim support service said Victoria Police’s move to charge Pell was important for community awareness about the issue.
Dr Pam Stavropolous from the Blue Knot Foundation said it showed anyone could be charged.
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“The fact that so senior a figure within the Catholic Church has been charged with these very offences is really quite historic,” she said.
“I think it represents a massive raising of awareness within the community about the prevalence and scope about these heinous offences.”
Paul Tatchel, a survivor of historical clergy abuse, said the legal system was slow for a good reason.
“Because it needs to be thorough and it needs to be fair,” he said.
“One thing that’s come out of this is that survivors have to become very resilient to time and appreciate that we have to go through the process.
“And everyone deserves that process.”
Pell is slated to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 26.