12:00AM May 17, 2017
Tessa Akerman Reporter Melbourne
John Ferguson Victorian Editor Melbourne
The decision on whether to charge George Pell with historical sexual-abuse allegations now rests with Victoria Police after the Office of Public Prosecutions yesterday returned the brief of evidence.
A police spokesman confirmed advice from Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions John Champion SC concerning the investigation of Cardinal Pell had been received.
The OPP advised police that, based on its assessment of the evidence, they could charge the cardinal, Melbourne’s Herald Sun reported last night. Despite the green light, the advice made it clear that ultimately it was up to the police whether to act. “Detectives from Taskforce Sano will now take time to consider that advice,” police spokesman Charlie Morton said last night. “As with any investigation, it will be a decision for Victoria Police as to whether charges are laid.”
Cardinal Pell has strenuously denied all allegations.
It is understood the latest development took lawyers for the cardinal by surprise.
This was the second time a brief of allegations concerning Cardinal Pell, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, had been sent to the OPP.
A brief was referred last year but the OPP sent it back without recommendations.
The Australian understands senior figures in the Catholic Church were unaware the brief had been returned or that any decision about charges would now rest with police.
A spokesman said the cardinal had no comment.
Cardinal Pell met three Victoria Police officers at the Vatican in October for a voluntary interview. The brief compiled by police was sent to the OPP in February for advice.
Allegations relate largely to his tenure as a young priest in the Diocese of Ballarat, where hundreds of children were abused by the clergy.
It has been publicly alleged that Cardinal Pell abused young boys in Ballarat’s Eureka swimming pool in the late 1970s.
Former St Alipius students Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan claimed Cardinal Pell touched their genitals while playing in the pool.
ABC journalist Louise Milligan published further allegations in her book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell published by Melbourne University Press.
Lawyers representing Cardinal Pell this week demanded an apology and retraction from Fairfax Media and The Guardian over articles repeating child sexual-abuse allegations made in the book, described by the cardinal as a “character assassination”.
In a statement on Monday night, a spokesman for the cardinal said: “Each and every allegation of abuse and cover-up against him is false. The book is an exercise in character assassination. The decision by MUP to bring forward the publication of the book … is a blatant attempt to interfere in the course of justice.
“Unlike MUP, the cardinal will not interfere with the course of justice. He will await the outcome of due process before launching defamation action.”
Neither Fairfax nor The Guardian responded to The Australian before publication.
Green light for charges on Cardinal Pell, DPP says it’s up to police to act on sex abuse allegations