As Victorian Police contemplate heading to Rome for an interview, Cardinal George Pell continues to deny allegations of child sexual assault levelled against him.
A brief of evidence has now been prepared by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) relating to indecent exposure and child sexual assault allegations against Pell, which has been handed to Victorian Police. Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana says police are currently assessing the brief and will determine whether to send investigators to interview Pell in Rome, or to further their enquiries via video link.
It won’t be the first time Australia’s most senior Catholic – who is also the Vatican’s Chief Financial Officer – has been questioned via video link. He responded in this way to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse earlier this year, after his lawyers submitted a medical report to the effect that travelling to Australia could increase the Cardinal’s risk of heart failure.
The fact that Pell was not required to give evidence in person angered many complainants and their families, who have long accused Pell of ignoring and covering up incidences of child sexual abuse by Catholic Priests. The Commission heard testimony that he even tried to bribe one victim to keep quiet.
Police Considering Criminal Charges
One complaint relates to the 1990s when he was setting up the ‘Melbourne Response’ — which was the Catholic Church’s first attempt to seriously address the issue of child sexual abuse within its ranks.
There have also been allegations that Pell exposed himself to three young boys at Torquay lifesaving club in Victoria during the mid 1980s, as well as complaints from former St Alipius students, who allege Pell repeatedly touched their genitals while swimming with them at the Eureka pool in Ballarat in the late 1970s.
‘A scandalous smear campaign’
The Cardinal has vehemently denied the allegations, describing them as “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign”.
He has gone on the front foot, evidently forming the view that the ‘best defence is a good offence’. The Cardinal has accused police of leaking information about him to the media, and the ABC of “mounting a smear campaign”. Pell has gone so far as to call for a government inquiry into the alleged leaks, and for those responsible to be made accountable.
After complainants spoke up on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, Pell released a statement saying:
“If there was any credibility in any of these claims, they would have been pursued by the royal commission by now.”
“The allegations are untrue. I deny them absolutely… I have no intention of adding to the discomfort or harm of the people who made the allegations, but they are not true.”
Only time will tell whether police will seek an interview with Pell, or press charges.
Some may be surprised that charges haven’t already been brought, given that police lay serious criminal charges against ‘regular’ people every day based solely upon unsubstantiated complaints.