MAX ROSSI / REUTERS
By JACQUELINE WILLIAMS
JUNE 28, 2017
SYDNEY, Australia — Australia’s senior Roman Catholic prelate, and one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, has been charged with sexual assault, the police in the Australian state of Victoria said on Thursday.
The prelate, Cardinal George Pell, became the highest-ranking Vatican official in recent years to face criminal charges involving accusations of sexual offenses.
“Cardinal Pell has been charged on summons, and he is required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court” on July 18, Shane Patton, the deputy police commissioner, said at a news conference.
The charges were served on the cardinal’s legal representatives in Melbourne. Commissioner Patton said there were multiple complainants, but refused to provide further details about them, including their ages.
Cardinal Pell, the Vatican’s de facto finance chief, had been accused in hearings before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of mishandling misconduct cases against clergy members while he served as the leader of the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney. Then allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors himself beginning early in his priesthood and continuing until he became archbishop of Melbourne. He has repeatedly denied the accusations.
“I’d just like to restate my innocence,” the cardinal said in Rome last month after the police in Australia confirmed that they were considering charges against him. “I stand by everything I’ve said at the Royal Commission and in other places,” he said.
Laurie Goodstein contributed reporting from New York.