The horrid scandal continues its ever upward ascent, as this story from the Wall Street Journal reports.
MELBOURNE, Australia—Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ finance chief and one of the most senior officials in the Vatican, was charged Thursday with multiple counts of sexual abuse alleged to have occurred in Australia decades ago.
The 76-year-old is the highest-level Vatican official to face charges in the sexual-abuse scandals that have beset the Catholic Church in the past two decades. He will be required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 18, Shane Patton, deputy commissioner of Victoria state’s police force, said at a news conference.
Cardinal Pell told reporters in Rome on Thursday morning that he was “innocent of these charges” and would be returning to Australia to clear his name in court. He said Pope Francis, with whom he had discussed the matter a day earlier, had granted him a leave of absence for that purpose.
The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, said the Holy See noted with regret the charges against Cardinal Pell. Mr. Burke read a Vatican statement that praised the cardinal for efforts against sex abuse as a bishop in Australia, as well as his work at the Vatican, and said he had impressed the pope with his honesty.
Australia doesn’t have an extradition arrangement with the Vatican.
Details of the charges, which involve multiple complainants, weren’t disclosed.
Last year, Pope Francis told reporters that he wouldn’t comment on the Pell cases “until the justice system passes judgment,” adding, “Once it has spoken, then I will speak.”
The Vatican and other Catholic Church leaders have contended with scandals over clerical sex abuse since 2002, with a series of revelations in Boston, followed by another series in Europe in 2010.
Pope Francis instituted a Vatican commission on the problem, led by Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in 2014, but the body’s work has been marked by controversy. One of the two sex-abuse survivors on the panel was forced to take a leave of absence last year after criticizing Pope Francis’ record on sex abuse, and the other survivor resigned this year in protest over Vatican inaction on the problem.
Last month, Pope Francis said the Vatican office in charge of disciplining priests accused of sex abuse was understaffed and that many cases were delayed because they had been piling up.
The charges against Cardinal Pell were announced as most of the world’s cardinals were gathered in Rome, the day after Pope Francis added five men to their number in a ceremony at the Vatican. The Vatican said the cardinal would no longer be participating in public liturgical events. The Vatican also said that Cardinal Pell’s office would carry out its institutional tasks in his absence.