Cardinal George Pell, who led a campaign to compensate sex abuse victims as Archbishop of Melbourne, has been charged with multiple sex offenses. ABC News Australia reports that Pell’s crimes are “historical” and stem from complaints dating back as far as 1971.
Since 2014, Pell has been the prefect of the secretariat for the economy (in laymen’s terms: the treasurer); he is considered a close adviser to Pope Francis. The former Archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney has been under investigation in his home country since last July.
After the royal commission on sex abuse requested his testimony over the allegations last year, Pell refused to return to Australia. He was interviewed by detectives over video chat. In February of 2017, Australia’s Senate requested that Pell return home to assist in the investigation. Pell again refused, claiming that the Senate was attempting to interfere with a police investigation.
Pell has repeatedly denied the allegations. “I’d just like to restate my innocence,” Cardinal Pell told reporters last month in Rome. “I stand by everything I’ve said at the Royal Commission and in other places. We have to respect due process, wait until it’s concluded and obviously I’ll continue to cooperate fully.”
Cardinal Pell has also alleged that the accusations were “part of a smear campaign by the media,” according to ABC Australia.
The Guardian reports that Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic Church’s pervasive sex abuse scandal. Following the filing of formal charges, Pell was ordered to appear in a Melbourne court on July 18.
The Vatican has yet to release an official statement.