Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s senior Roman Catholic prelate and one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, has been charged with sexual assault. Pell is the highest ranking Vatican official to face criminal charges associated with sexual behavior in recent times, according to the New York Times.
“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. Patton said multiple complaints had been made but did not give more details on the situation.
“The process and procedures that are being followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offenses, whenever we investigate them,” Commissioner Patton added. “Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else," Patton added.
Pell has been accused of wrongdoings before, specifically related to mishadling misconduct cases against clergy members. Allegations made about his sexual behavior have been raised before as well. He has denied all accusations.
“I’d just like to restate my innocence,” Pell said in Rome last month. “I stand by everything I’ve said at the Royal Commission and in other places.”
“Cardinal Pell will return to Australia, as soon as possible, to clear his name following advice and approval by his doctors who will also advise on his travel arrangements,” said a statement from the Archdiocese of Sydney. “He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously."
According to CNN, groups that advocate for sexual assault victims are celebrating the charges as a victory for those who have been wronged: "We are always grateful and encouraged when law enforcement works hard to gather evidence to build a case against a powerful and influential man," reads a statement from SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests).
Pell's trial will test whether or not Pope Francis' attempts at reform pertaining to accountability and sexual abuse within the church have been effective. Francis had brought Pell to the Vatican to serve as a financial advisor in 2013 and has previously defended him from accusations.
A 2013 investigation into sexual abuses within the Catholic Church in Australia found that found that 7% of priests in Australia were accused of abusing children, from 1950 until 2015 — 1,880 alleged perpetrators were identified and 4,444 victims came forward.
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