The Vatican's finance chief, Australia's highest ranking Roman Catholic and one of Pope Francis' most senior advisors, Cardinal George Pell, has been charged with multiple sex offenses by Australian police in the latest blow to the Vatican's attempts to put decades of child sex abuse scandals behind it.
"Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offenses," Victoria state police deputy commissioner Shane Patton said, following a police investigation that followed the same processes and procedures applied in other sex abuse cases. Cardinal Pell has been summoned to appear in court in Melbourne on July 18 to face the charges, which relate to complaints made by more than one person, according to the FT. To attend the hearing the 76-year-old would have to return to Australia from Rome, where he has been tasked by the Pope with cleaning up the Vatican's finances.
"He is to appear in Melbourne magistrates' court on July 18 in a filing hearing and it relates to multiple charges and multiple complainants," added Patton.
There might be up to 10 alleged victims, Australian news website News.com.au reports, adding that they were minors at the time of the alleged assaults and are now aged from their late 20s to their early 50s. The allegations are believed to stretch from the time that Pell was a priest in the Australian town of Ballarat to when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. It is alleged that the cardinal groomed boys at a swimming pool in Ballarat in the 1970s and committed sexual assaults at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, according to The Australian.
Since 2014, Pell has lived in the Vatican, with which Australia has no extradition treaty, meaning the cardinal could potentially avoid prosecution if he chose not to return to his home country. However, the Australian Catholic Church said in a statement Thursday that the cardinal "will return to Australia, as soon as possible, to clear his name." "He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously," the statement added.