Australian senior Vatican official charged with sexual assault

Cardinal George Pell, Australia's only Catholic cardinal currently serving, has been charged with historical sex offenses.  Pell is one of Pope Francis's top advisers, heading up the Vatican finance office.  He is the first high-ranking Vatican official to be charged with sexual assault.

Sydney Morning Herald:

Victoria's Deputy Police Commissioner, Shane Patton, confirmed in a brief press conference on Thursday morning that Cardinal Pell had been issued with multiple charges relating to historical sexual abuse allegations.

The charges were served on Cardinal Pell's legal representatives in Melbourne on Thursday, Mr Patton said.

"There are multiple complainants relating to those charges," he said.

Mr Patton said there had been a lot of speculation about the process that has been involved in the investigation of Cardinal Pell.

"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 offences, whenever we investigate them," he said.

"Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation."

Police did not take any questions during the press conference and did not detail what the allegations were.

Mr Patton said it was important that due process was followed.

"Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to us all and so for Victoria Police, it is important that it is allowed to go through unhindered and allowed to see natural justice is afforded to all the parties involved, including Cardinal Pell and the complainants in this matter," he said.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, a heterodox publication, Pell was accused of sexual abuse in 2002 and in 2014.

A recent Australian book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, detailed an allegation of abuse made against Pell by two choirboys during his time as archbishop of Melbourne from 1996-2001.

Author Louise Milligan, who reports for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's nightly news program 7.30, reported in the book that one of the choirboys came forward to police following the death of the other choirboy in 2014.

Francis spoke about the allegations against Pell in July 2016, when news was first reported that Australian authorities were investigating the cardinal. The pope promised he would speak about the matter once the justice system had come to its conclusions.

"We must wait for the justice system and not make a premature judgment, [or] a judgment in the media, because this does not help," Francis told journalists following a papal trip to Poland. "Stay attentive to what the justice system decides …. Once the justice system speaks, I will speak."

Pell previously faced an allegation of historic sexual abuse in 2002, shortly following his appointment as archbishop of Sydney. Charges were not brought by police over the allegation, but a retired civil judge was appointed by the Australian church to investigate the matter according to the church's internal processes.

Citing a lack of corroborative evidence for the allegation and Pell's sworn denial, the judge found that he was "not satisfied that the complaint has been established."

Pell previously gave testimony in March 2016 about his historic handling of sexual abuse allegations as an Australian church official to the country's Royal Commission Into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.

The cardinal testified for that occasion over four days via video link from Rome, saying he was unable to travel to Australia due to health problems.

This could be exactly what it appears to be: a straightforward case of a Catholic priest being investigated for abusing children.  Or, as Breitbart suggests, there may be more at play.

"It seems as if Cardinal Pell is being singled out to take the rap for the misdeeds of a whole lot of people and the evidence is that he was more active in trying to do something about it," said former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, referring to Pell's well-documented efforts to root out sex abuse.

There seems to be a "get Pell" mentality in "some sections of the media," Howard said.

Pell, who was made a cardinal by Saint John Paul II in 2003 and tapped by Pope Francis to sort out the Vatican banks finances, has been the bane of liberal reformers because of his strong stands on marriage, homosexuality, abortion, bioethics and the environment. His unapologetically traditional views have won him the undying odium and hostility of progressives seeking to bring Catholic teaching into line with modern secularism. ...

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Amanda Vanstone said that the "media frenzy surrounding Cardinal George Pell is the lowest point in civil discourse in my lifetime."

"What we are seeing is no better than a lynch mob from the dark ages," Vanstone (an avowed skeptic of organized religion) said, insisting that Pell has been treated by the media "as guilty from the start," with no presumption of innocence or sober assessment of the facts of the case.

"What we are seeing now is far worse than a simple assessment of guilt," Vanstone added. "The public arena is being used to trash a reputation and probably prevent a fair trial."

This opinion was echoed by Angela Shanahan in a similar piece in The Australian.

"Pell can never receive a fair trial," Shanahan wrote, because "the 'vibe' has taken over." Ongoing commentary on the process, even by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, "have ensured that any real evidence of wrongdoing has long become a secondary consideration to the vibe."

It's hard to tell if these are new allegations or if authorities have discovered new evidence with regard to previous charges of sexual abuse.  Either way, not only has the cardinal's strong conservatism gained him media enemies, but as a senior official in the Catholic Church, he may be targeted by liberal factions in the Church itself.  Since Pope Francis took office, the liberal pontiff has been sidelining key conservatives in the Vatican, reassigning some of them and placing his allies in key positions.

There is also Pell's work in trying to change Vatican finances.  Recent scandals involving the Vatican Bank have pushed Pope Francis to attempt a massive overhaul, ordering more transparency and accountability.  No doubt, this kind of reform steps on some powerful toes. 

I am not suggesting that Pell is innocent of the charges – or guilty.  But there is additional context that must be taken into consideration when examining this story.