Pope Francis is facing a fresh crisis in the Catholic church today as the third highest ranking official in the Vatican was granted leave, to fight against historical sex abuse claims.
Cardinal George Pell, 76, the most senior member of the Catholic church in Australia, is travelling back to his home country to attempt to clear his name after charges were brought against him by Australian police.
Pell maintains his innocence, however, calling the idea of sexual abuse “abhorrent”. But the publicity surrounding such claims is likely to damage his reputation and that of the church, which is no stranger to covering up sexual abuse cases involving priests and other officials.
Deputy Commissioner of Victoria Police, Shane Patton, would not divulge specific details of the charges brought before the cardinal, but did say, “Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges and there are multiple complaints”. A magistrates court date has been set for the 18 July, and further details could be released in the lead up to the hearing.
Cardinal Pell is no stranger to controversy himself. An ultra-conservative voice of the church, Pell has been accused by victims of being part of a cover-up in his native Australia of abuse by priests. Despite the allegations, Pell has always maintained his innocence, and had an arrogant stance when it comes to handling such claims. On hearing of accusations against one of his own priests, he moved him around different parishes rather than reporting him – and even bribed one of the victims to stay quiet on the matter.
The Vatican responded to the charges with a supportive statement of Cardinal Pell, expressing “regret” that such allegations had been moved against him. They will hope that he is able to clear his name, to avoid any further embarrassment to an already tarnished global establishment.