Australia has come out with a decision on Thursday that will surely shake the Vatican when the police, in a stunning move, charged a top Vatican official with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offenses.
Australia’s most senior Catholic and no less than Pope Francis’ Cardinal George Pell happens to be the highest-ranking Vatican official to date to ever be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse anomaly.
Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said police have issued a summon to Pell to appear in an Australian court to face multiple charges of “historic sexual offenses”. Historic sexual offenses refer to those violations that were generally committed a long time ago. Pell was given an order to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.
Patton shared that there are multiple complainants against Pell, but declined to elaborate on further details on the allegations against the cardinal.
Pope Francis previously vowed a “zero tolerance” policy about sexual abuse from church officials but has since encountered challenges affecting the credibility of such promise. The charges against such a high-ranking official as Pell now is a serious blow to the Pope.
For the past years, Pell has faced several allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and later, Sydney. His actions as archbishop have come under strong scrutiny by a state-authorized probe into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the serious case of sexual abuse of children.
The country’s highest form of inquiry- the Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse- has discovered shocking levels of abuse in Australia’s Catholic Church. It also revealed earlier this year the stunning declaration that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children for the past several decades.
Recently, Pell himself became the subject of such sexual abuse investigations, with Victoria detectives even flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal. It is still unclear what the charges against Pell announced Thursday specifically refer to. Two men in their 40s now, however, shared that Pell touched them inappropriately in a swimming pool in the late 70s, when Pell was still a senior priest in Melbourne.
Pell has previously denied all abuse allegations against him. Last year, he acknowledged, however, during his testimony to the commission that the Catholic Church had committed “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He also confessed having made a mistake by choosing to believe the priests over victims who alleged abuse. He also made a promise then to help end a rash of suicides that has affected the church abuse victims in Ballarat, his Australian hometown.
The Catholic Church in Australia now has refused to comment on the announcement of charges against Pell. Australia does not happen to have an extradition treaty with the Vatican. As such, there are two possible scenarios: either Pell return to Australia voluntarily to legally challenge the charges against him, or the Vatican could order him to do so.