It’s reported this evening that Cardinal George Pell is the subject of a twelve month investigation by Victoria Police over allegations of child sexual abuse, dating from the time he was a priest to when he became Archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell has issued a furious statement, demanding an investigation into Victoria Police leakages, and denying the allegations. The full transcript of this statement is in the above link.
In his statement Pell refers to an allegation of sexual molestation made against him in 2002, referred to as the Philip Island allegation. This series of alleged incidents with one complainant was the subject of a church inquiry, headed by retired Victorian Supreme Court Judge A.J. Southwell, who was selected and paid by the church to conduct the inquiry, within terms of reference set by the church. Southwell found that both Pell and the complainant appeared to be speaking the truth, and he could not find substantial grounds to proceed with the complaint.
Pell claims to have been “exonerated” by this inquiry, however a Sydney Morning Herald editorial saw it otherwise:
Mr Southwell’s conclusion is exquisitely balanced. He accepts “that the complainant, when giving evidence of molesting, gave the impression that he was speaking honestly from an actual recollection”. However, he says Dr Pell “also gave me the impression he was speaking the truth”. A significant part of Mr Southwell’s report concerns the standard of proof; because he considered what was alleged against Dr Pell as serious, he was inclined to apply a strict burden, akin to the “beyond reasonable doubt” of criminal proceedings. That helped Dr Pell. It also made Mr Southwell’s careful conclusion – that he could not be “satisfied that the complaint has been established” – rather less than a complete exoneration.
It’s not known if the allegations currently under investigation by Victoria Police include this one. They are referred to as “numerous” in initial reports, as well as having occurred throughout a considerable time frame, as Pell worked his way up the church hierarchy from priest to Archbishop.
Victoria Police have also issued a statement this evening, saying they do not comment on specific allegations.
In case anyone has forgotten how ruthless Pell has been in his pursuit of child sex abuse survivors who’ve attempted to obtain justice, it’s worth re-reading the John Ellis case in which Pell’s legal team managed to obtain the verdict that victims can’t sue the Catholic church (it doesn’t exist in law) or the trustees (who aren’t responsible for supervising priests) but only the offending priest (dead) or the offending priest’s supervising bishop (also dead). Pell also instructed his lawyers to pursue Ellis for costs.
Pell, confessor and mentor to sacked Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is now safe in the Vatican, beyond the threat of extradition treaties.
I wonder how those who leapt to Pell’s defence after Tim Minchin’s protest song are feeling right now.
Of course we can’t possibly comment on Pell’s guilt or innocence. It is interesting, however, that Victoria Police have seen fit to devote twelve months of their time so far, to investigating complaints.
Thanks to my good Twitter friend Comrade Nick for this image of Anthony Hopkins in the role of Hannibal Lecter. Again, I can’t possibly comment.