The former Archbishop of Sydney, George Cardinal Pell, has refuted allegations of child sexual abuse made on ABC’s 7.30 Report aired on Wednesday.
The program reported that Victoria Police were investigating complaints of sexual abuse by Cardinal Pell spanning the 1970s to 1990s.
The allegations were being investigated by Taskforce SANO, which co-ordinates complaints emerging from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The cardinal strenuously denied the allegations to the ABC before the program was broadcast, according to a statement from his office in Rome, where he is Prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy.
“The ABC has no licence to destroy the reputation of innocent people and Cardinal Pell, like all those who have allegations against them that have not been tested by the courts, is entitled to the presumption of innocence – not immediate condemnation. He is entitled to a fair go.
“While the cardinal in no way wishes to cause any harm to those making allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse against him, the simple fact is that they are wrong.”
The accusations are untrue, Cardinal Pell said in the statement.
“I bear no ill will and have no desire to cause them harm but what they say about me is not true,” he said.
The cardinal’s office confirmed there had been no request by the SANO Taskforce to interview him.
The statement pointed to a history of leaked information an allegations by Victoria Police to the ABC.
“This is consistent with previous patterns of improper and illegal disclosure of information from such sources to a variety of media outlets. Such information has in the past repeatedly been demonstrated to be inaccurate and unfounded.
“In a context where police themselves have suggested, accurately or otherwise, that the making of charges is under review by relevant authorities, these disclosures and consequent publicity by the ABC clearly are apt and calculated deliberately to influence and compromise relevant judicial and prosecutorial processes.”
Cardinal Pell called for an investigation to assess whether the actions of members of Victoria Police and the ABC amounted to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, described the allegations against his predecessor as “extremely distressing for all parties” and “as yet untested”.
“Allegations of criminal conduct should be met with a response that ensures all affected are treated with sensitivity and respect,” he said in a statement.
Archbishop Fisher said allegations must be fully investigated to afford justice to all involved.
“No one is served when such due process is replaced with trial by media,” he said.
“It denies accusers the right to have their claims investigated in a transparent way by those whose role it is to examine such matters under the law. It denies the accused the right to respond to such claims with evidence that may be judged credible by police and prosecuting authorities. And it risks undermining any possibility of such matters being effectively investigated by police or adjudicated by the courts.”
He reiterated that Cardinal Pell had co-operated fully with official inquiries on every occasion where requested, including the Southwell Inquiry, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“I am confident he will continue this record of assisting the search for truth in these matters,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“The allegations aired on the ABC do not correspond with the George Pell I know.
“He has a record of leadership in the fight against child sexual abuse, and was the first bishop in the world to implement a process under which such claims would be investigated by an independent commissioner, and where survivors could access financial and other assistance.
“While there has been criticism of this system, some of it fair and some of it not so fair, it nonetheless illustrates his commitment to transparency and justice in these matters.
“Cardinal Pell deserves the presumption of innocence. Those who believe they have been abused deserve to be heard with respect and compassion.
“And the community deserves the rule of law be respected. Trial by media benefits no one.”