Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic will face at leastthree serious sex assaultcharges, including at least one count of rape.
Victoria Police has confirmed Cardinal Pell has been charged on summons over multiple charges and is due to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 for a filing hearing.
The announcement is set to send shockwaves through the Catholic Church in Australia and around the world.
Cardinal Pell is the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican, where he is responsible for the church’s finances.
The charges are likely to force Cardinal Pell to step down from his Vatican post while he fights the charges. Cardinal Pell strenuously denies any wrongdoing.
All was quiet at Cardinal Pell’s Rome residence as the news broke.
He lives in a block of apartments on a square just outside the Vatican walls, metres from St Peter’s Square, a minute’s walk from the doors to the Basilica.
Security is tight in this part of Rome – an army jeep with two alert, armed soldiers sits on the corner of the square, another on the other side of the wall – and the police presence in this part of the city is constant.
But there are no lights on in the building and the city was quiet in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Thursday is a public holiday in Rome – the fiesta of St Peter and St Paul. It’s a day that many natives traditionally head to the beach.
Cardinal Pell has retained leading Victorian criminal barrister, Robert RichterQC, and it is likely some of the argument that Mr Richter will make in court will concern the question of whether Cardinal Pell can receive a fair trial given the large amount of pre-trial publicity.
The precise details of the charges are not known. However, a legal source told Fairfax Media that the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions, John Champion, has been assessing whether Cardinal Pell should face charges of rape, buggery or indecent assault.
As Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, Cardinal Pell may avoid prosecution should he choose not to returnto Victoria, but he is expected to come backto fight the charges.
Three detectives from Victoria Police’s Sano Taskforce travelled to Rome to interviewCardinal Pell about the allegations last year.
In May this year,Victoria Police received advice from the Department of Public Prosecutions regarding the investigation.
It was the second time the DPP had been asked to review the brief.
On May 25, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said a decision was “imminent” about the investigation into Cardinal Pell.
He has previously been accused of sexually abusing a number of boys.
Hehas repeatedly and emphatically denied all allegations, but said he would continue to co-operate with the police investigation.
Cardinal Pellwas a priest in Ballarat before becoming Archbishop of Melbourne and then being appointed as a Cardinal.
His career1966: Ordaineda priest for the Ballarat diocese in St Peter’s Basilica
1971: Assistant Priest at Swan Hill
1973 – 1983: Assistant Priest at Ballarat East parish
1978 – 1979: Episcopal Vicar for Education in the Ballarat diocese
1987: Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne
1993: Pell walkspriest Gerald Ridsdale to court. Ridsdaleis later convicted of a string of child sex abuse charges
1996: Appointed Archbishop of Melbourne
2001: Appointed Archbishop of Sydney, the Australian Catholic church’s most senior position
2003: Appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Sacred College of Cardinals
Cardinal Pell arriving at the Royal Commission in 2014. Picture: Getty Images
The investigation February 20, 2016:It’s revealeda VictoriaPolice taskforce has been investigating allegations that Cardinal Pell sexually abused between five and 10 boys
February 28, 2016:Inevidence to the child sexual abuse royal commissionin Rome, Cardinal Pelladmits to “catastrophic failures” by the Catholic Church in relation to child sexual abuse, an issue he says was on his radar from the early 1970s
July 27, 2016:TheABC’s7.30programdetails complaints against Cardinal Pell being investigated by Victoria Police. The allegations dateback to1978-79
October 2016:Three detectives travelto Rome to meet Cardinal Pell, whovoluntarily participatesin an interview
February2017:Apolice brief of evidence regarding sex assault allegationsagainstCardinal Pellishandedto prosecutors for review
May 13, 2017:ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s bookCardinal: The Rise And Fall of George Pellis published. The book contains new allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal Pell
May 14, 2017:Cardinal Pell’s lawyersstrongly denythe allegations raised in the book
May 16, 2017:Victoria Policereceivesadvicefrom the Director of Public Prosecutions about the brief of evidence.Police refuse to comment
May 18, 2017:Cardinal Pell restates his innocence in Rome, saying:”We have to respect due process, wait until it is concluded and obviously I will continue to co-operate fully.”
May 25, 2017:Victoria PoliceChief Commissioner Graham Ashton says adecision about chargingthe senior Catholic figure is”imminent”.
June 29, 2017:Victoria Police prepares to make an announcement regarding charges against the Cardinal. It’s expected Cardinal Pell will be charged on summons with sex offences.