The Australian

George Pell ‘hanging in there’ on sex abuse charges

Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican yesterday as he waits to hear about whether he will be charged with child-sex counts. Picture: Ben Stevens / i-Images

Australia’s most senior Catholic Cardinal George Pell said he was “hanging in there’’ awaiting the decision of Victorian police on whether he will be prosecuted over historic child-sex charges.

Cardinal Pell, looking less robus­t than when he fronted the specially convened Rome sitting of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last year, emerged from his Rome home overlooking the walls of the Vatican with another cardinal in tow.

Cardinal Pell, 75, told The Australian he was innocent of the claims being made against him.

“Let me just repeat, I am not guilty of any crime,’’ he said as a posse of special police surroun­d­ed his chauffeur-driven car.

“I have co-operated fully and will co-operate fully and I await the decision.’’ When asked how he was feeling, he responded: “I’m hanging in there.’’

A decision on whether to charge Cardinal Pell, one of Pope Francis’s most senior officials, over sex-abuse allegations that date back to the 1970s is believe­d to be edging closer.

However, Victoria’s top policeman has hinted the force could be split over the matter. Speaking about the case in Melbourne yesterday, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said it was not unusual for police to have different views, particularly regarding complex matters.

Mr Ashton acknowledged the intense public interest around the investigation, and gave some details as to how it would be handled once a decision was made.

“The person subject (to the allegat­ions), their legal staff and legal representatives for the allege­d victims in the matter are part of the consultation process before the community is,” Mr Ashton said.

“If a decision is made not to proceed, that communication will be made to both those groups. If a decision is made to procee­d, it will be like any other matter. The suspect is overseas, so it usually starts with making out warrants.”

Asked why police had not made an announcement despite having received advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions more than a fortnight ago, Mr Ashton said the allegations were “complex”.

“Activity on this is not far off one way or the other,” he said.

Operation Sano has been investigat­ing claims made by up to 10 boys in the period 1978-2001 — a time that started when Cardinal Pell was a priest at Ballarat East.

Cardinal Pell has previously shown an unwillingness to return­ to Australia to give evidence in the royal commission, instead participating via link from a central Rome hotel.