Top Francis aide denies Australia abuse claims

2016-02-20 16:08
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Vatican City - Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell on Friday claimed he was the victim of a smear campaign after it emerged that Australian police are investigating claims he groomed and abused five to 10 boys during his time as a priest.

"The allegations are without foundation and utterly false," a statement issued by Pell's office in Rome said after Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper reported that a police task force had been investigating him for over a year over allegations that he abused the boys.

The Herald Sun's revelations prompted global abuse survivors' network SNAP to call on Pope Francis to immediately suspend the 74-year-old from his senior role in the Vatican's bureaucracy.

"Over a year, more than a dozen cops and they say they've found five or 10 alleged victims of Pope Francis's top aide," SNAP spokesperson Joelle Casteix said.

"That's pretty credible and serious. For the safety of kids, the pontiff should suspend Pell."

Details of the probe emerged a week before Pell is due to give evidence by video link to an Australian inquiry into abuse by priests in the town of Ballarat, near Melbourne.

The cardinal has been derided for saying he is too ill to make the journey home to testify in person over alleged cover-ups during his time as the head of Australia's Catholic hierarchy.

He has always denied knowing about any abuse in Ballarat. In his statement he attacked the leaking of details of the ongoing investigation to the Herald Sun as malicious and the allegations against him as spurious.

"The timing of these leaks is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the Royal Commission [inquiry]," the statement said.

"It is outrageous that these allegations have been brought to the cardinal's attention through a media leak."

Accusing elements in the Victoria police of trying to smear him, Pell called for a public inquiry into the leak.

"These types of unfair attacks diminish the work of those good officers of the police who are diligently working to bring justice to victims," it said.

'Denies any wrongdoing' 

The statement said Pell had been exonerated by a previous Australian investigation into false allegations against him, and insisted he would be cleared again.

"The Southwell Report which exonerated Cardinal Pell has been in the public domain since 2002," it said.

"The Victorian police have taken no steps in all of that time to pursue the false allegations made, however, the cardinal certainly has no objection to them reviewing the materials that led Justice Southwell to exonerate him. The cardinal is certain that the police will quickly reach the conclusion that the allegations are false.

"The Victorian Police have never sought to interview him in relation to any allegations of child sexual abuse and apart from the false allegations investigated by Justice Southwell, the cardinal knows of no claims or incidents which relate to him. He strongly denies any wrongdoing. If the police wish to question him he will co-operate, as he has with each and every public inquiry."

The new allegations against Pell came into the public domain a day after the pope insisted that any bishop who seeks to protect predatory priests by moving them to a different parish should be obliged to resign.

That statement immediately came under fire from campaigners who say that principle is rarely observed by Church hierarchies around the world.

Francis's credibility on the abuse issue has also been knocked this month by divisions within his own advisory panel on clerical sex abuse.

British abuse survivor Peter Saunders has been asked to step down from the committee amid a dispute over whether it should get involved in individual cases.

Saunders told AFP this month that he felt betrayed by the Argentinian pope and that the creation of the abuse panel had been a PR exercise.

Read more on:    pope francis  |  australia  |  vatican city  |  child abuse

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