Sex abuse scandal haunts Australia's top Catholic cleric

2018-05-01 11:24
Australian Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis leaves the Melbourne Magistrate Court in Melbourne. (Andy Brownbill, AP)

Australian Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis leaves the Melbourne Magistrate Court in Melbourne. (Andy Brownbill, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

From country priest to trusted top Vatican aide, Australia's most senior Catholic cleric George Pell has seen his reputation plagued in the twilight of his career by controversy swirling around a 1970s paedophile scandal in the former gold rush town of Ballarat.

To his admirers, the 76-year-old cardinal embodies the orthodox traditions of Australian Catholicism, but to his critics he represents an institution that has failed to properly deal with sex abuse allegations.

Pell, who was ordered on Tuesday to stand trial over "multiple" historical sex abuse offences, becoming the highest-ranked Catholic to face such serious charges, strongly denies the claims.

He also says he has no knowledge of widespread paedophilia in the church in Australia.

Born in 1941, he grew up in Ballarat, a rural Australian town, where he was a keen member of his college debating team, a lead actor in school productions and a champion Australian Rules footballer.

Rising star

His devout Catholic mother was reportedly pleased that her son decided to pursue a career in the Church, whereas his father, an Anglican, was bewildered that he turned down a contract from one of the country's top football teams.

Having chosen a religious path, Pell completed part of his studies in Rome before being ordained a priest for the Ballarat diocese in 1966.

As his star rose, he went on to become Archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney at the behest of Pope John Paul II and in 2003 was named to the Vatican's powerful College of Cardinals, a position that allowed him to vote for the next Pope of the day.

Then in 2014 he was handpicked by Pope Francis to make the church's finances more transparent.

"Cardinal Pell is one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen," former conservative Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said.

From the pulpit, and publicly, Pell has espoused traditional Catholic values and been sceptical on some political issues, from a tough stance on euthanasia and gay marriage to his rejection of climate science and criticism of harsh treatment of asylum-seekers.

But his reputation has been tarnished in recent years and on Tuesday was sent to trial, although half of the allegations against him, including some of the most serious, were thrown out.

He has also denied previous claims that he covered-up abuse by priests in Victoria state where he worked.

Sex allegations

A national inquiry into the institutional responses to child sex abuse in Australia between 1950 and 2010 found that 7% of Catholic priests were accused, but that the allegations were never investigated.

The inquiry, ordered in 2012, heard that 4 444 alleged incidents of paedophilia were reported to church authorities and that in some dioceses more than 15% of priests were perpetrators.

Repeatedly questioned during that inquiry about paedophile priests in the Ballarat diocese in the 1970s and 80s, Pell apologised on behalf of the church, but insisted he had no memory of claims of sustained mistreatment.

He did, however, admit he "mucked up" in dealing with paedophile priests in the 1970s, but said he was deceived by senior clergy about what was happening during a time of "crimes and cover-ups".

Plagued in recent years by ill health and with a potentially lengthy trial pending, there are now big question marks over whether he will ever return to a Vatican haunted by scandals from the past.

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter

Read more on:    roman catholic church  |  australia

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.