SPECIAL SERIES: INSIDE THE CARDINAL GEORGE PELL INVESTIGATION: PART 3 - THE PHONE CALLS THAT SHOOK THE VATICAN
In part 1 and part 2 of this series investigative journalist Lucie Morris-Marr, who first broke the world exclusive story of allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal George Pell on the Herald Sun newspaper, revealed for the first time some of the key developments during the police probe. Today, in a sensational development which has shocked Australia and made headlines around the world, it was announced Dr Pell had been charged.
FOR a man of 76, sleeping in the Vatican in Rome, it must be something of a jolt to be woken up in the middle of the night with a call from his mother country.
In February last year I asked for Cardinal George Pell to respond to a world exclusive story I was breaking for the Herald Sun newspaper.
His people said that his Eminence would still be sleeping.
“You better wake up the Cardinal,” I responded.
After a painstaking ten-month investigation I had uncovered that there was a secret-police probe into allegations of historic sexual abuse.
He would surely appreciate a right of reply.
Dr Pell rose from his bed to strongly deny the allegations. His supporters in the media - even in my own former newspaper - were livid, joining him in publicly demanding an investigation into my investigation.
An IBAC investigation was then announced due to allegations in the media of leaks from police. This was now suddenly a ruthless fight that was about turning the attention on the messengers and trying to punish them for it. But the attempt wasn't successful. It was announced five months later the IBAC probe had been abandoned.
And so the police investigation, and later considerations by the Office of Public Prosecutions, went on.
Fast-forward 16 months later from the original furore over my initial story and last night the Cardinal was again woken up in the early hours by another call from Melbourne.
If he thought my call was bad, this was worse. Far worse.
This call would send shockwaves through the inner sanctum of the Holy See where Cardinal Pell has been working closely with Pope Francis as the head of finances.
This call would involve standing down from his position and travelling across the globe to face a courtroom for the most grave of reasons.
The Cardinal was told SANO taskforce of Victoria Police had made the decision to charge him after receiving advice from prosecutors last month.
"Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges and there are multiple complainants," Deputy Commissioner Patton said.
The Cardinal was told he would be required to face the Melbourne Magistrates' Court on 26 July, Deputy Commissioner Patton said.
A magistrate will decide next week whether to release the details and the nature of the charges ahead of the cardinal's court appearance.
It cannot be underestimated how significant these charges are; Pell is Australia’s most senior Catholic.
In the past he has taken charge of the Church's official response to allegations of sexual abuse within its Australian ranks during a series of inquiries.
When he gave evidence via video link to a Royal Commission into abuse last year, a group of abuse survivors flew all the way to Rome to watch the proceedings.
After the sun rose in Rome today the Cardinal himself emerged to begin the biggest battle of his life; to vehemently deny any wrongdoing after being charged with sex offences in his native Australia.
The boy from Ballarat, who was seen as a hero for climbing the ranks to reach the Vatican, complained that he had been subjected to "relentless character assassination" during a two-year investigation into the "false" claim
The Pope, he said, had granted him a leave of absence to fight the charges.
He told a news conference at the Holy See: "I'm looking forward finally to having my day in court.
"I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
It is clear the Cardinal may face a lengthy trial.
It will be unprecedented and hugely embarrassing for the Pope.
The time for phone calls about police investigations however is now over.
From now on its about the court process where calls will be replaced with judges and lawyers.
And, eventually perhaps, a jury.
Here is the full transcript of Cardinal Pell’s statement in Rome.
Good morning to you all. I want to say one or two brief words about my situation.
These matters have been under investigation now for two years.
There have been leaks to the media. There has been relentless character assassination — relentless character assassination — and for more than a month, claims that a decision on whether to lay charges was imminent.
I'm looking forward, finally, to having my day in court.
I'm innocent of these charges. They are false.
The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.
I've kept Pope Francis — the Holy Father — regularly informed during these long months. I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week, I think most recently, a day or so ago.
We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name. So I'm very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia.
I've spoken to my lawyers about when this will be necessary.
And I've spoken to my doctors about the best way to achieve this.
All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations.
News of these charges strengthens my resolve, strengthens my resolve.
And court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here back to Rome to work.
Statement from a spokesman for the Holy See:
The Holy See has learned with regret the news of charges filed against Cardinal George Pell for decades-old actions that have been attributed to him.
Having become aware of the charges, Cardinal Pell — acting in full respect of civil laws — has decided to return to his country to face the charges against him, recognising the importance of his participation to ensure that the process is carried out fairly and to foster the search for truth.
The Holy Father — having been informed by Cardinal Pell — has granted the Cardinal a leave of absence so he can defend himself.
During the prefect's absence, the secretariat for the economy will continue to carry out its institutional tasks.
The secretaries will remain at their posts to carry forward the ordinary affairs of the dicastery.
The Holy Father, who has appreciated Cardinal Pell's honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration and, in particular, for his energetic dedication to the reforms in the economic and administrative sector, as well as his active participation in the Council of Cardinals, the C-9.
The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system, which will have to decide the merits of the questions raised.
At the same time, it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors.
He has cooperated in the past with Australian authorities, for example, in his depositions before the royal commission, has supported the pontifical commission for the protection of minors, and finally — as a diocese and bishop in Australia — has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse