By Louise Milligan and Andy Burns
Police are investigating multiple child abuse allegations levelled directly against Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric Cardinal George Pell, the ABC’s 7.30 program has revealed.
Victoria Police’s Taskforce SANO, which investigates complaints coming out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has been examining the allegations by complainants from Ballarat, Torquay and Melbourne for more than a year.
They include allegations about incidents which allegedly happened during Cardinal Pell’s time as Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
7.30 understands that the Pell case has been referred by Victoria Police to the Office of Public Prosecutions for advice.
7.30 has obtained eight police statements from complainants, witnesses and family members who are helping the taskforce with their investigation.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton confirmed last month that the taskforce was investigating multiple allegations against the Cardinal and, if necessary, detectives would fly to Rome to interview George Pell, although the Chief Commissioner said “it had not been put as necessary to me at this point in time”.
Mr Ashton declined to comment to 7.30, although his spokesman has confirmed to the program it is “very much a live investigation”.
In a statement to the ABC, Cardinal Pell’s office said he “emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse against him”, and accused the ABC of mounting a smear campaign against him.
Alleged incidents occurred across two decades
The complaints include those by two men now in their forties, from George Pell’s home town of Ballarat, who say he touched them inappropriately in the summer of 1978-79 when he was playing a throwing game with them at the town’s Eureka pool.
In another complaint, Torquay businessman Les Tyack gave a statement to the royal commission last year relating to an incident at the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club in the summer of 1986-87.
A further complaint about George Pell that 7.30 is aware of relates to the period in the 1990s when George Pell was setting up the Melbourne Response — the Australian Catholic Church’s first attempt to seriously address child abuse.
It involves two teenage choirboys who asked their parents to leave the choir soon after the alleged abuse had occurred.
One of the boys died in tragic circumstances two years ago and the other is working with Taskforce SANO detectives.
7.30 has met that young man and the family of his former friend who died.
George Pell says claims are ‘totally untrue and utterly wrong’
George Pell declined to be interviewed by 7.30 and did not address specific allegations, but said he had never abused anyone.
In a statement, his office said:
“The Cardinal does not wish to cause any distress to any victim of abuse. However, claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong.”
The Cardinal is entitled to the presumption of innocence and police and prosecutors will decide whether any of the allegations warrant charges.
George Pell has previously faced public allegations of sexual abuse.
In 2002, when George Pell was Archbishop of Sydney, a man came forward to the Church to say that George Pell abused him in 1961 when he was 12 years old and George Pell was a trainee priest.