Cardinal calls for 'fair go' over allegations

Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Getty Images
Cardinal George Pell. Photo: Getty Images
Cardinal George Pell says he's entitled as an Australian to get "a fair go" over historical sex abuse allegations and has promised to co-operate with authorities.

Two men have come forward to say Australia's most senior Catholic cleric groped their genitals in the 1970s, while another says he saw the priest expose himself to young boys.

Victoria Police has sent a brief of evidence to the Office of Public Prosecutions and is waiting to hear if charges should be laid.

"The allegations are untrue. I deny them absolutely," Cardinal Pell told reporters in Rome.

"I've got no intention of adding to the discomfort or the harm of the people who made the allegations, but they're not true.

"I'm like any other Australian, I'm entitled to a fair go.

"Untested allegations should be put through the proper procedures. I'm quite prepared to co-operate with the appropriate civil and appropriate procedures."

"I won't cooperate with trial by the media. I think it's unjust and inappropriate."

Cardinal Pell did not answer questions from the media after his statement.


Earlier, Victoria Police denied some of its officers leaked information to media about an ongoing investigation into to complaints made against Cardinal Pell.

He called for a fresh review after ABC television last night aired a story on its current affairs show 7.30, saying he was being investigated over multiple allegations related to inappropriate behaviour involving children as far back as the 1970s.

Two men have reportedly told police they were abused as children by Cardinal Pell when he was a priest in Ballarat the state of Victoria. They allege they were groped while swimming at Ballarat's Eureka Pool during the summer of 1978-79.

The pair, now in their 40s, are believed to have given statements last year to the Victoria Police special child exploitation task force, Sano, which investigates complaints arising from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Lyndon Monument told 7.30 that Cardinal Pell would play games with many of the boys while in the pool, throwing them in and out of the water, but also brushing against their genitals.

"That slowly became hand down your pants, or your bathers or whatever you call them ... under the water," Mr Monument said.

Classmate Damian Dignan said he didn't feel Cardinal Pell's actions were accidental.

"Fair enough, (if it happened) one time. But it got to a stage where every time he picked you up (his hand) was there. And, it was not much fun," he told the programme.

The men said the priest would also often change in front of them and tell them to undress.

Cardinal Pell, who is treasurer at the Vatican, has vehemently denied the allegations made by the complainants, saying he was being subjected to trial by media on the back of leaking "by elements of the Victoria Police to the ABC".

"The cardinal calls for an investigation to assess whether any actions of elements of the Victoria Police and the ABC program amount to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice," a statement from his office said.

The cleric said he did not wish to cause harm to those making allegations. "I bear no ill will and have no desire to cause them harm, but what they say about me is not true."

Cardinal Pell said there had been no request from Sano for an interview. He called for an investigation into leaks from Victoria Police in February this year, when reports first emerged that Sano was investigating.

The statement from Cardinal Pell's office said: "The ABC has no licence to destroy the reputation of innocent people and Cardinal Pell, like all those who have allegations against them that have not been tested by the Courts, is entitled to the presumption of innocence - not immediate condemnation. He is entitled to a fair go.

"While the Cardinal in no way wishes to cause any harm to those making allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse against him, the simple fact is that they are wrong."

The statement also said that he had "cooperated in the past and will continue to co-operate through the proper and appropriate civil authorities."

Cardinal Pell became archbishop of Melbourne, Australia's second biggest city, in 1996, and archbishop of Sydney, the biggest city, in 2001, before taking the Secretariat for the Economy role at the Vatican in 2014.

Earlier this year, he testified at an Australian Government inquiry into institutional child abuse, where he said the Catholic Church made "catastrophic" choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on counselling of priests to solve the problem.

Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton today denied that officers had leaked information to media.

"We haven't provided the ABC with materials and we saw that show last night it's clear the source of that information is from the victims," Mr Ashton told Melbourne radio 3AW.

"Anyone that saw the show last night, the victims, you could see their emotion, they are traumatised from what they are saying has happened to them, and are talking to the media about that."

Mr Ashton also revealed he had referred an earlier, similar complaint from Cardinal Pell to the state's Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.

"I got a letter from Cardinal Pell some time ago regarding a complaint around that. I sent it to IBAC and IBAC had a look and wrote back to me and said they dismissed the complaint," he said.

Mr Ashton confirmed an investigation was ongoing. "The matters raised last night are being investigated among other matters."

He said the issue was currently before the Office of Public Prosecutions and did not rule out sending officers overseas to interview Cardinal Pell. "Anything is possible at this stage."

Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher, who replaced Cardinal Pell in the position, said the "distressing" allegations were untested and "no one is serviced ... with trial by media".

"The allegations aired on the ABC do not correspond with the George Pell I know," he said in a statement. "Cardinal Pell deserves the presumption of innocence." 

- AAP and Reuters