Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton has put George Pell on notice. He made it clear yesterday that charges against the cardinal, while not inevitable, are a live option.
Details of multiple allegations against Pell are sitting in the Office of Public Prosecutions, which will guide police on whether to proceed against the world’s third most senior Catholic.
On what The Australian has seen this week, it would seem highly unlikely charges will flow from the allegations of two Ballarat men highlighted by the ABC report — in the same way that the most serious claims of sexual wrongdoing in the past against Pell have fallen over.
To this end, the cardinal’s decision to go thermonuclear against Victoria Police and the ABC was ill-judged. First, the response simply threw kerosene on the campfire; second, there is no obvious evidence to suggest police had anything to do with the airing of the stories, although it would be unsurprising if the force was somewhere in the shadows.
In this instance, the cardinal’s problem is not a legal one but one of perception.
This is not seeking to diminish the complaints of the men but to acknowledge the profound difficulty any court would have in prosecuting allegedly submerged water activity that it is claimed happened nearly 40 years ago.
By waging a war with police, Pell is effectively daring detectives and police hierarchy to push the button and charge him with an offence or offences and let the courts decide.
There is a high-profile precedent in Victoria. Just more than a decade ago, police charged state Labor minister Theo Theophanous with rape on Christmas Eve — killing his career — only for the case to collapse in awkwardly spectacular fashion.
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