30 June 2017
Australia’s move to bring sexual assault charges against Cardinal George Pell is the latest chapter in a damaging saga of abuse that the Catholic church has struggled to draw a line under.
Pell has been ordered to appear on July 18th before a Melbourne judge to answer unspecified multiple counts arising from his country’s extensive inquiry into decades of abuse in institutions dealing with children.
The 76-year-old is the most senior cleric yet to be directly implicated in a multi-faceted scandal that has plagued the Church for decades but has never before come so close to its highest ranks.
As head of a powerful economic department, Pell is one of Pope Francis’s closest advisors, his point-man on cleaning up Vatican finances and the number three in the Holy See’s hierarchy.
As such he is a much higher-profile figure than Keith O’Brien, the former archbishop of Edinburgh who renounced his rights as a cardinal in 2015 after admitting misconduct in relation to alleged drunken sexual assaults on young priests.
Pell has admitted errors in managing abuse by priests under his authority but denies any personal wrongdoing and Francis has offered him strong support.
But regardless of its outcome, the impending court case seems likely to further tarnish the image of a global institution long accused of complacency over a cancer in its midst.
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