Los Angeles Times
Tom Kington, Laura King and Victoria Kim
Charges of sexual offenses against one of the Vatican’s top-ranking prelates have placed new pressure on Pope Francis to make good on pledges to root out, punish and prevent abuses that have shaken the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.
Cardinal George Pell, the most senior church official to be implicated in a far-flung scandal of decades’ standing, said Thursday that he would return to his native Australia to face the charges against him.
He dismissed the charges as “relentless character assassination.”
The cardinal, who is a senior advisor to Francis, told reporters in Vatican City that the pontiff had granted him a leave of absence to contest the charges, which bring the globe-spanning abuse allegations directly to the gates of the Vatican.
Although cases of priest-committed pedophilia and their wrenchingly long-lasting repercussions remain an open wound in dozens of dioceses across the United States and other countries, it is rare for direct allegations of abuse to reach the level of a cardinal, each of whom is known as a “prince of the church.”
Australian authorities described the charges against Pell as centering on sex offenses committed decades ago in Australia — “historical” crimes, in police language. Pell had already come under withering scrutiny in his homeland for allegedly helping to cover up sexual predation by others while he held senior church positions in Australia.
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