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September 25, 2017
Let's not rush to judge Cardinal Pell, Pope Francis says
Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the economy secretariat, speaks to reporters outside Rome's Hotel Quirinale after meeting with sex abuse survivors, March 3, 2016. Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA.
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.- In response to news that Australian authorities are investigating multiple allegations of child abuse leveled against Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis cautioned against gossip and making judgements before all the facts are known.

“We must wait for justice and not make a first judgement ourselves, a media trial … because this doesn't help,” Pope Francis said July 31 during his in-flight press conference from Krakow to Rome. “The judgement of gossip and then, one can... We don't know what the result will be; but be attentive to what justice decides. Once justice speaks, I will speak.”

The Pope was asked about Cardinal Pell, whom he appointed prefect of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, by the AP's Frances D'Emilio. He began his response by noting that “the first information that arrived was confusing. It was news from 40 years back that not even the police made a case about at first. It was a confusing thing.”

Pope Francis then said that the accusation have been “sent to justice” and are now in the hands of justice. “And one mustn't judge before justice judges, eh?”

“If I were to say a judgement in favor of or against Cardinal Pell, it wouldn't be good because I (would) judge before. It's true that there there is doubt, and there's that clear principal of the law: in dubio pro reo.”

The Pope referred to the legal principle that a party who is accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty, which has been a foundation of law since at least the first Christian millenium.

Rumors of the investigation initially appeared in February in an article on News Corp Australia roughly a week before Cardinal Pell was due to testify before Australia’s Royal Commission for the third time, on charges that while in Australia he had been negligent when informed of child sexual abuse, bribed a victim, and moved a known abuser from parish to parish.

Established in 2013, the Royal Commission is dedicated to investigating institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

The allegations released before his Feb. 29 hearing, however, maintained that the state of Victoria had for a year been compiling a dossier investigating him for committing “multiple offenses” of child sexual abuse both while he was still a priest in the Ballarat diocese, as well as when he worked with the Archbishop of Melbourne.

On that occasion, Cardinal Pell’s office, as it has consistently done throughout, fervently denied any wrongdoing, and rejected “spurious claims” by the media accusing painting him as an abuser.

However, last week a program on ABC reported that Cardinal Pell is in fact under investigation for accusations of abuse from the Australian cities of Ballarat, Torquay, and Melbourne dating from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, when he served as a priest and later Archbishop of Melbourne.

According to ABC, the state of Victoria’s SANO police taskforce, which is charged with investigating complaints coming out of the Royal Commission, has been the one investigating.

Last month Victoria Police Chief Graham Ashton confirmed that the taskforce was investigating multiple claims against the cardinal, and said that if necessary, detectives would fly to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell. However, Ashton said this step had “not been put as necessary to me at this point in time.”

In response to the ABC report, Cardinal Pell’s office said he “emphatically and unequivocally rejects” any accusations of sexual abuse against him, and accused the network of launching a smear campaign against him.

The statement noted that this isn’t the first time such allegations have surfaced against the cardinal, yet they have always demonstrated themselves to be unfounded.

Cardinal Pell’s conduct “has been repeatedly scrutinized over many years, including before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organizations and according to leaked reports, by Victorian Police’s SANO Taskforce,” the statement said.

The cardinal, it read, “denies the allegations absolutely, and says that they, and any acceptance of them by the ABC, are nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign which appears to be championed by the ABC.”

If there were any credibility in any of the claims, “they would have been pursued by the Royal Commission by now.”