VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican’s financial chief, Cardinal George Pell, is denying media reports that he is under investigation for allegedly sexually abusing children in Australia.
The “Herald Sun,” a Melbourne publication, on Friday (Feb. 19) claimed Pell was the subject of a probe in Australia’s southeast state of Victoria over allegations he sexually abused between five and 10 boys.
Victoria police declined to comment on the media reports.
Pell, who serves as the Vatican’s finance chief, described the allegations as “without foundation and utterly false.”
“The timing of these leaks is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the (Australian) Royal Commission,” said the statement issued by his Rome office.
Pell is due to testify before the Royal Commission about the church’s institutional responses to child sexual abuse later this month, appearing by video link from Rome. Abuse survivors have pushed for Pell to testify in person, but he was granted permission to testify from Italy for health reasons.
The cardinal’s office called for a public inquiry into the leak and said the Australian police had not raised the allegations with Pell.
“He strongly denies any wrongdoing. If the police wish to question him he will co-operate,” the statement said.
Pell was previously investigated over allegations that he abused a boy in the 1960s, but was cleared of the charges.
Reports of an investigation into Pell come days after Australian abuse victims raised the necessary funds for a trip to Rome. The online funding appeal has so far raised around $200,000, supported by proceeds from a satirical song about Pell by Australian comedian Tim Minchin. It will allow 15 church abuse survivors, representatives, and their supporters to travel to Rome to watch Pell give his video evidence.
(Rosie Scammell is RNS’s Vatican correspondent)