Police are investigating multiple allegations of child abuse against Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George Pell, including that he touched the genitals of children while swimming in a public pool in Ballarat in the late 1970s.
The allegations have now been referred by Victoria Police to the Office of Public Prosecutions for advice, the ABC reports.
The ABC’s 7.30 program has revealed that Taskforce Sano has been examining allegations from complainants in Ballarat, Torquay and Melbourne for more than a year, and is looking into incidents that allegedly happened during Cardinal Pell’s time as Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
The program has obtained eight police statements from complainants, witnesses and family members who are helping the taskforce with its investigation. The allegations were repeated on 7.30 on Wednesday night, and include:
- that Cardinal Pell would touch the genitals of children while swimming in a public pool in Ballarat in the late ’70s
- that he was naked in the change rooms on a regular basis in front of children
- that he exposed himself to three young children in another change room, at the Torquay Surf Club in 1986 or 1987.
The complaints include those by two men now in their forties, from George Pell’s home town of Ballarat,who say he touched them inappropriately in the summer of 1978-79 when he was playing a throwing game with them at the town’s Eureka pool.
In another complaint, Torquay businessman Les Tyack gave a statement to the royal commission last year relating to an incident at the Torquay Surf Life Saving Club in the summer of 1986-87.
A further complaint about George Pell that 7.30 is aware of relates to the period in the 1990s when George Pell was setting up the Melbourne Response — the Australian Catholic Church’s first attempt to seriously address child abuse.
It involves two teenage choirboys who asked their parents to leave the choir soon after the alleged abuse had occurred. One of the boys died in tragic circumstances two years ago and the other is working with Taskforce SANO detectives.
In a statement to the ABC, Cardinal Pell’s office said he “emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse against him”, and accused the ABC of mounting a smear campaign against him.
“If there was any credibility in any of these claims, they would have been pursued by the Royal Commission by now.”
However, the royal commission advises that these sorts of allegations are outside its terms of reference, because it only investigates institutional responses to child abuse, and it refers any new complaints of clergy abuse to police.
The Cardinal is entitled to the presumption of innocence and police and prosecutors will decide whether any of the allegations warrant charges.
The alleged behaviour raises serious questions about whether Cardinal Pell was ever an appropriate person to drive the Church’s response to child sexual abuse.