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A First: Cardinal Pell Appears in Australian Court on Sexual Charges

The unspecified charges of sexual offenses drew global attention after the police in the Australian state of Victoria said last month that the cardinal had been charged on summons and was required to appear in the magistrates’ court here.

Shortly afterward, the Vatican announced that Francis had granted a leave of absence to Cardinal Pell, who vowed to fight the charges, calling them false and the result of “relentless character assassination.”

“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said at a news conference in Rome last month.

Cardinal Pell returned to his native Australia on July 10, and he was met by the Australian Federal Police at Sydney’s international airport. He has kept a low profile since arriving.

The start of Cardinal Pell’s court battle in Melbourne revisits a troubled past for his hometown, Ballarat, about 75 miles west of Melbourne, which experts say was among the towns with the worst cases of abuse by church clerics.

A 2013 state government inquiry exposed accounts of child abuse and accusations of a cover-up in the Ballarat Diocese over many generations, and around that same time, the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was created. The commission heard accusations against several priests in Ballarat, some of whom have been jailed for abuse.

Cardinal Pell testified before the commission about the handling of complaints against the church, but neither inquiry heard complaints against the cardinal. Cardinal Pell served as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s and ’80s. In 1996, he became the archbishop of Melbourne, and later he was installed as Sydney’s archbishop.

Andrew Collins, 48, who said he was abused in Ballarat in the 1970s and ’80s by four men, three of them Catholic clergy members, said the court case against Cardinal Pell was big news for sexual abuse victims.

“Ten years ago, I doubt that this would have happened,” Mr. Collins said, “that an official from the Vatican or someone with the rank as high as cardinal would ever have ended up in court.”

The case will test the credibility of Francis’ efforts to foster greater accountability after abuse scandals that have shaken the church around the world.

In recent decades, more than 50 Roman Catholic bishops worldwide have been accused of sexually abusing children, according to BishopAccountability.org, an advocacy group in Massachusetts that documents sexual abuse in the church. Few, however, have faced criminal charges.

It is rare for a cardinal, a prince of the church, to be accused of sexual abuse.

“There must be perpetrators out there who would be looking at this thinking if a cardinal can be charged, anyone can be,” Mr. Collins said.

“It gives survivors faith in the system again.”

Source: NYT > World

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