Church hierarchs have condemned the leaking of claims from within Victoria Police suggesting Cardinal George Pell is being investigated over allegations of historical child sex abuse, asserting it's part of a campaign to destroy his reputation ahead of the Ballarat hearings of the royal commission which start today.
On Saturday, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, called for a public inquiry into who leaked the information. His strongly-worded statement said: "The leaked allegations, coming at the end of a week in which Cardinal Pell was publicly denigrated and a week before he appears at the Royal Commission, appear designed to do maximum damage to Cardinal Pell and undermine the work of the Royal Commission...Cardinal Pell, like all Australian citizens, is entitled to have these principles apply to him. I support calls for an independent investigation into the source of the leaks."
The Bishop of Broken Bay, Peter Comensoli, also issued a statement on Saturday criticising the leaked allegations, saying "the media must not replace the Commission as the forum in which scrutiny and accountability are exercised."
Cardinal Pell issued a statement vehemently denying the claims. "The allegations are without foundation and utterly false. It is outrageous that these allegations have been brought to the Cardinal's attention through a media leak. These undetailed allegations have not been raised with the Cardinal by the police and the false claims investigated by Justice Southwell have been ignored by the police for over 15 years, despite the very transparent way they were dealt with by the Cardinal and the Catholic Church.
"The Cardinal has called for a public inquiry into the leaking of these spurious claims by elements in the Victorian Police in a manner clearly designed to embarrass the Cardinal, in a case study where the historical failures of the Victorian Police have been the subject of substantial evidence," the statement read.
Yesterday the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, also released a statement, in which he said: "As we approach the third appearance of Cardinal Pell before the Royal Commission, I hope that the Cardinal will be heard respectfully, as I hope and pray all witnesses will be. We can all be tempted to jump to conclusions after media headlines but it is always better to withhold judgement until we have heard all the facts."
The Cardinal, Archbishops Hart and Fisher, and Bishop Comensoli were reacting toa report in the Herald Sun on Friday that Cardinal Pell was being investigated by Victoria Police's Sano taskforce for committing multiple offences, by "both grooming and opportunity".
The Herald Sun article contended: It is understood that Sano's inquiries into Cardinal Pell have been going for at least 12 months but it is not known whether it is an active or open investigation based on preliminary inquiries.
Archbishop Hart's statement in support of the Cardinal said the allegations did not reflect "the man I have known for more than 50 years".
"It is very disturbing and concerning to read reports based on leaks to the media that Victoria Police has been investigating allegations of abuse against Cardinal George Pell for the past year and that his first knowledge of these allegations has come from those media reports," he said.
Arcbishop Hart continued: "In this environment, it is the responsibility of the Royal Commission to provide a fair and balanced forum for all who appear before it."
Cardinal Pell is due to give evidence to the commission via video link from Rome on February 29.
According to The Age and the ABC, no official complaint had been made to Victoria Police as of Saturday afternoon.
Victoria Police investigating Cardinal Pell (Herald Sun)