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Australian police probes top pope aide over child sex abuse allegations: ABC report

The new allegations against Pell being probed by police in Victoria state span two decades. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Sydney, New South Wales, Australia Jul 27, 2016, 02.08 PM (IST)
Vatican finance chief George Pell is being investigated by Australian police over child sexual abuse allegations, a report by the national broadcaster said on Thursday, as the leading Catholic cleric denounced the claims as "totally untrue".

The new allegations against Pell being probed by police in Victoria state span two decades, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. They came just months after the cardinal admitted he "mucked up" in dealing with paedophile priests in the state.

When he was the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney in 2002, Pell was accused of historic sex abuse claims, but was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

The ABC said it had obtained eight police statements from complainants, witnesses and family members helping the police investigation.

But the 75-year-old strongly denied the allegations in a statement to the ABC, saying "claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong".

A Victoria police spokeswoman told AFP they would not be making any comment. Victoria police chief commissioner Graham Ashton said in June police were looking into allegations against Pell.

The allegations include claims from two men, now in their 40s, who said they were groped by Pell in summer 1978-79 at Eureka pool in Ballarat, where the cleric had grown up and worked.

They also include allegations that Pell was naked in front of three young boys believed to be aged eight to 10 years old in a Torquay surf club changing room in summer 1986-87.

The national royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse in Australia was established after a decade of growing pressure to investigate widespread allegations of paedophilia.

The police investigation into Pell -- which the ABC said has lasted more than a year and involves allegations from Ballarat, Torquay and Melbourne -- is part of a wider probe into complaints that emerge from the royal commission.

The commission has heard harrowing allegations of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.

Pell previously told the commission he was not aware of offences that had occurred in Victoria, where paedophile priests abused dozens of children in the 1970s and 1980s.

While consistently denying any wrongdoing, Pell has admitted he "should have done more" to follow up on claims of abuse.

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