Top Pope aide under Australian police scanner for child abuse

George Pell was accused of sex abuse when he was the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney in 2002 but was later cleared of any wrongdoing. Photograph:( Getty )

AFP Sydney, Australia Jul 28, 2016, 03.24 AM (IST)
Australian police said on Thursday they are investigating child abuse complaints against Vatican finance chief George Pell but had not yet decided whether to press charges.

"That's a matter that we investigated and still are investigating," Victoria Police chief commissioner Graham Ashton said of the explosive allegations against the cardinal aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Wednesday.

They 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.

ABC also alleged Pell was naked in front of three young boys, believed to be aged eight to 10, in a Torquay surf club changing room in summer 1986-87.

Ashton said the matter had been sent to the Office of Public Prosecutions for their assessment on whether there was a case to answer.

"We're waiting to hear back from them at this stage," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW, adding that it had been a long investigation.

Asked if charges were possible, he said: "Anything is possible at this stage."

Pell, Australia's most senior Catholic cleric, has strongly denied the allegations and suggested there was a conspiracy against him.

"He denies the claims absolutely," said a statement from Pell's office, adding that they were "nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign, which appears to be championed by the ABC".

The national broadcaster said it had obtained eight police statements from complainants, witnesses and family members that have been helping the police investigation.

Pell was accused of sex abuse when he was the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney in 2002 but was later cleared of any wrongdoing.