Anthony Fisher (L) and Cardinal George Pell (C) greet Pope Benedict XVI at the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney. (AAP: Dean Lewins)
The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney says it will not pay its former archbishop Cardinal George Pell’s legal costs as he returns to Australia to face historical charges of alleged sexual assault.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher described Pell — his predecessor in the Archdiocese — as a man of “integrity… high faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man”.
“While the Archdiocese will assist with the Cardinal’s accommodation and support as it would for any of its bishops or priests, it is not responsible for the Cardinal’s legal bills arising from these matters.”
Pell would be taking leave of his duties as Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat, a very senior role in the papal administration, to return to appear in a Melbourne court next month.
He has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual abuse, and at a press conference in Rome said he was the victim of “relentless character assassination”.
“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said.
The charges against the Cardinal, the long-time leader of the Australian Catholic Church, will come in the final months of a gruelling and horrific Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, where the Catholics were under the microscope alongside other trusted national organisations.
Archbishop Fisher asked that “victims should be listened to with respect and compassion and their complaints investigated and dealt with according to law”.
“We must now allow the impartial pursuit of justice,” he said.
“I would ask everyone to pray for truth and justice in this present case, pray for our Church at this difficult time, and to continue your prayers for all those affected by sexual abuse.”
Pell is slated to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.