Cardinal George Pell Accused of Sexual Abuse: Here’s Everything We Know About the Case

When news broke that Cardinal George Pell was accused of sexual abuse, it sent shock waves around the world. The Catholic Church certainly didn’t need another scandal in its portfolio, and the rest of the world now waits to see how the case will unfold. As Pell returns to his home country of Australia, he’s ready to defend himself against these accusations of sexual abuse, which are alleged to have been committed decades ago.

According to CNN, “Cardinal George Pell, a senior adviser to Pope Francis and the third-ranking official in the Holy See, is taking leave from the Vatican to fight historical sexual assault charges in his home country of Australia.” Just like any other accused person, Pell has the right to due process. So let’s get down to some details concerning the case.

Pell faces charges of sexual abuse from the ’70s

George Pell

Cardinal George Pell maintains his innocence. | Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

According to Time, “It is unclear what allegations the charges announced on Thursday relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.” Although we have yet to know the full details of the accusations against Pell, it won’t be long before such information becomes public. “Pell will be required to appear in the Melbourne Magistrate’s court on July 26 for a filing hearing, when a full charge list is expected to be released,” CNN reported.

Pell is the highest-ranking official to ever be charged

Cardinal George Pell officiates.

Cardinal George Pell is in Pope Francis’ inner circle. | William West/AFP/Getty Images

Scandal within the church is not a new subject, but this case has garnered exceptional attention — and for good reason. “Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser and Australia’s most senior Catholic, is the highest-ranking Vatican official to ever be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal,” Time reported. And to add even more insult to injury, this isn’t the first time Pell’s name has been associated with abuse.

Pell rose to power during a controversial time

George Pell

With roots in a mining town, Cardinal George Pell is often described as a somewhat outspoken conservative. | Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pell, who served as a priest in his hometown of Ballarat, Australia, from 1971 to 1984, was faced with a huge issue immediately. According to The New York Times, priests were preying on children in the diocese. In fact, CNN reported, “Between 1950 and 2015, 7% of Australian priests were accused of abusing children, according to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Over 40% of brothers in some orders have been accused of abuse.”

Furthermore, the public’s perception of Pell over the past several decades hasn’t all been of high praise. He was known as a conservative man with a combative personality. The New York Times says his nicknames included “the ambitious Australian bulldog,” “the Prince of Ballarat,” and “Big George.”

Pell has been involved in the church’s ongoing abuse scandal

Inside of a large, modern church with pews and cross visible.

The church has long dealt with sex abuse allegations. |

The sex abuse scandal has spanned several countries, and the church has been under fire for decades. Even Pell has been in the hot seat before. According to The New York Times, “The charges this week that the cardinal himself was involved in sexual offenses followed years of criticism that he had at best overlooked, and at worst covered up, the widespread abuse of children by clergymen in Australia.”

“The commission faulted Cardinal Pell’s handling of cases as the archbishop who, starting in 1996, first led the archdiocese of Melbourne and then Sydney,” The New York Times continued. “Five priests in one of his parishes were convicted, and some testified that he had had knowledge of their activity.” This information is likely news to some. It certainly has many questioning the pope’s commitment to his zero tolerance policy.

Pope Francis has a zero-tolerance abuse policy

Pope Francis

These allegations are sure to test the pope’s zero-tolerance policy. | Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has seen its fair share of scandal, and as a result, Pope Francis has issued a zero-tolerance policy. NPR host Steve Inskeep said, “So Pope Francis, who welcomed Cardinal Pell into his inner circle, knowing some things about him, has also said that there will be a policy of zero tolerance toward sexual abuse in the Catholic church.” Naturally, this kind of policy has a lot of people wondering just how the church will handle these and future serious allegations.

Pell is said to be cooperating with the law

consistory at the Vatican

Cardinal George Pell is adamant about cooperating with the law. | Franco Origlia/Getty Images

According to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, both the accused and the church are fully cooperating with the law. Dolan said Pell’s reactions show “the mettle of a great man.”

A longtime friend of Pell, Dolan told Crux, “What [Pell] said is, ‘These charges are completely false, I will continue to strongly tell you I’m innocent, but the church must take this seriously, I must cooperate with the law, I must now go home and defend myself. As painful as it is to me — and I also think it’s sad for the church because we’re losing a great apostle, hopefully only temporarily — I have to go home and clear my name.’ That only intensifies my admiration for George Pell.” At least Pell isn’t hiding out in the Vatican. He will get his day in court.

This case is proving a significant test for the pope

sign that says "pope must act: sack pell now"

Undoubtedly, the pope’s handling of the matter will be under a microscope. | William West/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis’ handling of the allegations against Pell is bound to create even more skepticism within the church, from both believers and nonbelievers alike. As the case continues to develop, one of the main takeaways is the pope’s dedication to fighting, and hopefully ending, child sexual abuse within the church might not be as steadfast as promised.

As The New York Times mentions, Francis brought Pell “into his inner circle even as a cloud of allegation swirled over the cardinal in Australia.” Will Pell be convicted? Will Francis be considered a wavering pope when it comes to issues of sexual abuse? Only time, and a jury of Pell’s peers, will tell.