Cardinal George Pell has published a vigorous defence of his reputation after an investigative TV programme in Australia claimed that detectives were investigating historical sex abuse allegations levelled directly at him.
The 7.30 programme on ABC claimed that the Victoria Police's Taskforce SANO, which investigates complaints coming out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has been examining the allegations by complainants from three separate places in the state.
ABC broadcast that the Pell case has been referred by Victoria Police to the Office of Public Prosecutions for advice. The broadcaster claims that it has obtained eight police statements from complainants, witnesses and family members who are helping the taskforce with their investigation.
Police Chief Commissioner of the state of Victoria Graham Ashton confirmed last month that the taskforce was investigating multiple allegations against the Cardinal and, if necessary, detectives would fly to Rome to interview George Pell, although "it had not been put as necessary to me at this point in time".
The office of Pell, who is currently Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, released a statement saying he would not be giving an interview to the ABC 7.30 Report and "emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse against him".
"Claims that he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong. He denies the allegations absolutely," the statement said.
Pell's spokesman said that the allegations "are nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign which appears to be championed by the ABC".
"If there was any credibility in any of these claims, they would have been pursued by the Royal Commission by now.No request has been made to interview Cardinal Pell nor has he received any details of these claims from the police or anyone.
"He has apologised to victims of abuse on behalf of the Church many times and has met with many victims personally. He expresses regret that the sensationalist attention given to these unfounded and untrue claims might cause distress to genuine victims and he encourages anyone with any legitimate complaint to pursue it through the correct channels," the statement added.
The complaints include those by two men now in their 40s, from Pell's home town of Ballarat. In another complaint, a Torquay businessman gave a statement to the royal commission last year relating to an incident at a surf club in the summer of 1986-87.
A further complaint that the programme broadcast relates to is from a period in the 1990s when George Pell was setting up the Melbourne Response — the Australian Catholic Church's first attempt to seriously address child abuse. It involves two teenage choirboys who the programme claims asked their parents to remove them from the choir soon after the alleged abuse had occurred.