George Cardinal Pell—senior Roman Catholic prelate in Australia, Vatican treasurer, and aide to Pope Francis—faces charges of sexual assault.
Pell has denied the veracity of the “multiple charges” from “multiple complainants,” according to the BBC, and he plans to travel to Australia to fight them. The charges follow a history of controversy that has surrounded Pell throughout his career in the church, which “has been dogged first by claims that he covered up child sexual abuse by priests, and then later that he was himself an abuser.” Even after he arrived in Rome to take the position of Vatican treasurer, he “repeatedly faced allegations from abuse victims of a cover-up . . . He strongly denied the allegations, describing them as a ‘scandalous smear campaign.’”
According to a report in The New York Times, he is “the highest-ranking Vatican official in recent years to face criminal charges involving accusations of sexual offenses,” and “[t]he case will test the credibility of [Pope] Francis’s initiatives to foster greater accountability after abuse scandals that have shaken the church around the world.”
The charges against Pell—and the accusations that have followed him for years—serve as a sober reminder to churches about the prevalence of the issue of sexual abuse in the church. As attorney Richard Hammar writes, “[F]or several years the sexual molestation of minors has been the number one reason that churches went to court.”
Don’t let your church join the statistics. Learn more about the preventive steps you can take with our newly revised training programReducing the Risk and the thorough, practical guidance provided in these articles from legal and risk management experts:
- “What I Learned from Advising the Boy Scouts of America During Their Abuse Crisis”
- “Child Sexual Abuse”
- “What Do You Do with Volunteers Who Exhibit Gray Area Behavior?”
- “Screening the Screener: What to Look For in a Background Check Service”
- “Answering Church Leaders’ Common Questions About Background Checks”
Emily Lund is Assistant Editor for Church Law & Tax.
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