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Australian Police Can Now Charge Cardinal George Pell. But will they?
Australian police have received their final advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions on its investigation into historic sex abuse allegations against Cardinal George Pell — and the force must now decide whether to charge Australia’s highest-ranked Catholic.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal that the Victorian police force has received key advice from John Champion SC regarding a brief of evidence prepared by officers after they interviewed the 75-year-old in Rome last October.
It is understood that Victoria’s DPP has advised police that based on its assessment of the evidence they can charge the Cardinal. But despite the green light, the DPP advice makes it clear that ultimately it is up to police whether to act.
Asked about the status of the case, police spokesman Charlie Morton said: “Victoria Police can confirm that it has received advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to a current investigation into historical sexual assaults.
“Detectives from Taskforce Sano will now take time to consider that advice. As with any investigation it will be a decision for Victoria Police as to whether charges are laid. As this remains an ongoing investigation, we will not be commenting further.”
The Daily Telegraph revealed in February last year that the Sano taskforce was investigating allegations that Cardinal Pell sexually abused up to 10 boys between 1978 and 2001 during his time as a priest in Ballarat and when he was archbishop of Melbourne.
The Office of Public Prosecutions reviewed the police’s initial brief of evidence in August last year without making a recommendation on whether or not charges should be laid.
The brief was then updated and sent back to the OPP after Cardinal Pell agreed to be questioned in Rome by three detectives from the Sano taskforce.
The final advice from prosecutors came back to the force on Tuesday.
Cardinal Pell, who is Australia’s most senior Catholic, has repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegations, describing them as without foundation and utterly false.
Unless he voluntarily agrees to come back to Australia to face any charges that are laid it is possible he will never appear in court.
In July last year, his office said: “Claims he has sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life, are totally untrue and completely wrong. If there was any credibility in any of these claims, they would have been pursued by the Royal Commission by now.”
International extradition expert Professor Donald Rothwell believes Victoria Police would find it very difficult to force Cardinal Pell to come back to Australia. While Australia does have an extradition treaty with Italy, Cardinal Pell is a resident of the Vatican and Australia doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the holy city.