A number of sexual abuse scandals have rocked religious groups across Australia over the last few years following a royal commission investigation that highlighted widespread misconduct among the clergy.
Cardinal George Pell is the most senior Australian figure in the Catholic Church to face allegations of sexual abuse. Here, we outline his position within the church and discuss what accusations have been made against him.
Who is Cardinal Pell?
Cardinal Pell is not only the country's highest-ranking Catholic but also the third most senior official in the entire Roman Catholic Church. He was appointed to the position of Vatican treasurer in 2014 and is a close adviser to Pope Francis.
The cardinal has been dogged in recent years by rumours that he covered up child abuse that other priests had committed in Australia. He now faces accusations that he was directly involved in sexual abuse.
While living in Australia, Cardinal Pell served as the Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 until his move to Vatican City. Before his role in NSW, the cardinal was Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne between 1987 and 1996, as well as Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001.
What are the allegations against Cardinal Pell?
No details of the offences have been released yet, but Victoria Police first brought the charges against Cardinal Pell, so the allegations are likely in relation to his time in Melbourne.
The complainants cannot be identified for legal reasons, and the number of alleged victims is also under wraps. So far, the only information released is that there are multiple accusers and the claims are for historic offences, which means they occurred potentially decades ago.
Cardinal Pell has denied any wrongdoing at this stage.
Will Cardinal Pell stand trial?
The cardinal is currently attending a hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court to see whether he must stand trial for abuse. Magistrate Belinda Wallington is tasked with deciding if there is enough evidence to proceed with the case at Victoria's County Court.
Until the full extent of the charges are known, it's difficult to predict what sentence Cardinal Pell could receive if found guilty of sexual abuse. However, his alleged victims may be able to claim compensation following a conviction.
To learn more about compensation for historic institutional sexual abuse in Australia, please speak to a member of our team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.