By Agence France-Presse
Australia’s Catholic leaders have spoken out in support of Cardinal George Pell describing the Vatican finance chief as a “thoroughly decent man” after he was charged with historical sexual offences.
Pell, who has been ordered to face a Melbourne court hearing next month, said Thursday he would return to Australia “as soon as possible to clear his name” after consulting with his doctors.
The pre-eminent cleric rose through the ranks to the highest offices of the church in Australia before leaving to manage the Vatican’s powerful economic ministry.
The Australian’s successors spoke warmly of his legacy and reputation.
“The George Pell I know is a man of integrity in his dealings with others, a man of faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man,” the Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said in a statement.
But Fisher said that while his archdiocese would help Pell with accommodation on his return to Australia to face the charges, “it is not responsible for the Cardinal’s legal bills arising from these matters”.
The Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart said Pell had been his friend and fellow priest for more than half a century, and deserved a fair trial.
“The Archbishop is conscious of the Cardinal’s many good works which have been acknowledged both nationally and internationally,” he added.
“It is a matter of public record that Cardinal Pell addressed the evil of sexual abuse in the Church on becoming Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.”
Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous told Hobart’s Mercury newspaper he was “shocked and disappointed” at the charges and did not believe they “have got any substance to them”, adding that Pell was “a man of absolute integrity”.
Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, one of the country’s most high-profile Catholics, joined in the praise calling Pell a “very fine man”.
He was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 before becoming the Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014.
He then left for the Vatican after being hand-picked by Pope Francis to make the church’s finances more transparent.
Pope Francis has granted Pell a leave of absence, with the cleric summonsed to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 26, a week later than the initial hearing date of July 18.
Police have not revealed details of the charges against the 76-year-old, citing the need to preserve the integrity of the judicial process.
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