News Corp says acquitted cardinal faces new claims over alleged incident in the 1970s when he was a priest in Ballarat.
Cardinal George Pell is being investigated by police over a new allegation of child sexual abuse, according to News Corp reports.
Pell was released from jail last Tuesday after the high court acquitted him on five historical child sexual abuse charges. Pell, 78, spent more than 400 days in jail after being convicted by a jury in December 2018. The high court acquitted Pell after finding the jury should have held a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.
Pell has given an exclusive interview to his longtime friend and supporter from Sky News, Andrew Bolt, which is due to air on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday the Herald-Sun reported that Pell was being investigated by police over an incident in the 1970s, when Pell was a priest in the Victorian town of Ballarat. The report did not suggest the allegation was true, and Pell has always vehemently denied all allegations of sexual abuse against him.
A Victoria police spokesman said: “Victoria police will not be providing any comment in relation to these allegations.”
Guardian Australia has contacted the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney for comment.
Pell’s spokeswoman, Katrina Lee, was quoted by the Herald-Sun as saying: “In any police matter there should be due process through the proper channels.”
Pell may also face a number of civil cases.
In a preview of the Pell interview released by Sky News, Bolt alluded to the possibility of new investigations and said Pell would respond to questions about Victoria police in the interview. In the preview Bolt asks Pell: “How would you react if the Victorian police were to keep trawling for victims, keep trawling for attempts to prosecute you?”
Pell responds: “Well, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised. But who knows. That’s their business.”
At a Victoria police media conference on Tuesday afternoon, deputy commissioner Shane Patton was asked for his response to allegations police had a vendetta against Pell.
Patton said: “I don’t have any comments to make at all in respect to Cardinal Pell.”
Bolt wrote numerous opinion pieces in support of Pell before the criminal case had concluded.
The conclusion of Pell’s criminal trial last week sparked renewed calls for the federal attorney general, Christian Porter, to release the redacted sections of the child sexual abuse royal commission’s final report that related to Pell. The commission, which examined institutional abuse throughout Australia, published its final report in 2017 but pages relating to Pell were blanked out so as not to jeopardise his criminal case.
However, a new criminal investigation may place the release of the commission report in doubt. The redacted section examines the actions of Catholic church authorities in Ballarat, including at the time when Pell was a priest in the region.
Pell was cross-examined by the commission in 2016 on what he knew about the notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, who was a friend of Pell’s at the time in Ballarat. Pell responded: “It was a sad story and of not much interest to me. I had no reason to turn my mind to the evils Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
Pell shared a house with Ridsdale and sat on a committee of priests who made decisions to move Ridsdale from parish to parish.
The comment to the commission from Pell drew the ire of Bolt at the time, who said it revealed Pell was lying about or “dangerously indifferent” to the abuse occurring around him.
“Whether or not he directly knew – and the case against him is circumstantial – did he actually do what was necessary for any moral person and pursue the interests of the children being abused?” Bolt told Sky News at the time. “And on that ground I think the case against him is very damning.”
But he rowed back on those comments just one day later, stating: “I feel embarrassed because I think I’ve joined the pack attacking Pell.
“What he [Pell] seems to have said, meant to say, was that he had no reason to look at what was happening in that parish of Inglewood by Gerald Ridsdale and as a result, those things slipped his mind.”
Bolt secured an exclusive interview with Pell in 2016 after Pell concluded giving evidence to the commission.
The Catholic archdiocese of Sydney also confirmed on Tuesday that NSW Police’s Counter-Terrorism Squad visited Cardinal Pell at Good Shepherd Seminary in Homebush in relation to security threats.
The NSW police squad’s visit to the seminary is unrelated to any police investigation involving Cardinal Pell, the archdiocese said.