Victorian police have questioned Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George Pell, as they continue their investigation into his alleged historical sexual assaults on boys.
Three police travelled to Rome last week to meet the former Ballarat priest and Melbourne archbishop, who rejects all the allegations and voluntarily participated in an interview.
“As a result of the interview further investigations are continuing. We are not prepared to comment further at this time,” a police statement said on Wednesday.
Victoria Police said in August they were considering laying charges over alleged historical sexual assaults in Ballarat between 1976 and 1980 and claims in East Melbourne between 1996 and 2001.
Two men told Victoria Police last year they were groped as children by Cardinal Pell when he was a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s.
Another man claimed he saw the priest expose himself to young boys in the late 1980s.
These allegations were aired in an ABC report in July that said the broadcaster was also aware of abuse allegations in the 1990s.
Cardinal Pell, who now works at the Vatican for Pope Francis, on Wednesday confirmed his voluntary interview in a brief statement that also rejects the allegations.
“The Cardinal repeats his previous rejection of all and every allegation of sexual abuse and will continue to co-operate with Victoria Police until the investigation is finalised,” the statement says.
Helen Last from the victims’ advocacy group, In Good Faith Foundation, says she hopes justice is achieved as a result of the police investigation.
“It is very good news that the investigation process is moving on appropriately in regard to these horrific allegations that have been made,” she told AAP.
“It’s a very positive sign that intervention of this power and nature by our police force can and will be done and it doesn’t matter at what level you are in the church.”
Cardinal Pell has previously described the allegations as “without foundation and utterly false”, adding that like any other Australian, he deserved “a fair go”.
Chris Wilding, founder of Melbourne-based support group for victims Broken Rites, is doubtful anything will happen.
“I’m sure that victims will be heartened but at the same time, they’ll probably be quite reserved in their exuberance because they’ve been let down in the past,” she told AAP.
“If things needed to be examined in a court of law, I would be very surprised if Pell came back.”