Catholics have begun crowdfunding the legal defence of Cardinal George Pell against multiple historical child sex charges.
Details of the fund emerged after the Catholic Church refused to pay Cardinal Pell’s legal fees. Victoria Police formally charged the Vatican’s 76-year-old finance chief on summons last Thursday.
News Corp Australia reports that a bank account has been set up for donations to help Cardinal Pell when he returns to Melbourne from Rome to fight the charges.
Cardinal Pell has hired top criminal barrister Robert Richter, QC, to represent him in court.
John Roskam, the Catholic head of conservative think tank Institute of Public Affairs, confirmed to News Corp that Catholics are circulating bank account details for those who want to assist Cardinal Pell with his legal bills.
“The point of this [fund] is that there are a lot of people who want to support the cardinal and want to give him the opportunity to clear his name,” Mr Roskam told News Corp.
Australia’s most senior Catholic insists he is innocent and says he is looking forward to fighting the charges in court.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher has said that the Sydney archdiocese will assist with Cardinal Pell’s accommodation when he returns to Australia but will not find his defence.
Mr Richter, who has defended Melbourne underworld-linked figure Mick Gatto and other notable clients, said a filing hearing will be held in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 26.
Cardinal Pell said on Thursday he was discussing with his lawyers and doctors about how and when he would return to Australia from Rome, where as Vatican treasurer he was considered the third-most powerful person in the Catholic Church.
He told journalists he was looking forward to having his day in court after a two-year investigation, “leaks to the media” and “relentless character assassination”.
Pope fires sex abuse cases chief
Mere days after Cardinal Pell was charged, Pope Francis has sacked the head of the Vatican office that handles sex abuse cases.
The Pope on Saturday declined to renew the mandate of German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that processes and evaluates all cases of priests accused of raping or molesting minors.
During Cardinal Mueller’s five-year term, the congregation amassed a 2000-case backlog and came under blistering criticism from Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, who had been tapped by Francis in 2014 to advise the church on caring for abuse victims and protecting children from pedophile priests.
Ms Collins resigned from the papal commission in March, citing the “unacceptable” level of resistance from Cardinal Mueller’s office to heeding the commission’s proposals.
It’s the second major Vatican shake-up in a week, with Cardinal Mueller’s deputy, Monsignor Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, named to run the office instead.
– with AAP