Friendship runs deep, so the saying goes.
And so too does loyalty in testing times of the life and career of Cardinal George Pell, as he continues his fight against allegations of historic sexual abuse a hemisphere away from his senior post as the Vatican’s treasurer in Rome.
It has emerged the 76-year-old, the Holy See’s most senior figure in history to face criminal charges, is being cared for comfortably at the sprawling Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, Sydney, alongside 40 male trainee priests. It’s the largest of its kind in Australia.
The Rector, Father Danny Meagher, a long-time supporter and friend of the Cardinal, is “happy to have him stay on the property”, according to an official statement.
The statement was given to this reporter exclusively on Wednesday for a CNN story, after a brief court hearing revealed Cardinal Pell’s team had won their legal bid to examine materials from the ABC.
The materials include interview transcripts and footage with possible complainants.
It also comes just days after a major unexpected turn in the case. Damian Dignan, who accused Cardinal Pell of abuse in an ABC documentary in 2016, died after a long illness, prompting speculation it would stop the case proceeding.
With Cardinal Pell ensconced in the calm surrounds of the seminary in Sydney’s west, it is clear the Australian Catholic Church is giving its full pastoral support to the Ballarat-born Cardinal in his hour of strife.
“Cardinal Pell is now very much looking forward to the March hearing and his day in court,” the exclusive statement said.
“He has repeatedly said he is innocent of the allegations made against him.”
Homebush is not exactly the city’s most glamorous suburb, eclipsed by the slices of harbourside paradise to the east.
But for now it’s home as we learn for the first time Cardinal Pell’s whereabouts since he returned home to face court. It is a safe refuge with the support of a close friendship with the rector stretching back at least two decades.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, has already come out in strong support of his embattled predecessor after Cardinal Pell was charged with multiple allegations by Sano Task Force in June last year.
The author can reveal Cardinal Pell is leading a well cared for existence; cooks arrive early at the large seminary property each morning to prepare meals and the day then unfolds in a carefully timetabled mix of prayer, teaching and downtime.
The main buildings are believed to house the young seminarians but there are also separate houses in the grounds, where Cardinal Pell is likely to be staying to give him privacy to take calls from his legal team based in Melbourne.
The website shows how sometimes jolly social events, dinners and celebrations, washed down with wine and beer, are held in the lounges at the seminary but it’s not known whether Cardinal Pell gets involved or keeps to himself.
Some pictures show the young seminarians larking around during a BBQ in 2016 “celebrating Saint Patrick” in the grounds and gardens of the seminary.
Sources say Cardinal Pell spends a lot of time reading “supportive emails from Catholic friends and associates from all over the world”.
“He’s getting a lot of support and is comforted by it,” a source said.
But other sources say Cardinal Pell’s arrival at the seminary last year when he returned for his first hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court did not run too smoothly.
“There were some raised eyebrows and murmurs within some of those living at the seminary when Pell first arrived,” a source said.
However, in a statement, a spokesman for the seminary claimed all was going swimmingly.
“The seminarians are very comfortable with Cardinal Pell’s presence,” the spokesman said.
“He [Pell] does not take part in ministry for the seminary, nor is he involved in mentoring or liturgy.”
The seminary is run by Father Danny Meagher, a long-time friend and supporter of Cardinal Pell.
“The Rector is very happy to have him stay on the property,” the spokesman said.
Father Meagher has spoken of his deep admiration for the Cardinal in the past.
“He’s [Pell] probably the most respected English-speaking bishop in the world which is extraordinary and to Australians we have no idea of that,” he told the ABC in an interview in 2013 before Cardinal Pell’s move to Rome.
Father Meagher was formerly the director of mission for CatholicCare after being personally asked to take the position by Cardinal Pell when he was installed as Archbishop of Sydney in 2001.
On the website of the seminary Father Meagher notes the seminarians who are living alongside Cardinal Pell come from “many different backgrounds” and express different reasons for seeking a life as future priests.
Their seven years at the seminary includes “human, spiritual, pastoral and academic dimensions”.
There will be another short hearing on Cardinal Pell’s case on February 9 before the four-week committal hearing begins on March 5.
It is expected two weeks of the hearing will be held in closed court while the alleged complainants give evidence by video-link.