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Top Vatican cardinal questioned over sex abuse allegations

world Updated: Oct 26, 2016 20:44 IST
AP
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File photo of Australian cardinal George Pell reads a statement to reporters as he leaves the Quirinale hotel after meeting members of the Australian group of relatives and victims of priestly sex abuses, in Rome, Italy. (AP Photo)

Australian police flew to Rome to interview a top Vatican cardinal about allegations of sexual assault dating back decades, officials said Wednesday.

Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser who runs the Vatican’s economy ministry, has long been dogged by allegations he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney. In recent months, Pell has faced accusations of child abuse himself when he was a young priest in the 1970s.

On Wednesday, police in Australia’s Victoria state confirmed that they had interviewed Pell over the allegations.

“Three members of Victoria police traveled to Rome last week where Cardinal George Pell voluntarily participated in an interview regarding allegations of sexual assault,” police spokeswoman Amara Bostock said. “As a result of the interview, further investigations are continuing. We are not prepared to comment further at this time.”

The allegations involve two men, now in their 40s, who say Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s. Separately, a man told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he saw Pell exposing himself to three young boys in a surf club changing room in the late 1980s. Pell was at the time a senior priest in Melbourne.

Pell has repeatedly denied the allegations and did so again on Wednesday.

“The Cardinal repeats his previous rejection of all and every allegation of sexual abuse and will continue to cooperate with Victoria Police until the investigation is finalized,” Pell’s office said in a statement.

In August, Pope Francis declined to address the accusations against Pell, saying he wanted to wait until the investigation was complete before commenting. “We must wait for justice and not make judgments ahead of time,” the pope said in response to an Associated Press reporter aboard the papal plane.

Asked Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said he believed the pope was aware of the latest developments but declined further comment.