Australia

George Pell: Who is Australia's Catholic cardinal?

Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Quirinale hotel in Rome on March 2, 2016 for a video-linked hearing with Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cardinal Pell has previously given evidence to inquiries into abuse by priests in Australia

Australia's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, George Pell, has been a strong supporter of traditional Catholic values, taking a conservative stance on same-sex marriage and contraception, and advocating priestly celibacy.

But his career has been dogged first by claims that he covered up child sexual abuse by priests, and then later that he was himself an abuser. He has always strongly denied any wrongdoing.

On 29 June 2017 he was charged with historical sex offences - which he described as "false".

"The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me," Cardinal Pell said in a statement hours after being charged.

He added: "I am looking forward finally to having my day in court. I am innocent of these charges."

Cardinal Pell was born in the city of Ballarat, near Melbourne, Victoria, in 1941, the son of an Anglican father and an Irish Roman Catholic mother.

His early education was at Loreto Convent and later at St Patrick's College where he excelled in sports, particularly Australian Rules football.

Such was his prowess on the football field that towards the end of his studies he signed a contract with Richmond Football Club, but then switched his attention to the priesthood.

He later said he had tried to fight his calling for a long time.

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Image caption Pope John Paul II appointed George Pell a cardinal in 2003

"I feared and suspected - and eventually became convinced - that God wanted me to do His work and I was never able to successfully escape that conviction," he said.

George Pell began his training for the priesthood in 1960 at Corpus Christi College, the regional seminary for Victoria and Tasmania, and in 1963 went to Rome to continue his studies.

He was ordained at St Peter's Basilica in Rome in 1966 and went on to take a doctorate in Church history in Oxford.

He returned to Australia in 1971, taking a post as an assistant priest in Swan Hill, Victoria, and then at a parish in Ballarat.

By 1996, George Pell had risen to be archbishop of Melbourne and was later appointed archbishop of Sydney.

Pope John Paul II nominated him to the Vatican's College of Cardinals in 2003, a position that allowed him to vote in papal elections.

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Image caption Cardinal Pell and then Australian PM Kevin Rudd welcomed Pope Benedict to Australia in 2008

In 2014, Cardinal Pell was summoned to Rome to become chief of the Vatican's finances, a new position created by Pope Francis in the wake of scandals at the Vatican Bank.

But he left behind growing anger over revelations of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy in Australia.

Cardinal Pell repeatedly faced allegations from abuse victims of a cover-up and his critics accused him of appearing aloof and arrogant.

He was accused of moving one notorious paedophile priest - Gerald Ridsdale - around parishes rather than reporting him, and of attempting to bribe one of the victims to keep quiet.

He strongly denied any wrongdoing but said he could have done more to investigate claims of abuse.

In 2016 the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) aired allegations by two men who claimed Cardinal Pell had touched them inappropriately in the 1970s.

He strongly denied the allegations, describing them as a "scandalous smear campaign".

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Image caption Victims of abuse by priests in Australia have been highly critical of Cardinal Pell

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