MELBOURNE, April 14 — Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell said Pope Francis supported him during his trial and imprisonment on sex charges before his acquittal last week, and, in his first television interview since being freed, said he would like to visit Rome.
Pell, 78, also told News Corp-owned cable network Sky News that complainants should be repected but that their claims should not be accepted without question.
“Absolutely,” Pell replied when asked if the pope had supported him during his legal ordeal, and, while acknowledging that the two held differing theological views, the cardinal noted that he had been a close adviser of Francis.
“He certainly says that he respects Australian judicial processes, but he has been very supportive right through.”
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said there would be no comment on the interview.
Last week, hours after Pell was acquitted, the pope offered his morning Mass for “all those people who suffer an unjust sentence”, but did not name Pell specifically.
Pell was released from jail one week ago after serving 13 months of a six-year sentence for convictions by a jury on five charges of sexual assault on two choirboys in the 1990s, charges which were overturned by Australia’s highest court.
The High Court’s seven judges unanimously ruled that a lower appeal court which had upheld his convictions had failed to properly consider evidence about Pell’s movements after Sunday masses which raised doubt he could have committed the offences.
“I’ll be 79 in a few months; I’m 14 years past the retirement age in Australia. I’ll go quietly, please God, I’ll be able to help out here and there,” Pell said of what he would do now that he had been freed.
“I’ll certainly stay in Sydney. I think I might go to Rome for a while.”
Pell said that one lesson to be drawn from his experience was that investigators should test the credibility of complainants and not accept their claims unequivocally.
“The pendulum 30, 40 years ago was massively against anybody who said they had been attacked,” Pell said in the interview. “Nowadays, we don’t want it to swing back so that every accusation is regarded as gospel truth. That would be quite unjust and inappropriate”.
His accuser in the case said after Pell’s acquittal that he respected the High Court’s decision but that he hoped it would not discourage people from reporting to the police.
Pell, who rose from a priest in regional Victoria to be tapped by Pope Francis to clean up the Vatican’s finances, denied the abuse allegations from the time they were first put to him in 2016.
The cardinal was convicted largely based on the testimony of the one surviving man, who gave an account of two incidents at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne alleged to have taken place in late 1996 and early 1997. — Reuters