Sydney Archbishop Takes Leave During Sex-Abuse Investigation

Accuser Reportedly Has More Than 40 Convictions

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SYDNEY, Australia, AUG. 21, 2002 ( Archbishop George Pell of Sydney announced he is taking a temporary leave from his office after being accused of abusing a 12-year-old boy in 1961.

«The allegations against me are lies, and I deny them totally and utterly,» the 61-year-old archbishop said in a statement (

The accuser’s identity has not been revealed. But the Australian press has described him as being around 50, with over 40 convictions for assault, drug trafficking and tax fraud.

Church authorities have urged the man to go to the police, but he has refused to do so.

An independent inquiry to investigate the allegations has been set up by Archbishop Philip Wilson, acting co-chairman of the National Committee for Professional Standards, which supervises the Church’s «Towards Healing» protocols, the archdiocese explained in another statement.

The inquiry will be conducted by retired Victorian Supreme Court Judge Alec Southwell.

«I will, of course, cooperate with this independent inquiry in every way possible — frankly, openly and unreservedly,» Archbishop Pell said. He was a seminarian in 1961.

«For the good of the Church and to preserve the dignity of the office of archbishop, I will take leave from today as archbishop of Sydney until the inquiry is completed,» he added. «I repeat that the allegations are lies and that I am determined to refute them.»

«I welcome the inquiry and a chance to clear my name, recognizing that I am not above civil and Church law,» the archbishop explained.

«I have taken a leading role in condemning and exposing sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Australia,» he continued. «Six years ago in Melbourne, I set up Australia’s first Independent Commission to inquire into sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. To allege that I am now personally implicated in this evil is a smear of the most vindictive kind.»

«I truly wish I could say more right now. However, it is important that I do not say anything that could be seen to prejudice the inquiry. Therefore, I am unable to make further comment,» Archbishop Pell’s statement says.

Auxiliary Bishop David Cremin, senior vicar general, will oversee the day-to-day running of the archdiocese while Archbishop Pell is on leave.

Archbishop Pell took over the Sydney post in March 2001 after Cardinal Edward Clancy retired. The archdiocese has a population of 1.82 million, including 589,042 Catholics. It has 466 priests and 1,376 nuns.

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