venerdì 16 giugno 2017

(Tess Livingstone) A priest who says he accompanied George Pell every time he was at St Patrick’s Cathedral has challenged one of the most salacious allegations against the former archbishop of Melbourne — that he abused two teenage choir boys in a backroom of the Cathedral — in an interview with Victoria Police.The priest, who was on the then-Archbishop’s staff from September 1996 to January 2001 told police late last year it was “physically impossible for Archbishop Pell to have been alone with anyone in the Cathedral, before, during, or after the celebration of Sunday Mass or on any other occasion’’.
The cathedral abuse allegation, raised on ABC’s 7.30 a year ago, forms one of the most provocative chapters of journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, published by Melbourne University Press. In it, Milligan compares Cardinal Pell with an “Easter Island statue of a man, gliding through the cathedral, papering over emotion, lest he snap’’.
The priest, who has refused to become embroiled in a defence-by-media, answered police questions related to an alleged incident after a Sunday Mass at the Cathedral between July and December one year. Cathedral publications and photographs show the building was closed for restoration for most of that year until a Saturday night in November, when a Vigil Mass was held to celebrate Christ the King.
Milligan does not put a date on the alleged incident, but implies it occurred before the lead up to Easter the following year. Both alleged victims, she claims, later left the choir and one of them died of a heroin overdose some years later.
Those familiar with the allegation, and who understand the workings of a cathedral, believed from the outset the claim was preposterous — especially the suggestion that the then Archbishop found the boys helping themselves to altar wine in a backroom. The priest told The Australian he was questioned extensively by police about altar wine, that was locked in a vault, with valuable chalices. Only about a teaspoonful was ever left over after Masses.
Milligan quotes the dead boy’s mother: “…they got sprung by Archbishop Pell and he locked the door and he made them perform oral sex’’. Milligan also says, however, that when the woman’s son went “quickly and spectacularly off the rails’’ she asked him whether he had been abused and he told her “no’’ – on two separate occasions. Some time after the boy’s funeral, the other young man told the woman a different story, claiming they were both abused by the Archbishop.
The 11am Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Pell when he was in Melbourne, the priest told police. The Archbishop, who lived at Kew, a few kilometres from the Cathedral, would arrive about 15 minutes before mass. He would be met by the priest and they would head towards the Archbishop’s sacristy (a room for keeping vestments and dressing for Mass, which was not available due to renovations until March of the following year, so the Archbishop temporarily shared the priests’ sacristy). On their way into the Cathedral, the Archbishop and the priest would pass the Choir Rehearsal Room, in an adjoining building. At that stage, the priest said, about 50 choir members would be rehearsing in the choir room, which the Archbishop never entered.
After Archbishop Pell had put on his vestments for Mass he, any concelebrating priests and altar servers would bow to the crucifix above the vesting bench and begin the procession. The altar servers would be first, followed by the choir who would have lined up outside the sacristy. They would be followed by concelebrating priests and the Archbishop.
“At no time before, during or after Mass was the Archbishop in direct contact with anyone except that I was present,’’ the priest told police in a statement. “I was always standing next to him and usually at an arm’s length away.’’
Mass would start at 11am and finish at about 12.10pm. The Archbishop would then stand at the front door of the Cathedral, greeting people who had attended.
By the time the Archbishop and the priest returned to the sacristy the congregation, servers and choir had usually left the premises. The Archbishop and the priest would sometimes eat a quick lunch at the nearby Cathedral presbytery or head out for a scheduled visit to a suburban Parish.
Victoria Police have been pursing inquiries about alleged incidents at the Cathedral for nearly two years. A few days before Christmas 2015, Melbourne newspapers reported that Taskforce Sano wanted “to speak to anyone who was a victim of a sexual assault, or anybody with any information relating to any alleged sexual assaults, committed at the St Patrick’s Cathedral between 1996 and 2001’’.
Cardinal Pell has denied all allegations of abuse and has co-operated fully with the investigation. This week, The Australian reported that police were still canvassing for new evidence from men who were choirboys at the Cathedral from 1996 to 2001, despite the fact Commissioner Graham Ashton said almost four weeks ago that a decision on laying charges was “imminent’’.