Sex abuse scandal has followed Cardinal George Pell for decades – Washington Post

In 1993, George Pell was a rising star in the Catholic Church in Australia, his resume sterling, his ambition well-known. After receiving a PhD from Oxford, he spent more than a decade as education vicar in the Victorian city of Ballarat, then rose to become auxiliary bishop of Melbourne.

So that year, when his onetime housemate and former chaplain of a Ballarat religious school was charged with sexually assaulting young boys, Pell’s superiors called on him for support.

As the chaplain, Gerald Ridsdale, made his first appearance in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court, Pell walked beside him in solidarity, clad in his black priest’s robe and jacket. The hope, Pell would later say, was that his presence alongside Ridsdale would “lessen his time in jail.”

A photo of the moment made the rounds in Australian media, stoking outrage among victims and their supporters who wondered why the high-ranking clergyman had accompanied the accused pedophile to court. Ridsdale would go on to plead guilty to the charges and later be imprisoned on dozens of other counts of sexually assaulting children, in one of the most notorious pedophilia rings in the country’s history.

Pell, now a top-ranking cardinal in the Catholic Church, has been haunted by the picture with Ridsdale over the past two decades, during which he has been dogged by claims that he covered up reports of sexual assault by members of the Australian clergy and abused young boys himself. His critics say the image of him standing at Ridsdale’s side represents a dismissive stance on sex abuse claims — his “coldheartedness” and “contempt,” in the words of one victims advocate.

Now, Pell himself is facing charges. Australian authorities announced Thursday that Pell, who runs the Vatican’s finances, has been charged with “historical sexual assault offenses” stemming from multiple complaints.

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