SYDNEY • Vatican finance chief George Pell's Australian supporters have set up a fund to help pay his legal fees after he was charged with historical sexual offences, a report said yesterday.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said last week it would help Pell with accommodation on his return to Australia to face the charges, but would not foot his legal bills.
The cardinal was ordered to face a Melbourne court hearing on July 26, and has been granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis.
Mr John Roskam, executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), a high-profile conservative Australian think-tank, said Pell's supporters had set up a bank account for donations to pay for Pell's legal team. "The point of this (fund) is that there are a lot of people who want to support the cardinal and want to give him the opportunity to clear his name," Mr Roskam told Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper.
An IPA spokesman told Agence France-Presse Mr Roskam would not be commenting further, but confirmed the details of the story.
Australia's Catholic leaders have spoken out in support of Pell, describing him as a "thoroughly decent man".
The pre-eminent cleric rose through the ranks to the highest offices of the church in Australia before leaving to manage the Vatican's powerful economic ministry.
Pell, 76, said he had been the victim of a campaign of "relentless character assassination", and vowed to beat the charges and return to work in Rome. Police have not revealed details of the charges against him, citing the need to preserve the integrity of the judicial process.
The charges that the cardinal himself was involved in sexual offences followed years of criticism that he had at best overlooked, and at worst covered up, the widespread abuse of children by clergymen in Australia.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES