Journalists writing about historic child sexual abuse in Australia are at war over a report that Cardinal George Pell is being investigated by police.
Andrew Bolt, a senior columnist with the Herald Sun paper and a friend of the cardinal, has challenged Lucie Morris-Marr, a reporter who works for the same paper and has broken this and other exclusive stories in the area of the Catholic Church and child abuse in Australia. The issue is currently being investigated by a Royal Commission.
Bolt said Morris-Marr's report was a vicious and shameful smear which was part of a "sinister" campaign to destroy the cardinal, The Guardian reported.
Cardinal Pell, who is due to give evidence to the Royal Commission via video link from Rome next week, has vehemently denied all allegations and said a leak about a police investigation into him is "maliciously timed".
Morris-Marr defended herself robustly, tweeting:
It's not LEAKS or a SMEAR Andrew Bolt and Cardinal Pell it's called knocking on doors on the serious subject of child abuse. #journalism— Lucie Morris-Marr (@luciemorrismarr) February 21, 2016
Morris-Marr also retweeted the paper's editor, Damon Johnston, who himself tweeted today's front page:
Cardinal Pell has himself written to Acting Victorian Police Minister Robin Scott asking for an inquiry into the leak, ABC reported.
Cardinal Pell's office said that details of the allegations reported by the Herald Sun were "scandalous" and "utterly false".
"The article published by the Herald Sun leads to the conclusion that this information must have come from Victoria Police or another agency working with it," the statement said.
The allegations had never been put to him by police.
"The leak was clearly designed to cause damage to me as a witness ahead of my evidence in the royal commission next week," his office said.
Victoria Police have referred it to the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission.
"Victoria Police is concerned about media reporting alleging that police have leaked details of a sensitive Taskforce Sano investigation," the police said in their statement, adding tht they took the allegation seriously.
A group of 10 sex abuse survivors will fly to Rome next week to hear the Cardinal, who is 74, give evidence to Australia's Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse via a video link on Feburary 29.
He has been excused from appearing in person because of his health.