Cardinal George Pell has called for an investigation into Australia's Victoria police and claimed he is the victim of a "scandalous smear campaign" after allegations against him emerged of historic sexual abuse towards children.
The row with the police – who say it is "clear" the sources of sexual abuse complaints against Pell are the complainants – came after the ABC television network aired claims by two men about inappropriate behaviour by Pell going back as far as the 1970s.
This led Cardinal Pell to accuse the police of taking part in a "conspiracy to pervert the course of justice". A statement released on his behalf said: "It seems there has been leaking of information and allegations by elements of the Victorian police to the ABC. The cardinal calls for an investigation to assess whether any actions of elements of the Victoria police and the ABC programme amount to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice."
Victoria police's chief commissioner, Graham Ashton, said yesterday that the police had not provided the television network with any materials.
The ABC also released a statement saying Victoria police was not the source of its report. "Nor did witnesses approach ABC," the statement added. "The report was the result of our on-the-ground journalism over the course of months, which included finding people who would be willing to talk to us on camera. There is a clear public interest case for reporting on this matter."
In Rome, where Pell was appointed by Pope Francis as head of the Vatican's secretariat for the economy in 2014, the Cardinal said: "I have done nothing wrong."
The two men claim they were allegedly abused by the Cardinal when he was a priest in Ballarat, Victoria, in the summer of 1978-1979. The men, now in their 40s, are believed to have given statements to the Victoria police special child exploitation taskforce, Sano, detailing the incidents.
The incidents took place while Pell was allegedly playing with schoolchildren in a swimming pool.
The cardinal said he bore no ill feelings towards his accusers. "I bear no ill will and have no desire to cause them harm but what they say about me is not true," he said.
Pell added that he had not been approached by Sano for an interview.
But Ashton did not rule out sending officers to Rome to interview Pell, saying that the issue was now before the office of public prosecutions. "Anything is possible at this stage," he said.
In February, Cardinal Pell gave evidence via video-link from Rome to Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney, admitting that the Catholic Church had made "enourmous mistakes" and let abuse victims down.
Cardinal Pell's latest statement can be read here.