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Archbishop Pell faces his accusers

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Dr George Pell, held the Bible in his hand yesterday and swore before God that he would tell the truth about an alleged incident 41 years ago.

Dr Pell, who is believed to have worn a clerical collar and a black suit, entered the witness box about 10.30 am at the secret commission of inquiry, to deny allegations he sexually abused an altar boy.

The commission, being conducted by former Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell, is investigating a Melbourne man's allegations that, when aged 11, he was sexually assaulted by Dr Pell, then a student priest, aged about 20, at a camp for altar boys at Smiths Beach, Phillip Island, in 1961.

Dr Pell, who has made clear that child sex abuse is repugnant and that he did much in his former role as Archbishop of Melbourne to ensure victims got proper care and compensation for the hurt they suffered at the hands of abusive clergy, has described the charges as lies.

In a statement, Dr Pell told the commission he first heard about the allegations on August 8. He remembered the complainant, he said, and another altar boy the complainant alleges had also been sexually assaulted by Dr Pell, but said he had not seen or heard from them since 1961.

The archbishop revealed the existence of three photographs from Phillip Island camps, one of which appeared to have the complainant sitting on his shoulders, while the other alleged abuse victim was among other boys at his feet. He denied he was known as "Big George", as the complainant alleged.

The commission has heard from several witnesses about whether Dr Pell was known as "Big George" and if the boy on his shoulders was the complainant. It is believed the commission has been told by some that the boy on Dr Pell's shoulders was someone else.

The archbishop was taken through the issue by his lead counsel, Jeffrey Sher, QC, by counsel assisting the commissioner, Jeffrey Gleeson, QC, and by Michael Tovey, QC, counsel for the complainant. The commissioner is understood to have also asked questions of Dr Pell.

The commission, which was expected to last three days, may not end until today, after sitting for five days.

The Age

Activities of jailed priest reportedly resurface in Pell inquiry (2/10/02)
Southwell inquiry starts in Victoria (Catholic Weekly)
Critics complain about 'closed door' Pell inquiry (1/10/02)
Inquiry into archbishop abuse claims (BBC)
Pell sex abuse hearing to take place today (30/9/02)
Day of truth dawns for Pell and accuser (The Age)
Pell knew 'abused' boys (27/9/02)
I knew the altar boys, says Pell (The Age)
Family unaware of Pell abuse claim (24/9/02)
Pell accuser stands by his claim (10/9/02)
Pell defence swaps QCs (The Age)
Legal lifeline for Pell accuser (AAP)
Pell's accuser weighs up his options (9/9/02)
Terms of Reference Releases for Pell Enquiry (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)
Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney
Terms of Reference - The Pell Enquiry (comment from lawyer Geoff Cahill)
Dr Pell steps aside while allegations are investigated (Catholic Weekly 1/9/02)

4 Oct 2002