Australian Catholic Archbishop in abuse row


The head of the Catholic Church in Australia stepped aside today as the church began an inquiry into allegations he sexually abused a boy 40 years ago.

Sydney Archbishop George Pell denied the allegations but said he would co-operate with a retired judge to investigate the allegations he molested a 12-year-old boy when he was a trainee priest at a seminary near Melbourne.

"These allegations against me are lies and I deny them utterly and totally," he told reporters.

Archbishop Pell labelled the allegations a "vindictive smear" but said he had agreed to stand aside until the inquiry was completed "for the good of the church and to preserve the dignity of the office of Archbishop of Sydney".

The church's National Committee for Professional Standards, set up to deal with sex abuse allegations within the church, said the person making the accusations against Archbishop Pell had been encouraged to report the matter to the police but had not done so.

It said Mr Alec Southwell, a former judge with the Victoria state supreme court, had been retained "to adjudicate upon the complaint and to report to us".

Archbishop Pell stirred controversy last month when a Canadian newspaper reported he had told a conference abortion was a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people "because it [abortion] is always a destruction of human life".

Archbishop Pell has also been accused of covering up child sex abuse by other priests.