Catholic publications are inviting the faithful to contribute to cardinal's defence of child sexual abuse allegations

CARDINAL George Pell supporters are being asked to contribute to his legal fund as he prepares to defend charges of historical child sexual offences.

Advertisements in the Catholic Weekly and Annals Australasia, published by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart as a “journal of Catholic culture”, have invited donations since at least March to “help pay Cardinal Pell’s legal fees”.

Donations are held in a trust account by Victorian legal firm Ferdinand Zito & Associates. Cardinal Pell has pleaded not guilty to sexual offences against children in the late 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. He is also accused of sexual offences in Ballarat in the 1970s when he was a priest  

After Cardinal Pell was committed to stand trial in May the Catholic Weekly carried an article on its website saying: “When Cardinal Pell took leave from his role as Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy to voluntarily return to Australia nearly 12 months ago to fight the charges, many supporters wanted to contribute to his legal costs.”

But not all Catholics are happy with the request.

The Newcastle Herald was advised one person withdrew a subscription to Annals Australasia when the advertisement appeared in March. The advertisement has appeared in three subsequent editions.

Hunter abuse survivors including Bob O’Toole criticised the advertisements. Newcastle lawyer Peter Kelso, who specialises in institutional abuse cases, said he could “well understand the plea for financial help is irritating many people”.

Requesting funding through “church-run media can easily be interpreted as taking advantage of the Catholic faithful”, Mr Kelso said.

But there is no law stopping such advertisements, he said.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has said it is not responsible for Cardinal Pell’s legal bills. It described the fund as independent, “where people could contribute to his costs”.

“The Archdiocese of Sydney did not establish the fund nor is it managing the fund,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

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