George Pell: Ballarat leaders, abuse survivors and Catholics respond to 'momentous' charges

George Pell: Ballarat leaders, abuse survivors and Catholics respond to 'momentous' charges

George Pell: Ballarat leaders, abuse survivors and Catholics respond to 'momentous' charges

Updated 30 June 2017, 15:40 AEST

The community of Ballarat prepares for a trial that is going to "rock people's worlds" but the court case provides a chance for healing, city leaders, abuse survivors and Catholics say after formal charges are laid against Cardinal George Pell.

There has been a mixed response in Ballarat among city leaders, abuse survivors and Catholics in response to news formal charges have been laid against Cardinal George Pell.

Pell, the third-highest ranking Vatican official, has a lifelong connection to the Victorian city where he was born and first ordained.

He will return to Australia to fight the historical sexual assault charges laid by Victoria Police. He rejects the allegations and has claimed he is the victim of "relentless character assassination".

Abuse survivor Andrew Collins, who has previously spoken publicly about alleged clerical abuse, has spent almost a decade campaigning for better outcomes for victims.

"He's an icon of Ballarat, and to see a man like George Pell and Ballarat face these charges, that's a sobering thought I think for the whole community — a lot of people can't take any joy from this," Mr Collins said.

"You know the survivors have felt like this is a David and Goliath struggle, you've got individual people that are struggling — it's a momentous day for them."

Mr Collins said the announcement of charges against Pell will have a wider impact across the city.

"It's going to affect a lot of people in Ballarat," he said.

"This is really going to rock people's worlds so to speak, and we don't have a choice and we have to go through it all."

Ballarat's St Alipius Parish is a world away from the grandeur of the Vatican, but it was there Pell gave some of his first sermons.

Pell worked under the banner of the Ballarat diocese through the 1970s.

Many in Ballarat have watched his steady ascension through the Catholic hierarchy to the Vatican with immense pride.

Its current bishop, Paul Bird, chose not to comment on Thursday's charges, referring instead to the Cardinal's own statement.

Mr Collins said the developments were momentous for Catholics.

"I do think it's a real watershed moment for the Catholic Church in Australia," he said.

"I think they have to stand squarely in the middle and allow the court system to run that process."

City councillor Belinda Coates said it would be hard for people to temper their response on such an explosive issue for the city.

"It's been such a long journey already and there's still a long way to go for healing for our community," she said.

"And given that people's emotions will be running high, it is really important that it just runs due course."

Cr Coates travelled to Rome with abuse survivors to witness Pell give testimony to the sex abuse royal commission last year.

She said Ballarat has the strength to weather the storm.

"I think the people of Ballarat are very resilient and have demonstrated that, so they're prepared to step up and support each other," she said.

"So this is really just another step in the process towards the possibility of Ballarat healing as a community."