News State Victoria Cardinal George Pell charged with multiple sex offences
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Cardinal George Pell charged with multiple sex offences

Cardinal George Pell
Cardinal Pell is expected to be charged with sexual offences. Photo: AAP
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Cardinal George Pell will return to Australia to “vigorously” defend historical sex charges brought against him by Victoria Police, defiantly declaring that court would allow him to clear his name.

“There has been relentless character assassination,” the former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop told reporters in Rome.

“I’m looking forward, finally, to having my day in court,” Cardinal Pell said. “I’m innocent of these charges. They are false.

“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said in a brief statement to media, taking no questions from reporters.

Police confirmed on Thursday morning that Cardinal Pell had been charged “with historical sexual assault offences” and had been summonsed to appear in a Melbourne court in July.

“The charges were today served on Cardinal Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne and they have been lodged also at the Melbourne Magistrates Court,” Victoria Police deputy commissioner Shane Patton told a media conference.

Deputy Commissioner Patton said Cardinal Pell was facing multiple charges.

“Cardinal Pell has been charged on summons and he is required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 this year for a filing hearing,” he said.

Addressing the media at the Vatican on Thursday afternoon (AEST), Cardinal Pell repeated his denials of the allegations, adding “the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me”.

Cardinal Pell, 76, confirmed he would return to Australia from the Vatican to answer the charges, but pending a clearance from his doctors to allow him to travel.

Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied allegations of abuse against him, branding them as false and part of a media “smear campaign” to discredit him.

The charges will send shockwaves through the Catholic Church both in Australia and around the world.

Cardinal Pell is not only Australia’s most senior Catholic, but also the Vatican’s finance chief and is considered the third-most powerful person in the Catholic Church.

He previously refused to return to Australia to front the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2016, citing illness as his reason for being unable to travel.

He instead appeared via video link from Rome to refute allegations he helped cover up abuse by other members of the clergy.

Cardinal Pell and Pope Francis
Cardinal Pell is considered the world’s third most powerful Catholic. Photo: AAP

Three detectives from the Victoria Police Sano Taskforce travelled to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell about the allegations last October.

Deputy Commissioner Patton said police received advice from the Department of Public Prosecutions regarding the investigation in May.

“Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation,” he said.

It is important to note that none of the allegations that have been made against Cardinal Pell have been tested in any court yet.

“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it is important that the process is allowed to run its natural course.”

The allegations of sexual assault were reportedly made by two men now aged in their 40s, from Cardinal Pell’s home town of Ballarat.

The men said Cardinal Pell, then a parish priest, touched them inappropriately in the summer of 1978-79, when he was playing a throwing game with them at the city’s pool.

The ABC’s 7.30 program aired the details of the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Pell last year.

The Cardinal has vehemently denied the allegations, accusing the ABC of mounting a smear campaign against him and saying the broadcaster had “no licence to destroy the reputation of innocent people”.

He again denied any wrongdoing in July 2016 after the news he was being investigated.

“The allegations are untrue, I deny them absolutely,” he said.

“I’m like any other Australian — I’m entitled to a fair go.”