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.
eputy commissioner Shane Patton
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.
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.
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.”