Vatican treasurer charged with sex offences in Australia
Cardinal George Pell says he has been a victim of 'relentless character assassination'
Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican treasurer, has been charged with multiple cases of sexual assault by police in his native Australia.
He has been summoned to appear in court in Victoria on 18 July. Details of the allegations have not been released.
Denying the claims, Pell said he has been a victim of "relentless character assassination" and looked forward to having his day in court.
In a press conference from the Vatican, he also said he had spoken to Pope Francis "on a number of occasions in the last week. We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name."
"We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name," he added.
A statement from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said the cardinal "has again strenuously denied all allegations" and will "defend the charges vigorously".
As Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, "Pell may avoid prosecution should he choose not to return to Victoria", says the Sydney Morning Herald. "But he is expected to come back to fight the charges."
The paper adds that the cardinal was a parish priest in the Diocese of Ballarat, which was "riddled with hundreds and possibly thousands of cases of abuse in 1960s, 1970s and 1980s".
He has "previously denied covering up abuse committed by priests when he served as the Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001", says CNN. "But he acknowledged his predecessor, Archbishop Frank Little, now deceased, had destroyed documents to protect priests."
In October 2016, Pell was interviewed by Australian police investigating allegations of abuse within the Catholic Church.
"Last year, citing ill health, Pell declined to return to Australia to give evidence to the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse in person and instead gave evidence by videolink from Rome," The Guardian reports.