AUSTRALIAN police charged top adviser to Pope Francis, Cardinal George Pell with multiple historical sex crimes on Thursday.
Pell, 76, is the Vatican’s de facto treasury minister and is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged with sexual abuse.
He faces ‘multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offences’ from multiple complainants, said police in the Australian state of Victoria, where Pell was a country priest in the 1970s.
The police did not specify the charges against Pell, nor the ages of the alleged victims nor when the crimes were alleged to have occurred.
The Australian Catholic Church said in a statement that Pell strongly denied the charges and planned to return to Australia to ‘clear his name’.
‘He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously,’ the statement said. It also said his doctors would advise on his travel arrangements.
Pell angered victims at a government inquiry into institutional child abuse in Australia last year by saying he was too sick to fly, instead testifying from Rome.
He was ordered to appear before Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.
The pope told reporters last year he would wait until Australian justice took its course before taking a position on Pell, his financial controller since 2014.
‘It’s in the hands of the justice system and one cannot judge before the justice system,’ the pope said at the time. ‘After the justice system speaks, I will speak.’
Photo credit: Reuters