VATICAN SEX CHARGES Cardinal George Pell facing multiple ‘historic’ sex assault charges

Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal

POLICE have today charged a leading Vatican official with multiple counts of “historical” sexual abuse – in news which has rocked the very highest levels of the church.

Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser and Australia’s most senior Catholic, is the highest-ranking Vatican official to ever be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.

The Pope today granted Pell leave to return to his native Australia to face the charges.

At a hastily-arranged news conference called hours after Australian police charged him, Pell said he would return to clear his name after a two-year investigation he described as “relentless character assassination”.

“These charges strengthen my resolve and the court proceedings now offer me the opportunity to clear my name and then return here back to Rome to work,” Pell said this morning.

Earlier, Pell reportedly said he would return to Australia to fight the charges if he gets the all clear from his doctors.

The response has asked some to question whether the priest will cite poor health as a reason not to fly back home – as he did last year when faced with questioning by a royal commission.

Last year, the 76-year-old submitted a lengthy medical report which stated a flight to Australia to give evidence would severely impact his health and possibly lead to ‘heart failure’.

Victoria state Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said police have summonsed Pell to appear in an Australian court to face multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offences.” Patton revealed there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations.

Pell has been ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.

For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney.

But more recently, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal.

It is unclear what allegations today’s charges relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney issued a statement on behalf of Pell, saying he “strenuously denied all allegations” and would 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.

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