CARDINAL George Pell has strenuously denied allegations of child sexual assault after being charged by Victorian Police.
Cardinal Pell been ordered to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 18.
The Archdiocese of Sydney released a statement on behalf of Cardinal Pell after he was informed of the charges during the early hours in Rome.
“Cardinal Pell will return to Australia, as soon as possible, to clear his name following advice and approval by his doctors, who will also advise on his travel arrangements,” the statement said.
“He has again strenuously denied all allegations.”
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters the charges involved multiple complainants.
Last July, police confirmed they were investigating complaints about offences alleged to have occurred in Ballarat in the 1970s.
Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and said he would continue to co-operate with the police investigation.
Deputy Commissioner Patton accepted there had been a lot of speculation about the case.
He said the “process and procedures” being followed had been the same as those applied “in a whole range of historical sex offences, whenever we investigate them”.
“Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation,” he said.
Cardinal Pell, 76, is serving as prefect of the secretariat of the economy to the Vatican, a role he has held since 2014.
He was created a cardinal in 2003.
He has previously served as Archbishop of Sydney and Archbishop of Melbourne.
In July, Cardinal Pell said allegations against him were part of a smear campaign by the media.
“The allegations are untrue, I deny them absolutely,” he said.
Three months later, three Victoria Police detectives travelled to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell after he was declared unfit to travel to Australia.
In response to the charges, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Vice President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said “the Cardinal is entitled to the presumption of innocence, like any other member of the public”.
“The Cardinal has denied all allegations. In the past the Cardinal has consistently cooperated with the civil authorities, and justice now needs to run its course.”