Vatican finance chief George Pell, a close aide to Pope Francis, has been charged in Australia with multiple counts of child sex assault, police said on Thursday. The cardinal has denied the allegations.
“Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect to historical sexual offenses and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges,” said Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton. He said the charges were served on Thursday on Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne.
Details about the allegations were not immediately released, but Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged in sex abuse scandals that have shaken the church. Pell, as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, is the third most powerful official in the Vatican.
Pell “strenuously denied” the allegations in a statement released by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.
“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 archdiocese said. “He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously.”
Pell, who is 76 and was born in Australia, was informed of the charges in the early morning hours in Rome. The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said Pell would deliver a statement at the Vatican later on Thursday morning.
Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, which means he could avoid prosecution if he chose not to return to Australia. Pell has been told to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 for a first appearance.
Patton emphasized that Pell had not been treated differently because of his position. “I want to be perfectly clear: the process, and the procedures that have been followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell, have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offenses,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from the Vatican or Pope Francis.
Pell was appointed Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in February 2014, giving him authority over all economic and administrative activities within the Holy See and the Vatican City State. He is also part of a council which advises the pope on financial, business and governance matters.
Among other responsibilities, Pell prepares the annual budget for the Holy See and the Vatican City State.
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