UPDATE @5.45pm: Cardinal George Pell has denied all allegations against him, after being charged by Victoria Police with multiple counts of sexual abuse.
Before a packed news conference in The Vatican, the third most senior Catholic in the world has vowed to return to Australia to clear his name.
“There has been relentless character assassination,” he said.
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“I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.
“I’m innocent of these charges; they are false.
“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
Cardinal Pell said he had kept the Pope informed during the investigation and has spoken to him a number of times in the past week.
“We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name,” he said.
“So I’m very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia.
“I’ve spoken to my lawyers about when this will be necessary and I’ve spoken to my doctors about the best way to achieve this.
“All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations.
“News of these charges strengthens my resolve.
“And court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here back to Rome to work.”
A Vatican spokesman said the Secretariat for the Economy, which Cardinal Pell runs, will continue its work.
“The Holy See has learned with regret the news of charges filed against Cardinal George Pell for decades-old actions that have been attributed to him,” he said.
“Cardinal Pell … has decided to return to his country to face the charges against him, recognising the importance of his participation to ensure that the process is carried out fairly and to foster the search for truth.
“The Holy Father, who has appreciated Cardinal Pell’s honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration and in particular for his energetic dedication to the reforms in the economic and administrative sector, as well as his active participation in the Council of Cardinals.
“The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system, which will have to decide the merits of the questions raised.
“At the same time, it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors.
“He has co-operated in the past with Australian authorities, for example in his depositions before the royal commission, has supported the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and finally as a diocesan bishop in Australia, has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse.”
EARLIER @ 11.50am: Cardinal George Pell has revealed he will be “returning to Australia as soon as possible to clear his name” after being charged with historical child sexual assault offences.
A statement was released on behalf of Cardinal Pell on Thursday, just hours after Victoria Police confirmed he was facing multiple charges in relation to multiple complainants.
“Although it is still in the early hours of the morning in Rome, Cardinal George Pell has been informed of the decision and action of Victoria Police,” the statement reads.
“He has again strenuously denied all allegations.
“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 plans.
“He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously”.
Cardinal Pell is expected to make a full statement in Rome at 4.30pm AEST.
EARLIER @ 10.25am: Cardinal George Pell has been charged on summons with historical child sexual assault offences, Victoria Police have confirmed.
At a news conference on Thursday, Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton revealed Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in relation to multiple complainants.
Cardinal Pell, who is currently in Rome, will return to Australia to appear in court on July 18.
It’s understood he will fight the charges, having always strenuously denied all allegations.
“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it’s important that the process is allowed to run its natural course,” Commissioner Patton said.
“Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to all of us.”
Victoria Police confirmed they had sought advice from the Office of Public Prosecution and engaged with Cardinal Pell’s legal representatives during the investigation.
“There has been no change in any procedures whatsoever. Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation,” Commissioner Patton said.
Victoria Police said they will not be making any further comment.
— ABC News (@abcnews) June 29, 2017