Vatican's Cardinal George Pell charged with historical sex offences in Australia

(Photo: Reuters / Brian Snyder)Arthur Austin (L) and Kathy Dwyer (R), who say they were sexually abused as children by different priests at St. Francis Church in Braintree, Massachusetts, hug outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, Dec. 8, 2002, where hundreds of protesters gathered to call for the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law. Attorneys for victims of abuse say recently released church documents reveal that Boston's Cardinal Law knew priests were sexually abusing parishioners and simply reassigned them to other posts.

One of the Vatican's highest-ranking officials has been summoned to appear in court on July 18 to face multiple charges of historical sex offences in the Australian state of Victoria.

The move is seen as a blow to the Catholic Church's attempts to put decades of child sex scadals behind it.

Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's finance chief, is to face the charges, which relate to complaints made by more than one person, The Financial Times reported.

To attend the hearing the 76-year-old prelate who is Australia's highest ranking Catholic would have to return to Melbourne from Rome, where Pope Francis had appointed him to clean up the Vatican's finances.

Victoria Police confirmed that Pell has been charged on summons over multiple allegations and is due to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 for a "filing hearing," The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

A statement from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said Cardinal Pell had been informed of Victoria Police's "decision and action".

"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. He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously," said the statement.

"He has again strenuously denied all allegations."


Cardinal Pell is the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican and his is likely to step aside from his post at the Holy See while he fights the charges.

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

More recently, however, Pell himself became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, leading to Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview him.

Althought the details of the allegations are unclear in the charges announced June 29, 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.

Victoria's Deputy Police Commissioner, Shane Patton, said the charges were served on Cardinal Pell's legal representatives in Melbourne on June 29, Patton said.

"The process and procedures that are being followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offences, whenever we investigate them," he said.

"Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation."

Police did not accept questions during the press conference and did not give details of the allegations.

Patton said it is important that due process is followed.

"Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to us all and so for Victoria Police, it is important that it is allowed to go through unhindered and allowed to see natural justice is afforded to all the parties involved, including Cardinal Pell and the complainants in this matter," he said.

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