Cardinal George Pell, Cardinal-Prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy and senior adviser to Pope Francis, has taken leave from his Vatican office to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia after being issued a summons to appear for historical sexual assault offenses.

On June 29th, Victoria Police formally charged Cardinal Pell with multiple sexual assault offenses. He was served the summons to appear on behalf of his legal representatives in Melbourne, and will appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18th for a filing hearing. Victoria Police did not release a detailed list of the charges, only saying that:

“Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offences and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges.”

In response to accusations of different treatment on the basis Cardinal Pell’s status in the Vatican, they said:

“So for clarity, I want to be perfectly clear, 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.”

On Thursday in Rome, Cardinal Pell held a press conference in regards to the allegations. Pell said he was a “victim of relentless character assassination,” adding “I’m innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

“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,” Pell said. “I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.”

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney released a statement after being notified of Cardinal George Pell’s charges.

“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. He has again strenuously denied all allegations.”

On his return flight from his visit to Poland, Pope Francis was asked about the situation involving Cardinal Pell. He responed:

“Right now, they are in the hands of justice. And one mustn’t judge before justice judges. If I were to say a judgement in favor of or against Cardinal Pell, it wouldn’t be good because I (would) judge before. It’s true that there is doubt and there’s that clear principal of the law: in dubio pro reo (Editor’s note: the phrase is a Latin expression meaning in favor of the alleged guilty party), no? But, we must wait for justice and not make a first judgement ourselves, a media trial, because this doesn’t help. The judgement of gossip and then, one can…we don’t know what the result will be but be attentive to what justice decides. Once justice speaks, I will speak.”

Video: Cardinal Pell makes statement

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