Vatican cardinal announces leave of absence, denounces sex assault charges

Posted on: June 29th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images(VATICAN CITY) — Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell said on Thursday that he will take a leave of absence from his post after Australian authorities charged him with multiple counts of sexual assault.

Victoria state police summoned Pell, 76, to appear in Australian court in July to face what they are calling “historical sexual assault offenses.”

Pell, who serves as Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser, denied the allegations in an appearance before reporters on Thursday, and said that the “matters have been under investigation now for two years.”

“There have been leaks to the media,” he said. “There has been relentless character assassination, relentless character assassination.”

Pell has not been asked to resign by Pope Francis, who has vowed zero tolerance for sexual-related offences. The pontiff granted Pell the leave of absence “so he can defend himself,” the Vatican said in a statement Thursday.

“The Holy See has learned with regret the news of charges filed in Australia against Card. George Pell for decades-old actions that have been attributed to him,” a statement from the church said. “The Holy Father, having been informed by Card. Pell, has granted the cardinal a leave of absence so he can defend himself.”

Pell, who was ordained as a priest more than 50 years ago, was appointed Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy for the Vatican in in 2014 under Pope Francis.

“I am looking forward finally to having my day in court,” Pell said on Thursday. “I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Pell voluntarily spoke with Australian police officials in Rome in 2016 in reference to alleged sexual assaults in Ballarat between 1976 and 1980 and in East Melbourne between 1996 and 2001.

The Vatican said Pell had “openly and repeatedly” condemned acts of abuse committed against minors, and noted his support for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

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