Australian cardinal in the Vatican charged with sexual assault
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Australian cardinal in the Vatican charged with sexual assault

POLICE in Australia have charged the Vatican’s treasurer cardinal George Pell over sexual assault allegations from several people.

The 76-year-old priest, who is a top adviser to the Pope on financial matters and Australia’s most senior clergyman, was charged on Thursday by Victoria Police over “historical sexual assault offences.”

Pell has long denied any involvement in the sexual abuse of children, which Australian media has reported allegedly occurred from the 1970s to 1990s.

“During the course of the investigation in relation to Cardinal Pell, there has been a lot of reporting in the media and a lot of speculation about the process that has been involved in the investigation,” said Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton of Victoria Police on Thursday.

“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.”

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Victoria state police deputy commissioner Shane Patton speaks during a media conference regarding charging the Vatican’s treasurer, Australian Cardinal George Pell, with multiple sexual assault offenses, in Melbourne, Australia June 29, 2017. Source: Reuters/Joe Hinchliffe

SEE ALSO: Australia: Investigation finds 4,000 institutions implicated in child sex abuse

“Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process and so therefore it is important that the process is allowed to run its natural course,” said Patton.

A statement issued by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney reiterated that Pell has “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 arrangements,” said the statement.

Pell had previously refused to return to Australia to report to the country’s Royal Commission into Child Abuse, which found some 4000 predominantly-religious institutions implicated in the sexual abuse of children, claiming to be too sick to travel.

In February, a motion was presented in the Australian Senate calling upon the cardinal to return to Australia to cooperate with police over allegations against him.

Pell will be required to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 for a filing hearing. He will issue a public statement in Rome later today.