The third most powerful person in the Catholic Church has taken leave from his role as the Vatican’s finance chief to return to Australia to defend himself and says the charges only strengthen his resolve to clear his name.
“I’m looking forward, finally, to having my day in court,” Cardinal Pell told reporters in Rome on Thursday.
“I’m innocent of these charges. They are false.
“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
The 76-year-old was charged by Victorian police on Thursday with historical sexual assault offences involving multiple complainants.
The former Ballarat priest and Melbourne and Sydney Archbishop has repeatedly denied the allegations during the two-year investigation.
“There have been leaks to the media,” Cardinal Pell noted.
“There has been relentless character assassination.”
Pope Francis has granted Cardinal Pell leave so he can return to Australia to fight the charges.
“All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations,” Cardinal Pell said.
“News of these charges strengthens my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return to my work in Rome.”
A Vatican spokesman said the Holy See “learned with regret” about the charges and respected the Australian justice system.
“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.”
The Pope appreciated Cardinal Pell’s honesty during his three years in Rome and is grateful for his energetic dedication to reform as Prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy, the spokesman said.