Cardinal George Pell says he is "looking forward" to his day in court.

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.


Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he was shocked his predecessor had been charged.

“The George Pell I know is a man of integrity in his dealings with others, a man of faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man.”

Archbishop Fisher, who said the Sydney archdiocese will assist with Cardinal Pell’s accommodation and support in Australia but not his legal bills, said justice and compassion for victims included getting to the truth of abuse allegations.

“No one should be prejudged because of their high profile, religious convictions or positions on social issues,” he said.

Cardinal Pell said he plans to return to Australia as soon as possible following advice from his doctors.

Abuse survivor Philip Nagle hopes the cardinal receives medical clearance to travel.

“The time has come. George needs to come home and face the music just like anyone else has to,” Mr Nagle said.

He remained in Rome for his third appearance before the child abuse royal commission in February last year, because of medical advice he should not take a long-haul flight due to a worsened heart condition.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said Cardinal Pell “has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation.”

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart said the presumption of innocence applies and his friend and brother priest of more than 50 years is entitled to a fair trial like all Australians.

“It is a matter of public record that Cardinal Pell addressed the evil of sexual abuse in the Church on becoming Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996,” he said.

A filing hearing will be held in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 26.