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Cardinal Pell charged with multiple sex offences

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Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Cardinal George Pell, has been charged in relation to “multiple” sexual assault allegations.

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Victoria Police say the 76-year-old cleric will appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18 for a filing hearing.

Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief, has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual assault dating back to his time as a Ballarat priest and as Archbishop of Melbourne.

In a statement released today, Pell said he would return to Australia from Rome as soon as possible to clear his name.

“He has again strenuously denied all allegations,” a statement released by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said.

“He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously.”

The statement said Pell was told about the charges in the early hours of the morning in Rome and planned to make a statement at 1630 AEST.

“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,” it said.

“He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously.”

Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said a summons was served on Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne on Thursday.

“Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation,” Patton said.

“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.”

Pell faces multiple charges and “multiple complainants”.

“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,” Patton said.

It is so far unclear just which allegations Pell has been charged with.

Complaints were previously made to police relating to alleged sexual assaults in Ballarat between 1976 and 1980 and in East Melbourne between 1996 and 2001.

Pell denies all of the allegations made against him. Many were replicated in a book published in May, which Pell’s Rome office labelled “an exercise in character assassination”.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher has said Pell, who has co-operated with multiple police, parliamentary and royal commission investigations, is the victim of relentless character attacks.

Melbourne University Press confirmed it was removing ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s book from sale after Victoria after today’s charges.

“MUP is taking all reasonable measures to withdraw Cardinal: the rise and fall of George Pell by Louise Milligan from sale in Victoria now that Cardinal Pell has been charged,” a spokeswoman said.

The child sexual abuse royal commission is yet to hand down its official findings into how church figures, including Pell, handled past allegations of child abuse in Victoria’s Ballarat Diocese and the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

– with AAP

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