'I'm innocent of these charges' - Cardinal Pell

The Pope has given leave to Cardinal George Pell, Australia's most senior Catholic cleric, to defend himself over allegations of historic sexual abuse.

Cardinal Pell said he looked forward to clearing his name.

He will appear in a Melbourne court next month, following charges laid today by Victorian Police.

Speaking at a Vatican news conference, the Cardinal said the charges were false.

"I'm looking forward finally to having my day in court. I'm innocent of these charges, they are false," he said.

"The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me."

"These charges strengthen my resolve and the court proceedings now offer me the opportunity to clear my name and then return here back to Rome to work," Pell said.

As head of the Vatican's finances, Cardinal Pell is considered third in the Catholic hierarchy behind the Pope.

He has been a strong supporter of traditional Catholic values, taking a conservative stance on same-sex marriage and contraception, and advocating priestly celibacy.

But his career has been dogged first by claims that he covered up child sexual abuse by priests, and then later that he was himself an abuser. He has always strongly denied any wrongdoing.

In 2014, Cardinal Pell was summoned to Rome to become chief of the Vatican's finances, a new position created by Pope Francis in the wake of scandals at the Vatican Bank.

But he left behind growing anger over revelations of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy in Australia.

Cardinal Pell repeatedly faced allegations from abuse victims of a cover-up and his critics accused him of appearing aloof and arrogant.

He was accused of moving one notorious paedophile priest - Gerald Ridsdale - around parishes rather than reporting him, and of attempting to bribe one of the victims to keep quiet.

He denied any wrongdoing but said he could have done more to investigate claims of abuse.

In 2016 the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) aired allegations by two men who claimed Cardinal Pell had touched them inappropriately in the 1970s.

He strongly denied the allegations, describing them as a "scandalous smear campaign".


Photo: AFP Australian Cardinal George Pell looks on as he makes a statement at the Holy See Press Office in the Vatican City.