by WorldTribune Staff, June 29, 2017
One of the most senior advisers to Pope Francis announced he will return to Australia to face criminal charges for alleged sex offenses in what is being seen as a blow to the Vatican where he has been residing.
Australian Cardinal George Pell has been granted a leave of absence so that he can return to Australia to respond to the charges dating back several decades, the BBC reported on June 29.
Pell, who has denied the charges, is set to appear in court in Melbourne on July 18.
At a news conference, Cardinal Pell told reporters: “There has been relentless character assassination for months … I am looking forward finally to having my day in court, I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
Cardinal Pell, 76, has already submitted his resignation having reached the compulsory retirement age of 75.
Pell, a former Archbishop of Sydney, was summoned to Rome by Pope Francis in 2014 to assist in sorting out a scandal at the Vatican Bank and to reform Vatican finances.
Three years ago, Pell cited health reasons for refusing to return to Australia to face questioning at a public hearing by a Royal Commission set up to investigate allegations of child sex abuse inside Australian institutions such as churches, schools and sporting groups, the BBC report said.
Pell agreed to answer questions by video link from Rome and vigorously denying any wrongdoing.
A Vatican statement said that Pope Francis “…has appreciated Cardinal Pell’s honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration, and in particular, for his energetic dedication to the reforms in the economic and administrative sector.”
The statement added: “The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system that will have to decide the merits of the questions raised.
“At the same time, it is important to recall that Card Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors; has cooperated in the past with Australian authorities (for example, in his depositions before the Royal Commission); has supported the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; and finally, as a diocesan bishop in Australia, has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse.”