Pell from Rome: 'I’m innocent of these charges.'

CARDINAL George Pell has declared, "I am innocent" as he faced media in Vatican City.

Addressing the media after historical sex charges were laid against him by Victoria Police on Thursday morning, Cardinal Pell said he would take leave to return to Australia to "vigorously defend" the charges.

"I'm innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me," he said.

Police confirmed this morning Cardinal Pell - Australia's most senior Catholic and the third most powerful in the Vatican - had been charged "with historical sexual assault offences".

He has been summonsed to appear at a filing hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.

The 76-year-old released a short statement where he declared he would return to Australia from the Vatican to answer the charges - as long as he was cleared to travel by doctors.

"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."

The statement issued by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said he "strenuously" denied the charges.

"[Cardinal Pell] said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously." He was expected to comment further at 4.30pm (AEST).

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told a media conference in Melbourne the charges were served today on Cardinal Pell's legal representatives in Melbourne and lodged at the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

"Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offences," he said.

Mr Patton insisted that Cardinal Pell was being treated in the same way as anyone else being investigated for historical sex offences.

"The fact that he has been charged on summons, we have used advice from the office of public prosecutions and also we have engaged with his legal representatives is common and standard practice. There has been no change in any procedures whatsoever. Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else in this investigation."

Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, where he is serving as prefect of the secretariat of the economy - meaning he could avoid prosecution if he chose not to return to Victoria.

He has always denied any wrongdoing and rejected media speculation about the nature of the investigation.

Mr Patton said Cardinal Pell had the right to "due process" and have the allegations against him tested in court.

"Preserving the integrity of that process is essential to us all and so for Victoria Police, it is important that it is allowed to go through unhindered and allowed to see natural justice is afforded to all the parties involved, including Cardinal Pell and the complainants in this matter."

Cardinal Pell has been in his Vatican role for four years. He was made a cardinal in 2003 and has previously served as Archbishop of Sydney and Archbishop of Melbourne.

News Corp reported last month Victoria Police had received advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions about the allegations against Rome-based Cardinal Pell.

The advice from the DPP was understood to be that charges could be laid against the cardinal, based on the brief of evidence investigators had gathered.

News Corp Australia

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