Pope Francis’ top aide charged with sexual assault

Australia’s senior Catholic prelate, and one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, has been reportedly charged with sexual assault.

Cardinal George Pell, became the highest-ranking Vatican official in recent years to face criminal charges involving accusations of sexual offenses.

“Cardinal Pell has been charged on summons, and he is required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court,” on July 18, Shane Patton, the deputy police commissioner in the Australian state of Victoria said.

Patton said there were multiple complainants but refused to provide further details about them, including their ages.

“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 offenses, whenever we investigate them,” Patton added.

“Cardinal Pell has been treated the same as anyone else.”

Cardinal Pell, the Vatican’s de facto finance chief, had been accused in hearings before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of mishandling misconduct cases against clergy members while he served as the leader of the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney, New York Times reports.

Then allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors himself beginning early in his priesthood and continuing until he became archbishop of Melbourne.

He has repeatedly denied the accusations.

“I’d just like to restate my innocence,” Pell said in Rome last month after the police in Australia confirmed that they were considering charges against him.

“I stand by everything I’ve said at the Royal Commission and in other places.”

In a statement Thursday morning, the Archdiocese of Sydney said that the cardinal had been informed of the charges and that “he has again strenuously denied all allegations.”

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

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