Cardinal George Pell says being charged over historical sexual assault allegations has only strengthened his resolve to prove his innocence.
Pope Francis has granted Cardinal Pell, who as Vatican treasurer is considered the third most powerful person in the Catholic Church, a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself.
Australia’s most senior Catholic says he is looking forward to finally having his day in court, after a two-year investigation, leaks to the media and “relentless character assassination”.
“All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations,” he said in Rome.
“News of these charges strengthens my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return to my work in Rome.”
The former Melbourne and Sydney archbishop and Ballarat priest says he will return to Australia to clear his name after being charged on summons with offences involving multiple complainants.
Cardinal Pell said he had spoken to his lawyers about when he needed to return and to his doctors about how best to do so.
He remained in Rome for his third appearance before the child abuse royal commission in February last year after medical advice he should not take a long-haul flight due to a worsened heart condition.
Abuse survivor Philip Nagle hopes the cardinal receives medical clearance to travel.
“The time has come. George needs to come home and face the music just like anyone else has to,” Mr Nagle said.
Abuse survivor Peter Blenkiron said it is important everyone gets their day in court, whether it is the alleged perpetrator or the alleged victims.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said he was shocked Cardinal Pell had been charged and no one should be prejudged because of their high profile, religious convictions or positions on social issues.
“The justice and compassion we all seek for victims of abuse includes getting to the truth of such allegations,” he said.
A statement from the Holy See said it learned of the charges “with regret”.
“Cardinal Pell, acting in full respect of civil laws, has decided to return to his country to face the charges against him, recognising the importance of his participation to ensure that the process is carried out fairly and to foster the search for truth.”
The Holy See said it respects the Australian justice system.
“At the same time, it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors.”
The Holy See said during Cardinal Pell’s absence as prefect, the Secretariat for the Economy will continue to carry out its institutional tasks.
“The Holy Father, who 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, as well as his active participation in the Council of Cardinals.”