BREAKING: Cardinal George Pell, Third Highest Ranking Vatican Official, Charged With Multiple Sexual Offenses

The Guardian reports:

Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic and the third-ranking official in the Vatican, has been charged with multiple sexual offences by police. The charges were served on Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne on Thursday and they have been lodged also at Melbourne magistrates court. He will appear at Melbourne magistrates court on 18 July.

“Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges and there are multiple complainants,” Victoria police’s deputy commissioner Shane Patton said. Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.

Pell has consistently denied all allegations against him. After the possibility of his being charged was raised publicly, Pell told reporters: “I’d just like to restate my innocence.” “I stand by everything I’ve said at the royal commission [on child sexual abuse] and in other places. We have to respect due process, wait until it’s concluded and obviously I’ll continue to cooperate fully.”

More from the Sydney Morning Herald:

The announcement is set to send shockwaves through the Catholic Church in Australia and around the world. Cardinal Pell is the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican, where he is responsible for the church’s finances. The charges are likely to force Cardinal Pell to step aside from his Vatican post while he fights the charges.

Cardinal Pell strenuously denies any wrongdoing. He has retained leading Victorian criminal barrister, Robert Richter QC, and it is likely some of the argument that Mr Richter will make in court will concern the question of whether Cardinal Pell can receive a fair trial given the large amount of pre-trial publicity.

The precise details of the charges are not known. However, a legal source told Fairfax Media that the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions, John Champion, has been assessing whether Cardinal Pell should face charges of rape, buggery or indecent assault.

As Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican, Cardinal Pell may avoid prosecution should he choose not to return to Victoria, but he is expected to come back to fight the charges.

And from The Australian:

Allegations raised in the past 18 months include that he assaulted boys at a Ballarat pool in the 1970s and allegations of assault at St Patrick’s cathedral in Melbourne, when he was archbishop.

Cardinal Pell was a parish priest in the Diocese of Ballarat, where he launched his extraordinary career. However, the diocese was riddled with hundreds and possibly thousands of cases of abuse in 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He had never been charged with any offences.

Cardinal Pell, 76, is serving as prefect of the secretariat of the economy to the Vatican, a role he has held since 2014. He was created a cardinal in 2003. He has previously served as Archbishop of Sydney and Archbishop of Melbourne.