The Associated Press reports:
Cardinal George Pell, a top adviser to Pope Francis, took a leave of absence as the Vatican’s financial chief Thursday to fight criminal charges in his native Australia that alleged he committed sexual assault years ago.
Pell forcefully denied the accusations, denounced what he called a “relentless character assassination” in the media and said he would return to Australia to clear his name. “I repeat that I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said in an appearance at the Vatican press office.
Pell, 76, is the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to be charged in the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal, and the developments pose a new and serious obstacle for Francis in his promised “zero tolerance” policy.