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  1. ITV Report

Pope Francis's top financial adviser charged with historical sex offences

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies

Police have charged Pope Francis's top financial adviser with historical sex offences.

Cardinal George Pell, who is one of the most high-ranking Catholic officials, faces multiple charges of assault involving several complainants.

In a statement at the Vatican, Australia's top Vatican clergyman said he is "looking forward to having my day in court" so he can clear his name.

"This has been a relentless character assassination," the 76-year-old added.

"I'm innocent of these charges. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me."

Pell said Pope Francis had allowed him a leave of absence to return to Australia to fight the charges.

For years, Pell has faced claims that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and later, Sydney.

Only last year, he acknowledged during a testimony that the Catholic Church had made "enormous mistakes" by allowing thousands of children to fall victim to rape and molestation by priests.

And he admitted that he too had often believed priests over victims who claimed to have been abused.

Cardinal Pell says he is looking forward to clearing his name. Credit: AP

Pell is the highest-ranking Vatican official to ever be charged in the Catholic church's long-running sexual abuse scandal.

The latest development will come as a further blow for Pope Francis, who has promised a "zero tolerance" policy towards sex abuse.

The Vatican said it respects Australian justice but added Pell had often condemned sexual abuse as intolerable.

Pell has been summoned to appear before a Melbourne court on July 18

The latest charges will come as an embarrassment for Pope Francis. Credit: PA