Cardinal George Pell has been charged with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offences and ordered to appear in a Melbourne court next month.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said the Vatican-based cardinal was required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 18.
He said the charges were served on Cardinal Pell’s legal representatives in Melbourne, and that they involved multiple complainants.
Last July, police confirmed they were formally investigating complaints about offences alleged to have occurred in Ballarat in the 1970s.
Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
Deputy Commissioner Patton said the “process and procedures” being followed had been the same as those applied “in a whole range of historical sex offences, whenever we investigate them”.
“The fact that he has been charged on summons — we have used advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions and also we have engaged with his legal representatives, which is common and standard practice.”
As head of the Vatican’s finances, Cardinal Pell is considered number three in the Catholic hierarchy behind the Pope.
In July, Cardinal Pell said the allegations were part of a smear campaign by the media.
“The allegations are untrue, I deny them absolutely,” Cardinal Pell said.
“I’m like any other Australian — I’m entitled to a fair go,” Cardinal Pell said.
However, he said he was “quite prepared to co-operate” with the process.
In October, three Victoria Police detectives flew to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell.
A Victoria Police statement issued at the time said: “Cardinal George Pell voluntarily participated in an interview regarding allegations of sexual assault.”
Australia does not have an extradition treaty with the Vatican, even though it does with Italy.
Conservative Cardinal’s road to Vatican
Cardinal Pell was the son of a Ballarat publican, a head prefect at school and a talented Australian Rules footballer, who was signed as a ruckman by the Richmond Football Club.
His studies took him to Rome and then Oxford.
In 1971 he returned to Victoria as an ordained priest, and rose through the ranks to eventually become Archbishop of Melbourne.
He rankled progressive Catholics with his resistance to reform.
He opposed the ordination of female priests, was anti-divorce and anti-abortion and also refused communion to gay activists at one of his masses.
In 1990 he said: “Homosexuality — we’re aware that it does exist. We believe such activity is wrong and we believe for the good of society it should not be encouraged.”
His hardline conservatism caught the attention of Rome, and he was chosen to join a Vatican congregation dedicated to enforcing orthodoxy.
“There are many smorgasbord Catholics who choose a bit of this and that … my business as bishop is to proclaim the whole of the message,” he said.
In 1996, then-Archbishop Pell was the first Catholic leader to address the child sexual abuse that has plagued the church.
He instigated a redress scheme called the Melbourne Response.
When announcing the scheme he said: “It’s a matter of regret that the Catholic Church has taken some time to come to grips with the sex abuse issue adequately.”
But the Melbourne Response, which capped compensation for victims at $50,000, was widely criticised as being legalistic and not offering enough support to victims.
He then became Archbishop of Sydney and was made a cardinal.
In 2014, he was chosen by the Pope to get the Vatican’s finances in order and he moved to Rome.
Ill health prevented him from returning to Australia in 2016 to give evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Cardinal George Pell is charged with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offences.