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VATICAN CITY (CBSMiami) – A top Vatican official and the Pope’s chief financial advisor is taking a leave of absence after Australia police charged him with multiple counts of ‘historical’ sexual assault.

“I’m innocent of these charges. They are false,” said Cardinal George Pell addressing reporters.

Cardinal Pell, who said he will not resign, has vowed to return to Australia to fight the charges leveled against him which go back decades.

“There has been relentless character assassination for months,” said Cardinal Pell. “I am looking forward finally to having my day in court.”

The 76-year-old Cardinal is the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to be charged in the Catholic church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.

While it’s unclear what the allegations stem from, two men now in their 40s have said Cardinal Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the 1970s when he was a senior priest in Melbourne.

“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” said Cardinal Pell.

The Vatican said the Pope has granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence to defend himself.

Cardinal Pell has been ordered to appear in an Australian court next month. Pell said he’ll need to obtain a medical clearance first.


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