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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Proclaiming his innocence after being charged with sexual abuse, Australian Cardinal George Pell said, "I'm looking forward finally to having my day in court."
"I'm innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me," he said June 29 during a brief news conference in the Vatican press office.
Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said Pope Francis had granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence from his position as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy so that he can work on his defense.
Cardinal Pell, Burke added, will not participate in any public liturgies while his case is being considered.
"These matters have been under investigation now for two years," Cardinal Pell told the press. "There's been relentless character assassination, a relentless character assassination, and for more than a month claims that a decision on whether to lay charges was imminent."
Without giving specifics about the number of charges or the incidents, police in Australia's Victoria state announced June 29 that charges had been filed against the cardinal and that he has been called to appear in court July 18.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters June 29, "Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offenses and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges."