The Holy See has stressed the Secretariat for the Economy will continue its work after Pope Francis gave its prefect, Cardinal George Pell, a leave of absence to defend himself in court against sexual assault charges.

Earlier on Thursday, Victoria police decided to charge the cardinal “in respect to historic sexual offenses.”

Cardinal Pell has vigorously denied the charges, telling reporters at the Vatican this morning that he has been subjected to “relentless character assassination” and that news of the allegations strengthens his resolve and offers him the opportunity to clear his name.

Here below are both the statements given this morning by the Holy See and Cardinal Pell.

More soon.

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CARDINAL PELL’S STATEMENT

“Good morning to you all.

I want to say one or two brief words about my situation. These matters have been under investigation now for two years. There have been leaks to the media, there’s been relentless character assassination — a relentless character assassination — and for more than a month claims that a decision whether on laying charges is "imminent."

I’m looking forward to finally having my day in court.

I’m innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.

I’ve kept Pope Francis, the Holy Father, regularly informed during these long months, and I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week, most recently I think a day or so ago. We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name. So I am very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia. I’ve spoken to my lawyers about when this will be necessary, and I’ve spoken to my doctors about the best way to achieve this.

All along I’ve been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations. News of these charges strengthens my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here, back to Rome, to work.”

HOLY SEE’S STATEMENT

“The Holy See has learned with regret the news of charges filed in Australia against Card. George Pell for decades-old actions that have been attributed to him.

Having become aware of the charges, Card. Pell, acting in full respect for civil laws, has decided to return to his country to face the charges against him, recognizing the importance of his participation to ensure that the process is carried out fairly, and to foster the search for truth.

The Holy Father, having been informed by Card. Pell, has granted the Cardinal a leave of absence so he can defend himself.

During the Prefect’s absence, the Secretariat for the Economy will continue to carry out its institutional tasks. The Secretaries will remain at their posts to carry forward the ordinary affairs of the dicastery, donec aliter provideatur [until further notice].

The Holy Father, who has appreciated Cardinal Pell’s honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration, and in particular, for his energetic dedication to the reforms in the economic and administrative sector, as well as his active participation in the Council of Cardinals (C9).

The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system that will have to decide the merits of the questions raised. At the same time, it is important to recall that Card. Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors; has cooperated in the past with Australian authorities (for example, in his depositions before the Royal Commission); has supported the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; and finally, as a diocesan bishop in Australia, has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse.”