The country's highest-ranking Catholic has returned to Australia to defend himself against a string of sex abuse claims.
Cardinal George Pell, a key advisor to Pope Francis, will attend a hearing at Melbourne Magistrates on July 26 in an effort to clear his name. Australian police are yet to release any information regarding his alleged victims, except to reveal there are "multiple complainants".
The 76-year-old has vehemently denied the charges, stating: "The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me."
Cardinal Pell had already faced accusations that he mishandled sex abuse claims against the clergy, but the allegations against him will rock an already reeling Catholic Church further.
Historic abuse within the church
Earlier this year, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse revealed that 4,444 accusations of child abuse were made against the Catholic Church between 1980 and 2015.
More than 1,880 perpetrators were allegedly involved, with 7 per cent of all Catholic priests in the country facing complaints between 1950 and 2009. Over one-fifth of personnel at the Benedictine Community of New Norcia were accused of impropriety during that time.
Last year, Cardinal Pell claimed he was too ill to make the trip back to Australia from Rome to testify before the commission regarding the church's responses to sexual abuse.
However, since allegations were specifically levelled at him, the cardinal was forced to return to Australia to defend himself. He still suffers from poor health and made multiple stops on his journey home in an effort to avoid long-haul flights, according to the Associated Press.
Cardinal Pell described the abuse claims against him as a "relentless character assassination" and said he was looking forward to "having [his] day in court".
"All along, I have 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," he stated in a press conference.
Sexual abuse compensation in Australia
In Australia, victims of sexual assault can claim compensation for the suffering they experienced at the hands of their perpetrators, particularly in cases where institutional failings or cover-ups are a factor.
Justice Peter McClellan, the chair of the royal commission, said monetary payments – as well as counselling services and apologies from the institutions involved – are crucial to righting the wrongs of sex abuse within the church.
Would you like to speak to a lawyer about sexual abuse compensation? Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers today.