Cardinal George Pell, 76, the thirdranking official at the Vatican and a senior adviser to Pope Francis, has taken a leave of absence to return to Australia, his home country to fight historical sexual assault charges against him. In 2013 he was one of the eight cardinals assigned by Pope Francis to investigate ways to reform the Catholic Church. The next year he was appointed as head of the Vatican’s newly created position: secretariat of the economy. His job is to oversee the budgeting processes and financial procedures of the Vatican. A similar office in the US would be the secretary of the treasury. He is the Australia’s most senior Catholic and he has become the highest-ranking Roman Catholic clergy member to be formally charged with sexual offenses. The Australian police have not released a detailed list of charges yet, or any information about alleged victims, saying only there were “multiple complainants” and multiple charges. Cardinal Pell said he has been the victim of “relentless character assassination” rebutting the allegations. He said “I’m innocent of these charges, they are false, the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.” He said he is looking forward to defending himself against the claims, which have been swirled around in the Australian media for two years. The police have said Pell has not received any special treatment, and the same process and procedures have been followed as in any investigation of historical sex offenses. On July 26, 2017 in the Melbourne Magistrate’s court, a hearing will be held when a full list of charges is expected to be released. Pell has previously denied covering up abuse committed by priests when he was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001. But he did acknowledge that his predecessor, Archbishop Frank Little, now deceased, had destroyed documents to protect priests. A 2013 Australian government study into Child Sexual Abuse from 1950 to 2015, found that 7% of priests in Australia were accused of abusing children with at least 1,880 alleged perpetrators identified, with 4,444 victims coming forward. When Pope Francis was asked about the allegations against Pell last year, he said he’d defer to the courts before making his own judgment. “one mustn’t judge before justice judges.“ The Vatican issued a recent statement praising Pell’s work in combating sex abuse, including cooperating with authorities and introducing systems in order to help protect and assist minors in Australia. “The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system, which will have to decide the merits of the questions raised.” Pell said “All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations. News of these charges strengthen my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name, I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.”