Australian Catholic Church says Cardinal Pell 'strenuously denies' sexual assault charges

The Catholic Church in Australia said on Thursday Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican treasurer, "strenuously denies" multiple sexual assault offenses brought against him by Australian police.

"Cardinal Pell will return to Australia, as soon as possible, to clear his name following advice and approval by his doctors who will also advise on his travel arrangements," the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said in a statement.

"He said he is looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously," it said.

Australian police charged Pell by summons on Thursday to appear before Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18.

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police said on Thursday they have charged the Vatican's treasurer, Australian Cardinal George Pell, with multiple sexual assault offences.

"Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offences," Victoria state police deputy commissioner Shane Patton told a news conference in Melbourne.

"There are multiple complainants relating to those charges," he said. Pell was charged by summons to appear before Melbourne Magistrates Court on July 18, Patton said.

Pell's Vatican spokesman and a spokeswoman for the Australian Catholic church did not respond immediately to emails seeking comment.

Patton gave no other details of the charges and would not take questions from the media.

Pell, 76, was a priest in the rural Victorian town of Ballarat before he was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne. He has lived at the Vatican since 2014.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Tom Westbrook; Editing by Paul Tait)