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.

EARLIER

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)

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Cardinal George Pell, Vatican abuse, sex crimes
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Cardinal George Pell, Vatican abuse, sex crimes
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 04: Australian cardinal George Pell attends a mass for the opening of the Synod on the themes of family held by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica on October 4, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The director of the Holy See press office Father Federico Lombardi on Saturday reacting to revelations by a high-ranking Vatican official that he is in a gay relationship said 'the decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the Synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure'. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 20: Pope Francis greets Australian Cardinal George Pell as he arrives at the Synod Hall for a session of Synod on The Themes Of Family on October 20, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Synod of Bishops on the family moves into its third and final week. Over the first two weeks the Church leaders have been seeking to resolve tensions between the different visions of family life and ministry. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: (FILES) Cardinal George Pell, Sydney Archbishop and the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, holds court at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, 03 June 2002. The conservative Pell has emerged as a candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II. AFP PHOTO/Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
(AUSTRALIA OUT) File photo dated 11 May 2003 of Archbishop George Pell holding mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney who was one of 31 new cardinals named by the Vatican on 28 September 2003. Pell, age 62, has made headlines in Australia for refusing communion to gays, for opposing women priests, for saying homosexuality was a bigger health hazard than smoking and that abortion was a worse moral scandal than sexual abuse by priests. AFP PHOTO/FAIRFAX/Robert PEARCE (Photo credit should read ROBERT PEARCE/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, Vatican: Newly appointed cardinal George Pell of Australia kisses Pope John Paul II's hand on St Peter square 21 October 2003 at the Vatican during the ordination ceremony of new cardinals. The 30 cardinals appointed today will bring the Consistory to 135 cardinal-electors who will meet in conclave to elect a next Pope after his death. AFP PHOTO PAOLO COCCO (Photo credit should read PAOLO COCCO/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: (FILES) Cardinal George Pell, Sydney Archbishop and the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, talks to the media outside St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, 01 April 2004. The conservative Pell has emerged as a candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II. AFP PHOTO/Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY - OCTOBER 25: Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell (L) and the personal secretary of Pope Benedict XVI Georg Ganswein (R) attend the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square October 25, 2006 in Vatican City. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Cardinal George Pell conducts the opening mass of World Youth Day (WYD), in Sydney on July 15, 2008. Pope Benedict XVI who did not attend this mass as he rests, is to lead the six-day celebration starting today for the event which is expected to attract up to 125,000 international visitors and that will culminate in a papal mass before an estimated 500,000 people in Sydney July 20. AFP PHOTO/William WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 15: In this handout photo provided by World Youth Day, His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney arrives for the Opening Mass of Welcome of World Youth Day Sydney 2008 at Barangaroo on July 15, 2008 in Sydney, Australia. Organised every two to three years by the Catholic Church, World Youth Day (WYD) is an invitation from the Pope to the youth of the world to celebrate their faith. The celebration, being held in Sydney from July 15, 2008 to July 20, 2008, will mark the first visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Australia. (Photo by World Youth Day via Getty Images)
Cardinal George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, unveils Australia's first pure gold (L) and silver (R) coins commemorating the canonisation of Mary MacKillop in Sydney on September 30, 2010. MacKillop is set to become Australia's first saint when she is canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on October 17, 101 years after her death. Only 7,500 silver coins will be issued by The Perth Mint, while the stricter mintage of 2,010 gold coins recognises the year in which she became a saint. AFP PHOTO / Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydney on November 13, 2012. The Catholic Church should not be the scapegoat in an Australian inquiry into child sex abuse, the country's most senior Catholic cleric said November 13 as he accused the press of a persistent campaign. AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 26: Cardinal George Pell arrives for his appearance at the Royal Commission on March 26, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Cardinal Pell is facing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney to answer questions about whether he was involved in compensation discussions related to the case of John Ellis who was sexually abused by Father Aidan Duggan.Cardinal Pell will soon move to Rome to undertake a senior role at the Vatican. (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)
Australian Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, attends a press conference on March 31, 2014 in Vatican. Cardinal George Pell and Italian writer Francesco Lozupone presented the book 'Co-responsability and transparency in the administration of church property'. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters hold placards outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney on February 29, 2016, as Australia's Cardinal George Pell gave evidence via video-link from a hotel in Rome to the Royal Commission rather than appearing in person as he has a heart condition. Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell admitted on February 29 the Catholic Church 'mucked up' in dealing with paedophile priests and vowed he would not 'defend the indefensible' before an Australian inquiry. AFP PHOTO / WIlliam WEST / AFP / WILLIAM WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
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