One of the Pope's Top Advisers Has Been Charged With Sexual Assault

George Pell, one of Pope Francis’ most senior advisors and the Vatican's financial advisor, has been charged with multiple counts of sexual assault in his home country of Australia, The Los Angeles Times reports. Although the Australian Catholic church has a long history of sexual assault allegations, and Pell has been accused of mishandling abuse cases, Pell still rose to become the third highest ranked official in the Vatican and is the highest-ranking official ever implicated in such a crime, according to the Times. He will be required to go to court in Australia on July 18 to combat these charges. According to CNN, no victim names have been disclosed, only the information that there have been multiple allegations against him.

Pell will see his day in court, but it seems he is confident in the result, claiming that he is innocent. “All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations,” Pell said, according to CNN. “News of these charges strengthens my resolve and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and I am looking forward finally to having my day in court.”

The Vatican has also publicly announced their belief in Pell’s innocence. They stressed the work that Pell has done to combat sexual assault as well as his public condemnation of these acts multiple times in the past. “It’s important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse against minors," they said in a statement released on Thursday. Pope Francis has continued to stand by the cardinal, and granted him a leave of absence so he can return to Australia for the court proceedings, CNN reports.

Despite Pell's high ranking at the Vatican, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said at a press conference that the cardinal won't be treated any differently due to his high-ranking position in the church. "I want to be perfectly clear—the process and the procedures that have been followed in the charging of Cardinal Pell have been the same that have been applied in a whole range of historical sex offenses whenever we investigate them," he said at a press conference.

As the Catholic Church continues to struggle with its decades-long history of sex abuse, the world will be watching.