Vatican treasurer, Cardinal Pell, denies sex charges
He complained that he had been subjected to “relentless character assassination” during a two-year investigation into the “false” claims.
He said the Pope had granted him a leave of absence to fight the charges.
The charges relate to alleged “historical” incidents, police in the state of Victoria said.
The allegations were made by a number of people, said Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.
Cardinal Pell, 76, who is based in the Vatican, is considered the third-ranking official in the Holy See.
He told a news conference at the Holy See: “I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court.
“I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
The Catholic Church worldwide has in recent years faced a damaging series of allegations relating to sex abuse by priests, and claims that these cases were covered up.
The BBC’s James Reynolds says the charges leave the Church – and the Pope – in an uncomfortable position.
After his election in 2013, Pope Francis created a commission to deal with allegations of sexual abuse by clerics. Now he finds that one of his closest advisers faces charges of his own.
Victoria Police said they had made the decision to charge Cardinal Pell after receiving advice from prosecutors last month.
“Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges and there are multiple complainants,” Deputy Commissioner Patton said.
The cardinal would be required to face the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 18 July, Deputy Commissioner Patton said.
A magistrate will decide next week whether to release the details and the nature of the charges ahead of the cardinal’s court appearance.
Cardinal Pell is not just Australia’s most senior cleric, he is one of the highest-ranking officials in the Catholic world.
For two decades, he has been a frontline figure in the Church’s debate over controversial issues such as homosexuality, Aids and stem cell research.
He has also handled the Church’s official response to allegations of sexual abuse within its Australian ranks during a series of inquiries.
When he gave evidence via video link to a Royal Commission into abuse last year, some abuse survivors flew all the way to Rome to watch.
It is hard to overstate, therefore, the significance of the decision to press charges against him.
When he returns to face those charges in an Australian court, every second will be scrutinised not just by the Australian press, but by members of Catholic congregations across the globe.