Cardinal George Pell has become the highest-ranking Vatican official to ever be charged in the Catholic Church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.
The 76-year-old, Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, was summonsed to appear in an Australian court to face multiple charges of “historical sexual assault offences”.
The Vatican’s finance chief has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Here is everything you need to know about the cardinal, the case and Australia’s history of sex abuse in the Catholic Church.
What is his position and background?
Widely regarded as the third most senior official in the Vatican, Cardinal Pell was appointed in 2014 to a five-year term to head the Vatican’s new economy secretariat.
The role gave him broad rein to control all economic, administrative, personnel and procurement functions of the Holy See, though the mandate has since been restricted to performing more of an oversight role.
Cardinal Pell, who holds a doctorate from Oxford and is a staunch conservative on issues such as homosexuality and abortion, has long been an imposing figure in the Church in Australia and has been heavily criticised for his handling of child sex abuse by Catholic priests.
Pell was ordained in Rome in 1966 before returning to Australia in 1971 and rose to become the nation’s top Catholic official.
He began his career in the Australian city of Ballarat, which has been at the centre of some of the worst instances of abuse to have emerged anywhere in the world, including a notorious paedophile ring.
He had been accused of historic sex abuse claims when he was the Archbishop of Sydney in 2002, but was later cleared of any wrongdoing, and had denied all the allegations.
Technically, the towering former rugby player already submitted his resignation to Francis when he turned 75 last year, but the pope kept him on.
What are the allegations?
It is unclear what allegations the charges announced relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at Eureka swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Cardinal Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.
“He would play games like throw the kids out of the water,” Lyndon Monument, a former student, claimed to the ABC in July last year.
“You know, his hand touching your genitals and stuff on the outside of your bathers or shorts. And…