June 28 (UPI) -- Cardinal George Pell, a top adviser to Pope Francis, has been charged with multiple counts of sexual assault in his home country of Australia.
"Cardinal Pell is facing multiple charges in respect of historic sexual offenses and there are multiple complainants relating to those charges," said Melbourne Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton in a statement.
Patton did not elaborate on the charges and did not take any questions from reporters after making his statement.
Pell, the third-ranking member of the Vatican, has denied all allegations against him.
"I'd just like to restate my innocence," Pell told reporters in May. "I stand by everything I've said at the royal commission and in other places. We have to respect due process, wait until it's concluded and obviously I'll continue to cooperate fully."
An Australian commission to investigate child abuse within the Catholic Church in that country has interviewed Pell numerous times over the years.
In March 2016, he told the commission that he failed to take action on a pedophile priest who was known to carry a handgun and allegedly stabbed a bird with a screwdriver in front of children because he was misled by other church leaders and was unaware of the situation.
"They realized very clearly I was not cut from the same cloth," he told the inquiry at the time. "They [Catholic Education Office] would have been fearful ... that I would have asked all sorts of inconvenient questions if I'd been better briefed." Pell himself has been accused of child abuse. In 2002, a man said he had been a sexual abuse victim of Pell at the age of 12 in 1961.
Pell said the accusations were lies" and said he "utterly and totally" denied them.
The case was investigated in 2002 and ruled to be unsubstantiated.