June 29 (UPI) -- Cardinal George Pell on Thursday announced he is taking a leave of absence from his role as top adviser to Pope Francis in the Vatican to return to Australia to fight sexual assault charges.
Pell said he is "looking forward finally to having my day in court," on multiple counts of sexual assault charges. Officials in Melbourne ordered him to appear in court in his home country on July 18.
Earlier in the day, Melbourne Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton accused the cardinal of "historic sexual assault offenses" from multiple complainants.
Pell, the third-ranking member of the Vatican, has denied all allegations against him.
An Australian commission to investigate child abuse within the Catholic Church in Australia has interviewed Pell numerous times over the years.
"I've kept Pope Francis, the holy father, regularly informed during these long months and have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week, most recently a day or so ago," Pell said Thursday.
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.
Pell denied sexual assault allegations against himself in 2002 when 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.
Ray Downs contributed to this report.