VATICAN CITY— Cardinal George Pell says he is taking a leave of absence as the Vatican's finance czar after Australian police charged him with multiple counts of "historical" sexual assault.
Pell appeared before reporters on Thursday to deny the accusations, denounce what he called a "relentless character assassination" in the media and announce he would return to Australia to face the charges.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Pope Francis had learned with "regret" of the charges and had granted Pell a leave of absence to defend himself. He said the Vatican's financial reforms would continue in his absence.
Pell has been summoned to appear in court in Australia's Victoria state next month.