Australian police flew to Rome to interview a top Vatican cardinal about allegations of sexual assault dating back decades, officials said Wednesday.
Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis' top financial adviser and one of his most trusted aides, has long been dogged by allegations he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney. In recent months, Pell has faced accusations of child abuse himself when he was a young priest in the 1970s.
On Wednesday, police in Australia's Victoria state confirmed that they had interviewed Pell over the allegations.
"Three members of Victoria police traveled to Rome last week where Cardinal George Pell voluntarily participated in an interview regarding allegations of sexual assault," police spokeswoman Amara Bostock said. "As a result of the interview, further investigations are continuing. We are not prepared to comment further at this time."
The allegations involve two men, now in their 40s, who say Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s. Separately, a man told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he saw Pell exposing himself to three young boys in a surf club changing room in the late 1980s. Pell was at the time a senior priest in Melbourne.
Pell has repeatedly denied the allegations and did so again on Wednesday.
"The Cardinal repeats his previous rejection of all and every allegation of sexual abuse and will continue to cooperate with Victoria Police until the investigation is finalized," Pell's office said in a statement.
In August, Pope Francis had told reporters: "We must avoid a media verdict, a verdict based on gossip" when asked about the allegations against the cardinal.
Pell was ordained in Rome in 1966 before returning to Australia in 1971 and rising to become the nation's top Catholic official.
He left for the Vatican in 2014 after being hand-picked by Pope Francis to make the church's finances more transparent, although his powers were reined in earlier this month.
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