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's top financial adviser and one of his most trusted aides, is facing accusations of child abuse going back to when he was a young priest in Australia in the 1980s and 90s.
The Vatican has been long trying to deal with paedophilia to regain its credibility.
"Three members of Victoria police travelled to Rome last week where Cardinal George Pell voluntarily participated in an interview regarding allegations of sexual assault," Victoria state police said.
"As a result of the interview, further investigations are continuing. We are not prepared to comment further at this time," they said.
The query came after an expose by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7:30 programme in July.
Pell, who is also Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, is said to have exposed himself to three young boys, who were between eight to ten years old, in a surfing club in the mid-80s, the broadcaster alleged.
There is an ongoing investigation of multiple allegations against the cardinal, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said in September, and that if appropriate, a police team could direct to Rome to interview with him.
According to the police, the investigation also includes alleged incidents which took place when Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne in the 90s.
The cardinal denied all allegations, telling reporters, "We must avoid a media verdict, a verdict based on gossip."
Not Vatican's first child case
Pell is certainly not the first clergy member to be the centre of damning allegations.
The pope set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014 as part of the Vatican’s efforts to deal with scandals about children sexually abused by priests. He also strengthened Vatican laws on child abuse, broadening the definition of crimes against children .
In the same year, the pontiff appeared in a meeting with a children’s rights group and said, “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children.”
"We will not take one step back with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed. We have to be even stronger," he added.