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George Pell granted leave by Pope to fight historical sexual assault offences

Cardinal George Pell is taking leave of his Vatican duties after informing the Pope he plans to return to Australia to fight historical sexual assault charges in court and clear his name.

Pell said he had been the victim of "relentless character assassination" and the charges "strengthened his resolve" to clear his name.

He said he wanted to return to Australia for his "day in court", after being granted leave by Pope Francis.

"I'm looking forward, finally, to having my day in court," he said.

"I'm innocent of those charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.

"There have been leaks to the media. There has been relentless character assassination."

In a press conference from the Vatican, Pell said he had spoken to Pope Francis about the case and had been granted leave.

"I've kept Pope Francis, the Holy Father, regularly informed during these long months," he said.

"I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week. We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name.

"So I'm grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia."

Pell reiterated his innocence saying he had spoken to his lawyers about when he needed to return, and to his doctors about how to travel to Australia.

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