VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell on Friday dismissed accusations he sexually abused boys during his time as a priest which are reportedly being investigated by Australian police.
"The allegations are without foundation and utterly false," a statement issued by Pell's office in Rome said after the Melbourne-based Herald Sun newspaper reported that a police taskforce in the state of Victoria have been investigating Pell for the last year over allegations that he abused between five and 10 boys.
Details of the probe emerged a week before Pell is due to give evidence by video link to an Australian inquiry into abuse by priests in the town of Ballarat, near Melbourne.
The 74-year-old cardinal has been derided for saying he is too ill to make the journey home to testify in person over alleged cover-ups during his time as the head of Australia's Catholic hierarchy.
He has always denied knowing about any abuse in Ballarat. In his statement, he attacked the leaking of details of the ongoing investigation to the Herald Sun as malicious and the allegations against him as spurious.
"The timing of these leaks is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the Royal Commission," the statement said. "It is outrageous that these allegations have been brought to the cardinal's attention through a media leak."
Accusing elements in the Victoria police for trying to smear him, Pell called for a public inquiry into the leak.
"These types of unfair attacks diminish the work of those good officers of the police who are diligently working to bring justice to victims," it said.
The statement said Pell had been exonerated by a previous Australian investigation into false allegations against him, and insisted he would be again.
"The Southwell Report which exonerated Cardinal Pell has been in the public domain since 2002," it said.
"The Victorian police have taken no steps in all of that time to pursue the false allegations made, however the cardinal certainly has no objection to them reviewing the materials that led Justice Southwell to exonerate him. The cardinal is certain that the police will quickly reach the conclusion that the allegations are false.
"The Victorian Police have never sought to interview him in relation to any allegations of child sexual abuse and apart from the false allegations investigated by Justice Southwell, the cardinal knows of no claims or incidents which relate to him. He strongly denies any wrongdoing. If the police wish to question him he will co-operate, as he has with each and every public inquiry."