Pell has strenuously denied all allegations. At a press conference in Rome this afternoon he claimed he is the victim of "relentless character assassination".
Here is a transcript of what was said:
Good morning to you all. I want to say one or two brief words about my situation.
These matters have been under investigation now for two years.
There have been leaks to the media. There has been relentless character assassination — relentless character assassination — and for more than a month, claims that a decision on whether to lay charges was imminent.
I'm looking forward, finally, to having my day in court.
The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.
I've kept Pope Francis — the Holy Father — regularly informed during these long months. I have spoken to him on a number of occasions in the last week, I think most recently, a day or so ago.
We talked about my need to take leave to clear my name. So I'm very grateful to the Holy Father for giving me this leave to return to Australia.
I've spoken to my lawyers about when this will be necessary.
And I've spoken to my doctors about the best way to achieve this.
All along, I have been completely consistent and clear in my total rejection of these allegations.
News of these charges strengthens my resolve, strengthens my resolve.
And court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return here back to Rome to work.
Pell's statement was followed by another read by a spokesman for the Holy See:
The Holy See has learned with regret the news of charges filed against Cardinal George Pell for decades-old actions that have been attributed to him.
The Holy Father — having been informed by Cardinal Pell — has granted the Cardinal a leave of absence so he can defend himself.
During the prefect's absence, the secretariat for the economy will continue to carry out its institutional tasks.
The secretaries will remain at their posts to carry forward the ordinary affairs of the dicastery.
The Holy Father, who has appreciated Cardinal Pell's honesty during his three years of work in the Roman Curia, is grateful for his collaboration and, in particular, for his energetic dedication to the reforms in the economic and administrative sector, as well as his active participation in the Council of Cardinals, the C-9.
The Holy See expresses its respect for the Australian justice system, which will have to decide the merits of the questions raised.
At the same time, it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors.
He has cooperated in the past with Australian authorities, for example, in his depositions before the royal commission, has supported the pontifical commission for the protection of minors, and finally — as a diocese and bishop in Australia — has introduced systems and procedures both for the protection of minors and to provide assistance to victims of abuse.
"If the truck driver picks up some lady and then molests her, I don't think it's appropriate, because it is contrary to the policy, for the ownership, the leadership of that company to be held responsible,"
Cardinal Pell told the commission via video link from Rome.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said priests got access to children with the parents' consent, unlike truck drivers.
"The relationship between the priest and a child is quite different to that between the truck driver and the casual passenger, isn't it?"
"Yes, I would certainly concede that"