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Australian Police Investigate Vatican Official Over Child Abuse Allegations

Australian Cardinal George Pell leaves at the end of a meeting with the victims of sex abuse, at the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Italy, March 3, 2016.

Australian authorities say they are investigating a high-ranking Vatican official over multiple new allegations of decades-old child abuse, though they have yet to press charges.

"That's a matter that we investigated and still are investigating," Victoria state police chief Graham Ashton told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Wednesday.

The investigation stems in part from the claims of two men who say Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief, fondled them at a pool in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, in the late 1970’s. The men are now in their 40s.

Pell flat-out denied the claims made against him. In a statement from his office, he said the allegations were “nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign, which appears to be championed by the ABC.”

The ABC report detailed alleged misconduct involving Pell that dated from the 1970s to the 1990s. In total, ABC said it had obtained statements from eight complainants, witnesses and family members tied to the investigation.

In a later interview with Australia's Radio 3AW, Ashton said he had forwarded the case to the Office of Public Prosecutions to determine whether to move forward with charges or not.

“We’re waiting to hear back from them at this stage,” he said.

Pell was also accused of sex abuse in 2002, but those claims later proved to be false.

Pell was a priest in rural Victoria in the 1970s and 1980s before he became archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and archbishop of Sydney in 2001. He moved to the Vatican in 2014.