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Vatican Official Questioned Over Sex Abuse Claims

FILE - 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 police have interviewed top Vatican official George Pell in Rome over decades-old sexual assault allegations, but authorities said no charges were filed.

A spokeswoman for Australia’s Victoria Police Department said three members of the police force travelled to Rome last week and Pell agreed voluntarily to be interviewed.

“As a result of the interview, further investigations are continuing. We are not prepared to comment further at this time,” spokeswoman Amara Bostock said.

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

Since the investigation began earlier this year, Pell has denied the claims made against him and accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which first reported the allegations, of running a “scandalous smear campaign” against him.

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.

On Wednesday, Pell again denied the allegations and said he would “continue to cooperate with Victoria Police until the investigation is finalized,” according to a statement from his office.

In August, Pope Francis said he wouldn’t address the allegations against Pell and told reporters they should avoid concluding a “media verdict, a verdict based on gossip.”