The Vatican treasurer, Cardinal George Pell, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing after being charged with sex offences in his native Australia.
He complained that he had been subjected to “relentless character assassination” during a two-year investigation into the “false” claims.
He said the Pope had granted him a leave of absence to fight the charges.
The charges relate to alleged “historical” incidents, police in the state of Victoria said.
The allegations were made by a number of people, said Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.
Cardinal Pell, 76, who is based in the Vatican, is considered the third-ranking official in the Holy See.
He told a news conference at the Holy See that he would travel to Australia if his doctors permitted it.
“I’m looking forward finally to having my day in court,” he said.
“I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
Cardinal Pell was questioned by Australian detectives in the Vatican last year after saying he was to unwell to take a long flight to Australia.
The Catholic Church worldwide has in recent years faced a damaging series of allegations relating to sex abuse by priests, and claims that these cases were covered up.
The BBC’s James Reynolds says the charges leave the Church – and the Pope – in an uncomfortable position.
After his election in 2013, Pope Francis created a commission to deal with allegations of sexual abuse by clerics. Now he finds that one of his closest advisers faces charges of his own.