Australian delegation travels to Rome amid sex abuse scandal

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VATICAN CITY (AP) - Leaders of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference have traveled to Rome to discuss "the restoration of trust" amid a sex abuse scandal involving Australian cardinal George Pell, a top adviser to the pope, the Vatican said Saturday.

The Vatican announced the delegation's visit this week in a statement, saying key Australian church leaders met with top officials including the Vatican secretary of state and the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. That is the Vatican office that processes all cases of priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

The extraordinary meetings in Rome come months after the Vatican released Pell to return to Australia to face charges in the decades-old case. Pell, who took a leave of absence as the Vatican's financial czar, denies the charges.

The Australian church has been devastated by revelations of decades of sexual abuse and cover-up that emerged during the course of a Royal Commission government inquiry into institutional abuse.

The inquiry, the highest form of investigation in Australia, found that 4,444 children were abused over the last several decades, and that the perpetrators included 7 percent of priests.

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