Child abuse accusations against Australian Cardinal George Pell - one of the most senior figures at the Vatican - need to be verified before any action is taken, Pope Francis said in an overnight press conference.
Last week it emerged that after an investigation, Australian police had asked prosecutors to look into allegations that Pell, 75, molested young boys in the 1970s and 1980s. The cardinal firmly denied any wrongdoing.
"We should not make judgements before justice has its course. If I were to pass judgement for or against cardinal Pell it would not be good," Francis said on the plane back from a trip to Poland, according to a transcript by Vatican Radio.
"Yes, there are doubts. And there is that clear legal principle, In dubio pro reo," the pontiff said, citing a Latin maxim that can be translated as, "When in doubt, rule in favour of the accused."
"We should wait for justice [to run its course] and avoid an early trial in the media, because this does not help," Francis told reporters. "Once justice has spoken, so will I," he added.
Pell is considered the third-highest ranking official in the Vatican. As the head of the Secretariat of the Economy, he is a de-facto economy minister, in charge of cleaning up the Vatican's finances after years of scandals and mismanagement.