Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but gave no other details on the allegations against the cardinal.
Pell was ordered to appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court on 18 July.
It is unclear what allegations the charges announced Thursday relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said previously that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.
Patton told reporters in Melbourne that none of the allegations against Pell had been tested in any court, adding: "Cardinal Pell, like any other defendant, has a right to due process." The charges are a new and serious blow to Pope Francis, who has already suffered several credibility setbacks in his promised "zero tolerance" policy about sex abuse.
Australia has no extradition treaty with the Vatican.
But in a statement from the Sydney Archdiocese, Pell said he would return to Australia "as soon as possible," following advice and approval by his doctors.
In his statement, Burke said Pell's economy secretariat would continue working in his absence until other provisions are decided.
Francis also scrapped the commission's signature proposal — a tribunal section to hear cases of bishops who covered up for abuse — after Vatican officials objected.
The mandate has since been restricted to performing more of an oversight role.
Cardinal George Pell will plead not guilty to multiple, historical abuse charges brought against him by Victoria Police.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Holy See had learned with "regret" of the charges and that the Vatican's financial reforms would continue in his absence.
In a statement he read to reporters while sitting beside Pell, Burke said the Vatican respected Australia's justice system but recalled that the cardinal had "openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable" acts of sexual abuse against minors.