Cardinal Pell has appeared in court in Melbourne for the first, administrative, stage of legal proceedings in connection with allegations of historic sexual abuse made against him.
A magistrate said that Pell would return to court on 5 March 2018 for a committal hearing expected to last four weeks. It is said that up to 50 witnesses could eventually be called in the case against him.
He did not have to enter a plea at the 20-minute hearing, but his lawyers have previously said that he will plead not guilty on all charges against him. His barrister, Robert Richter QC, said he intended to prove that “what was alleged was impossible”.
Earlier this year, Cardinal Pell said: “I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
High-ranking Vatican official
As Economy Minister to the Vatican, 76-year old Cardinal George Pell is said to be Pope Francis’s third-ranking official.
Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric has been given a leave of absence from his duties in Rome whilst the case is underway.
Appearance in person
Last year Pell caused controversy when he did not return to Australia to testify in relation to allegations of widespread abuse carried out by priests within his former diocese of Ballarat. It was said that he was not well enough to travel, and instead he gave evidence by video link.
On this occasion he opted to appear in person, despite not being required to do so. He required a police escort to enter and leave the court, as crowds rushed in to heckle and jostle him.