The Vatican Treasurer George Pell has pleaded not guilty to charges of historical sexual assault, after an Australian court ruled that there was enough evidence against the cardinal for the case to go to trial.
Half of the charges levelled against the 76-year-old were dismissed while others were maintained after a month-long pre-trial hearing. Delivering her ruling, magistrate Belinda Wallington did not specify which were being kept and which were being thrown out.
Cardinal Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic and is considered the third-highest official in the Church, appeared before Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday. There was a significant police presence to cope with a large turnout from the media and members of the public.
Pell, who has always denied any wrongdoing, has been on leave of absence from his role as economy minister to Pope Francis to fight the case in his home country.
When asked to enter his plea, he replied “not guilty” after the allegations against him were described in court.
The pre-trial hearing heard from more than 30 witnesses, with many sessions closed to the public. Some of the alleged cases of abuse date back to the 1970s, and are said to have taken place at a swimming pool and a cinema in Victoria state, a church and other locations.
Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, summed up by arguing that there was no evidence to back the charges. Afterwards he said that the most “vile” claims had been thrown out.
He told an earlier hearing that the allegations were “impossible” and claimed that Pell had been targeted because he was Australia’s top figure in the Church.
No date has been set for the trial, which is not expected to begin for months. It will be held before a judge and jury in the County Court of Victoria.