Vatican cardinal appears in court over ‘historical sex offences’
Protesters and supporters gather outside Melbourne court for George Pell hearing
Cardinal George Pell, rear centre, leaves Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday. Photograph: Kristen Gelineau/AP
Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell made a brief court appearance in his native Australia on Wednesday to face what police described as “historical sexual offences”, making him the most senior Roman Catholic official to face such accusations.
Cardinal Pell (76) a top adviser to Pope Francis, did not speak as he was escorted to and from Melbourne Magistrates’ Court by police through a large crowd of media, protesters and supporters. He was not required to enter a plea.
Australian police said last month the cardinal had been summoned to appear on charges of “historical sexual offences” from multiple complainants.
“For the avoidance of doubt . . . Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to all charges, and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has,” Cardinal Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, told the court.
Magistrate Duncan Reynolds said he was denying media requests to see the charge sheets against the cardinal, who also did not speak during the five-minute hearing.
The magistrate set a committal hearing date of October 6th and told the cardinal’s lawyers they would receive a summary of the charges by September 8th.
A magistrate decides at a committal hearing whether prosecutors have enough evidence for a case to be committed to trial. Cardinal Pell is not required to enter a formal plea until a magistrate determines whether there is cause for a full trial.
The cardinal has previously said he was looking forward to his day in court to fight charges he said are false.
Protesters and supporters carrying religious icons shouted as he entered and then left the courthouse in central Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.
The cardinal is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as the pope’s economy minister, which he started in 2014. The pope has said he will not comment on the case until it is over.