Cardinal George Pell, a former top adviser to Pope Francis, has been ordered by a court in Australia to stand trial for several historical sexual abuse charges.
The 76-year-old, the Vatican’s former finance chief, is the most senior Catholic cleric to be sent to trial over sex offences.
After a month of preliminary hearing in Melbourne, Magistrate Belinda Wallington said on Tuesday she was “satisfied” that there was enough evidence in “multiple” charges against Pell to stand trial by jury.
When asked his plea, Pell shouted “not guilty”. He has steadfastly maintained innocence ever since being charged in June last year.
The cardinal has been on leave from the Vatican, returning to Australia to fight the allegations.
Victoria Police charged him last year after multiple people reported him of sexual misconduct in his home state of Victoria. The police described the charges as “historical” sexual assault offences because the crimes allegedly occurred decades ago.
No details of the complaints or the crimes have been released to the public. Testimonies during the hearing remain confidential.
Pell’s lawyers told the court in February 2018 that the first complaint reached the police in 2015, 40 years after the alleged assault.
They said the complaint came forward after seeing media coverage of an investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over a number of decades.
The head of Sydney’s Catholic Church has previously spoken out in support of Pell, describing him as “a man of integrity in his dealing with others, a man of faith and high ideals, a thoroughly decent man”.