SYDNEY ― Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s treasurer and third-highest-ranking official, will stand trial for charges of sexual abuse, a magistrate in Melbourne, Australia, said on Tuesday.
Pell, a 76-year-old cardinal who has served in the Vatican since 2014, is the most senior Catholic leader to face such accusations. He has been charged with “historical sexual offenses” relating to his time as a priest in Australia’s Victoria state decades ago. Prior to his appointment to the Vatican, he was the archbishop of Sydney for more than 10 years.
Belinda Wallington, the magistrate, said there was enough evidence to bring the case to court after a month-long pre-trial hearing in which several witnesses spoke about the abuse allegations. Some of the more serious charges leveled against Pell were thrown out, however.
Charges were filed last June, and the case has been slowly moving through the Australian court system. But many details of the accusations against Pell have not been made public. Legal cases in Australia are subject to strict contempt laws that bar journalists from reporting on aspects of criminal allegations to protect the integrity of a case.
As The New York Times notes, journalists are often given suppression orders mandating that certain material presented in court be off-limits for reporting. Even noting the existence of a suppression order itself can be restricted.
In court on Tuesday, Pell pleaded not guilty to the charges that were filed. His lawyer, Robert Richter, said last year he had evidence that would prove that “what was alleged is impossible.”
Pell has vehemently defended himself against the allegations.
“The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said during a press conference last year.
Pell has been criticized for his actions as a leader of the Catholic Church in Australia, and in 2016 was accused of being lenient toward priests accused of misconduct during his tenure as the Archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney.
The date of Pell’s full trial has not been set, but it will likely take months to complete. The court has told the cardinal to remain in the country, according to The Guardian.
Pope Francis has said he would not comment on the case until it has concluded.
This story has been updated with additional information about the case.