MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 26:  Cardinal George Pell and his barrister Robert Richter leave the Melbourne Magistrates Court with a heavy police guard in Melbourne on July 26, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. Cardinal Pell was charged on summons by Victoria Police on 29 June over multiple allegations of sexual assault. Cardinal Pell is Australia's highest ranking Catholic and the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican, where he was responsible for the church's finances. Cardinal Pell has leave from his Vatican position while he defends the charges.  (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)
Cardinal Pell faces sex assault charges
02:43 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Pell was a senior adviser to Pope Francis before taking a leave of absence

He was first charged with the historic allegations in June

Melbourne CNN  — 

Dozens of witnesses are expected to give evidence when Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell faces an Australian court again in March on charges of historic sexual assault.

One of the most senior figures in the Vatican, Pell appeared at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court Friday after he was charged by detectives from Victoria Police in June.

He is fighting multiple allegations of historic sexual abuse, although the details of the charges have not been made public.

His barrister Robert Richter QC already told the court in the first hearing in July his client would plead not guilty.

Cardinal Pell, who has stood down from his role in Rome to face court in his home country, has repeatedly and vehemently denied the allegations.

The witnesses will give evidence and will be cross-examined during a month-long committal hearing scheduled to take place from March 5 next year.

The committal hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to commit him to stand trial at a higher court.

A huge media scrum followed Pell as he arrived and left court on Friday and supporters and protestors crowded for a chance to see the cardinal.

The 76-year-old has been given a leave of absence from his role at the Holy See as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy while he fights the case in the city where he was once Archbishop.

Cardinal George Pell leaves the Melbourne Magistrates' Court with a heavy Police escort on October 6 in Melbourne.

‘I am innocent of these charges’

Pell is the most senior cardinal in the history of the Catholic Church ever to face criminal charges.

The cardinal has long been a prominent figure in Australia’s Catholic Church, serving first as the Archbishop of Melbourne and then the Archbishop of Sydney before heading to the Vatican.

Before taking a leave of absence, he was considered one of Pope Francis’ top advisers.

Speaking at a media conference at the Holy See’s press office in June after being charged he said: “I am looking forward, finally, to having my day in court.

“I am innocent of these charges; they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Australia is still coming to terms with a report released by the country’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in February.

According to figures in the report, 7% of Australian priests were accused of abusing children between 1950 and 2010.

Additionally, the commission stated the Catholic Church had been reluctant to investigate the reported abuse and helped to cover up incident when they were reported.