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76-year-old Vatican finance chief, Cardinal George Pell faces sex charges

Cardinal George Pell, the 76-year-old finance chief of the Vatican on Tuesday became the highest-ranked Catholic to be sent for trial over historic sex offences.  

The priest who vowed to fight the charges, was impassive throughout the hearing in the Australian city of Melbourne that ordered him to face a jury on “multiple” charges.  Half of the allegations against him including some of the most serious were thrown out. “Not guilty,” the top aide to Pope Francis said loudly and without hesitation when asked his plea, a stance he has taken since first being charged last year.  

Melbourne magistrate Belinda Wallington said she was satisfied there was enough evidence to justify a trial on “multiple” charges. A hearing was due on Wednesday to discuss a trial date.  

Pell, who entered the court surrounded by a large police presence, was released on bail on condition he does not leave Australia. He has already handed in his passport. The exact details and nature of the claims against Vatican finance chief Cardinal Pell remain confidential, other than they involve “multiple complainants”.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop has been on leave from the Vatican, returning to Australia to fight the allegations which relate to incidents that allegedly occurred long ago. “Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully cooperated with Victoria (state) Police and always and steadfastly maintained his innocence,” said a statement issued through the Archdiocese of Sydney and attributed to Pell.  

“He has voluntarily returned to Australia to meet these accusations. He will defend the remaining charges.” The exact details and nature of the claims remain confidential, other than they involve “multiple complainants”. But some of the alleged offences were at a swimming pool in Ballarat in Victoria in the 1970s and at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s, the court heard.  

Several of the most serious allegations were dismissed due to inconsistencies in the evidence, including claims of offending at a cinema in Ballarat during a screening of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.

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