Pell denies abuse charges
July 27 2017 01:13 AM
A protester holds a placard at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne.


Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell, a top adviser to Pope Francis, yesterday denied all charges of historical sexual abuse at his first appearance in an Australian court over the allegations.
The 76-year-old, the number-three figure in the Vatican, returned from Rome earlier this month to face the charges in Melbourne Magistrates Court.
Details of the charges have not been made public although police said they involved “multiple complainants”.
The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop has always maintained his innocence.
Looking sombre and frail, he attended the hearing with his lawyer, top criminal barrister Robert Richter, who told the court his client was not guilty — even though a formal plea was not required at this stage.
“For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest, I might indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has,” Richter told the court, national broadcaster ABC reported.
Pell, dressed in black and wearing his clerical collar, remained silent throughout with magistrate Duncan Reynolds ruling that evidence needs to be handed to his legal team by September 8, with the next court date set for October 6.
The cleric made no comment as he was escorted by a group of police through a crush of cameras, reporters and photographers into the court, which hears hundreds of cases a week for alleged crimes ranging from theft to murder. 
Several photographers were knocked over in the melee.
Similar scenes greeted his departure after the brief hearing as he was ushered around 100m down the road to his lawyer’s offices surrounded by security, with a handful of supporters shouting “this is a show trial” and “innocent” as he walked past.
Protesters were also on hand, with one, Brian Cherrie, telling the Melbourne Herald Sun: “We need the truth.”
Pell was not required to attend the hearing, but Australia’s most powerful Catholic opted to appear, having previously vowed to defend himself and clear his name after a two-year investigation led to him being charged on June 29.
“I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,” he said in Rome last month, claiming he had been the victim of a campaign of “relentless character assassination”.
Despite being unofficially considered the third most powerful cleric in the Vatican, no special arrangements were in place at the court.
Pell entered the building through the front door and was screened by security.

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