Vatican Treasurer George Pell must face trial on charges of historical sexual offenses, an Australian court ruled yesterday, making him the most senior Catholic official to be tried on such allegations. He pleaded not guilty.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington handed down her decision that Pell's case will proceed to trial in a Melbourne court, after a month-long pre-trial hearing.
Pell did not comment when he left the court, surrounded by police and flanked by his legal team.
Pope Francis has said he would not comment on the case involving his economy minister until it was over.
The Vatican said it had "taken note" of the court's decision and that the leave of absence the pope granted Pell last year so he can defend himself "is still in place."
Pell's lawyers said in a statement distributed by the Sydney Archdiocese, his last employer before his Vatican posting in 2014, that Pell had fully cooperated with police investigators and "always and steadfastly maintained his innocence."
"He would like to thank all those who have supported him from both here in Australia and overseas during this exacting time and is grateful for their continuing support and prayers," the statement said.
In her ruling, Wallington dismissed what Pell's lawyer has called "the worst of the charges" levelled against his client, but said claims of offenses at a pool and at a church in Victoria state will be heard.
Pell was ordered to appear in the Melbourne County Court today.