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Court hearing to rule on Cardinal George Pell facing sex abuse trial

The most senior Catholic Church leader to be charged with sexual abuse attended an Australian court yesterday for a hearing to test the strength of the prosecution's case and to determine if he will face trial.

Cardinal George Pell's alleged victims began testifying in Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday against Pope Francis's former finance minister in testimony that cannot be made public.

The complainants, who also cannot be identified, are giving their evidence via a video link.

The number of alleged victims has not been made public and their testimony is scheduled to continue for up to two weeks.

The 76-year-old cardinal has denied any wrongdoing and has foreshadowed pleas of not guilty if the committal hearing that is likely to run as long as a month finds there is sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial.

Pell was charged last June with sexually abusing multiple people in his home state of Victoria.

The details of the allegations have yet to be made public, though police have described the charges as historical sexual assault offences.

When Pell last lived in Melbourne, he was archbishop of Australia's second-largest city.

He progressed to archbishop of Australia's biggest city, Sydney, before moving to the Vatican as a prefect of the church's economy ministry in 2014.

In 2016, it was Pell who was testifying by video to an official inquiry into sexual abuse. He was in Rome and had health reasons for not travelling to testify in person to Australia's longest-running royal commission, the country's highest form of inquiry.

It had been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over 90 years.

The inquiry issued its final report in December. Pell was questioned about his knowledge of and response to allegations of child abuse when he was a priest and bishop, but no allegation was made that he was a perpetrator.

Pell's lawyers told the court last month that the current criminal charges stemmed from publicity surrounding the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The lawyers said the first complainant approached police in 2015, 40 years after the alleged crimes, in response to media reports about that inquiry.

Pell was silent as he entered and left the court to a crush of media and police, as well as throughout the initial 25 minutes of the hearing that was open to the public.

Belfast Telegraph

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