MELBOURNE, Australia ― Australia’s highest ranking Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, has made his first court appearance over multiple charges relating to historical sexual offenses arising from multiple complainants.
Pell, 76, appeared in Melbourne Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday for a brief preliminary hearing to set the pace of upcoming proceedings. Pell was not required to enter a plea, but his lawyer Robert Richter, QC, indicated to the court his client would plead not guilty to all charges.
“For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest I might indicate that Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to all charges, and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has,” Richter said.
Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief until he stepped away from the role after the charges were announced last month, was surrounded by a protective police escort as he arrived at court shortly before 9am. He was met by a heaving media pack, protesters and supporters.
Wearing the black clothes and the collar of a priest, Pell did not answer questions hurled at him from the surrounding crowd as he arrived. Supporters and critics joined with the teeming mass of waiting local and international press to line up outside the court to gain access to the less-than 10 minute hearing.
The former archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne was screened by security as he entered the building, and he was escorted through the courthouse foyer.
A short time later the Cardinal entered Courtroom 2, a small court filled to standing-room-only with press and onlookers.
Sitting behind his legal team, Pell remained silent through the short proceedings. He was clapped by supporters when he later left the courtroom, with some saying “bless you”.
Because of the number of people taking an interest in the proceedings, the ordinarily perfunctory filing hearing was teleconferenced into a second courtroom.
The details of the charges have not yet been made public. Pell, who returned to Australia from Rome earlier this month, strenuously maintains his innocence.
Just ahead of Wednesday’s brief hearing, Ballarat sex abuse survivor Phil Nagle lined up outside the court.
Nagle said he has no links to the Pell complainants, but wanted to show his support for them.
“Very symbolic day today,” he told the HuffPost Australia.
“Obviously the Cardinal is here just as another man before the court and not here as the third most powerful Catholic in the world.”
One woman carried with her a picture of Mary and Baby Jesus she said was meant to symbolise her support for families who had been through abuse.
Others brandished signs in support of the Cardinal, with one woman holding a sign saying “thank you for helping my family”.
Magistrate Duncan Reynolds presided over the administrative hearing. It will return to court for mention on October 6.