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Australian Cardinal to Stand Trial on Sexual Abuse Charges

© REUTERS / Alessandro BianchiAustralian Cardinal George Pell speaks to journalists at the end of a meeting with the sex abuse victims at the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Italy, March 3, 2016.
Australian Cardinal George Pell speaks to journalists at the end of a meeting with the sex abuse victims at the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Italy, March 3, 2016. - Sputnik International
Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Catholic official in Australia, has been charged with multiple sexual offenses back in the 1970s when he was a priest in Ballarat, his hometown, and until he became an archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Vatican official to be charged with sexual abuse, is due to face a jury hearing after almost two months of pre-trial aimed at determining whether the prosecution has enough evidence to conduct the jury hearing, the AFP reported.

READ MORE: Vatican Treasurer and Former Archbishop Charged with Child Sex Offenses

Melbourne's Magistrate Belinda Wallington dropped most of the 76-year-old cardinal's charges but still decided that the case was strong enough to order a trial. The judge also ruled that Pell cannot establish contact with the prosecution's witnesses or leave the country.

At the end of the hearing, the judge asked the cardinal how he pleaded, to which Pell replied "Not guilty."

Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the prelate leading the Vaticans charge against The Da Vinci Code, speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Vatican March 16, 2005. - Sputnik International
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In June 2017, he was granted a leave of absence by the Vatican so that Pell, Pope Francis' finance minister, could return to Australia and face trial in Melbourne. The cardinal has repeatedly rejected all accusations of child sexual abuse, calling them "absolute lies" and "a part of the campaign to blacken his name." Despite the fact that Pell continues to occupy one of the highest posts in the Catholic Church's hierarchy, the Vatican announced that it would not pay the legal costs of the cardinal.

Pell has been a cardinal since 2003 and was the archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne from 2001 until 2014. In 2014, he was made the Vatican's treasurer and has thus been living in Rome. In 2016, Australian authorities commanded the official to return to stand trial. Previously in 2014, he declined to return to Australia to testify at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Pell, citing ill health, instead testified over videolink.

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