Cardinal George Pell will be tried for multiple sexual abuse charges, an Australian judge has ruled. He will be the highest-ranking Catholic official to stand trial on sexual offense charges.
Cardinal George Pell, a top aide to Pope Francis, has been ordered to stand trial for several decades-old sexual offense charges in Australia, a judge in Melbourne ruled on Tuesday.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington said she was "satisfied" that there was enough evidence in "multiple" cases against Pell to go to trial.
She dismissed around half of the charges, but the exact number has not yet been made public. Wallington's decision came after a four-week preliminary hearing to decide whether the prosecution's case was strong enough to stand a trial by jury.
Pell was ordered to appear in court again on Wednesday.
Not guilty plea
When asked how he pleaded, Pell told the court: "Not guilty." He has consistently denied the allegations against him.
The 76-year-old Vatican finance chief will be the highest-ranking Catholic official to stand trial for sexual abuse charges.
Pope Francis granted Pell a leave of absence last year to defend himself. The Vatican said after Tuesday's court decision that Pell would remain on leave and it had "taken note" of the court ruling.
Pell was charged last June with sexually abusing several people in his home state of Victoria. Authorities have not released details of the charges except to indicate that the abuse allegedly occurred decades ago.
After serving as archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, Pell was appointed as the Vatican's finance chief, despite criticism from victim advocacy groups. A number of sex abuse scandals have dented the Catholic Church's image across the globe.
Critics argue the Catholic Church has done little to bring perpetrators to justice, despite Pope Francis pledging "zero tolerance" in 2014 on sexual abuse.
cw,rs/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa)