Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell made his first appearance in an Australian court on historical sex abuse charges on Wednesday, facing a massive media scrum before the primarily administrative hearing.
The 76-year-old, a top adviser to Pope Francis, returned from Rome earlier this month to face multiple charges in Melbourne relating to offences allegedly committed decades ago when he was a senior cleric in Australia.
Cardinal George Pell faced the Melbourne Magistrates Court Wednesday for his first hearing since the charges were made by Victoria Police last month.
A huge media scrum followed Pell as he entered and exited the court house, requiring police officers to help clear the way for the cardinal.
Both supporters and protestors crowded outside the Magistrates Court for a chance to see the cardinal.
Wednesday’s brief court hearing marked a significant moment in Australia, where Pell is the country’s most senior Catholic.
Pell, looking sombre and frail, made no comment as he was escorted by a group of police officers through a crush of cameras, reporters and photographers outside the Melbourne Magistrates Court, which hears hundreds of cases a week for alleged crimes ranging from theft to murder.
He was not required to attend the brief hearing, which allows lawyers to discuss when the prosecution brief can be handed over and set out the next dates in what is expected to be a lengthy court process.
But Australia’s most powerful Catholic opted to appear, having previously vowed to defend himself and clear his name after a two-year investigation led to him being charged on June 29.
Despite being unofficially considered the number three in the Vatican hierarchy, no special arrangements were in place at the court. He entered the building through the front door and was screened by security.