George Pell pleads not guilty after being committed to trial on historical sexual abuse charges

Cardinal George Pell has pleaded not guilty in a loud, strong voice after a Melbourne magistrate committed him to stand trial on multiple historical sexual offence charges.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington took 70 minutes to go through the charges. She struck out about half of the serious charges, finding there was insufficient evidence for conviction by a jury. Some other charges were earlier withdrawn by prosecutors.

Ms Wallington committed Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric on charges relating to alleged sexual offending at a swimming pool in the 1970s in Ballarat, when he was working as a priest; and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1990s, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

Ms Wallington threw out allegations of sexual offending in a cinema in the 1970s in Ballarat and throughout the area over the following year on the basis that there were inconsistencies in the complainant’s evidence.

After the hearing Cardinal Pell issued a statement via his legal representatives saying he would defend the remaining charges and “steadfastly” maintained his innocence.

“Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully co-operated with Victoria Police,” the statement read.

“He has voluntarily returned to Australia to meet these accusations.

“He would like to thank all those who have supported him from both here in Australia and overseas during this exacting time and is grateful for their continuing support and prayers.”

The hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court followed a month-long committal hearing in March during which Cardinal Pell was escorted in and out of the court building under police guard.

Today, there was a considerably larger police presence to cope with a huge local and international media contingent.

Cardinal Pell is the most senior Roman Catholic official to be charged with crimes of sexual abuse. As the Vatican’s financial controller, he was granted leave by the Pope to return to Australia to conduct his defence. Cardinal Pell has vehemently denied the allegations.

He walked into the court just before 9.30am and was confronted by protesters both in support and against him.

Cardinal Pell will next appear before the County Court for a directions hearing.