Top Vatican official appears in Australian court on sex abuse charges

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—The most senior Vatican official ever charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis made his first court appearance in Australia on Wednesday in a scandal that has stunned the Holy See and threatened to tarnish the pope’s image as a crusader against abusive clergy.

Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic and Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, has maintained his innocence since he was charged last month with sexually abusing multiple people years ago in his Australian home state of Victoria. The details of the allegations against the 76-year-old cardinal have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as “historical” sexual assault offences — meaning crimes that occurred years ago.

Pell entered the small courtroom dressed in a black suit, face devoid of expression as he took a seat behind his legal team. He said nothing during the brief hearing, which dealt largely with administrative matters. Though he has not yet entered a plea, his lawyer, Robert Richter, told the court that Pell planned to formally plead not guilty at a future court date.george-pell.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724