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Cardinal George Pell's Committal Hearing Over Alleged Historic Sexual Offences Starts Today

05 March 2018

Cardinal George Pell has returned to an Australian court for a hearing that will determine whether he stands trial on sexual assault charges.

He will face court for the four-week committal hearing that is expected to generate global media coverage.

Pell was summoned by Australian police previous year and is the most senior Catholic official to face such charges.

Pope Francis' former finance minister was charged in June of past year with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria.

And inside, up on the fifth floor, a great line of notebook-wielding journalists, some of whom had been cooling their heels since before dawn, stood in expectation of the arrival of Cardinal George Pell, known in these precincts as "the defendant".

The committal hearing is scheduled to take up to a month.

The hearing will be closed for two weeks while complainants give their evidence.

Pell, in a beige jacket on top of a black shirt with a clerical collar, arrived by vehicle and was escorted by dozens of police as he made his way up the steps and into the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

"These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offences".

Richter told Wallington that a former judge had prepared a guide on how police should investigate prominent people such as Pell.

"I know it doesn't suit the prosecution because they are exculpatory of the cardinal", he added.

"We say that was not followed because there was a presumption of guilt", Richter said.

The Catholic cleric, 76, has strongly denied what police have described as historical accusations by "multiple complainants" in the state of Victoria.

The hearing will be closed to the public and media for two weeks while the complainants give their evidence, as required by law in sexual offence cases.

The objective of a committal hearing is for a magistrate to hear the evidence against the accused and decide whether it is sufficient to commit them to stand trial.

The prosecutor also applied to Ms Wallington for the remote witnesses to have a support person in the remote room with them, and a special support dog.

In a hearing in October, Cardinal Pell's barrister, Robert Richter QC, said he meant to prove that "what was alleged was impossible".

Cardinal Pell was asked "How are you feeling?" by a reporter but he did not offer a response.

The hearing was expected to begin around 10am on Monday.

His case has coincided with a national inquiry into child sexual abuse, ordered in 2012 after a decade of pressure to investigate widespread allegations of institutional paedophilia.

Pell appeared before it three times, once in person and twice via video-link from Rome over the Church's handling of complaints against paedophile priests.

Cardinal George Pell's Committal Hearing Over Alleged Historic Sexual Offences Starts Today