Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, arrived at a Melbourne court Monday to begin the first day of his preliminary hearing over sexual abuse charges brought against him.
The committal hearing, likely to last upwards of one month, is taking place before Magistrate Belinda Wallington at the Melbourne Magistrates Court to determine if Cardinal Pell will ultimately face a trial.
Testimonies from alleged victims will be heard during the hearing, although one abuse charge against the 76-year old cardinal was withdrawn Friday, as the key complainant, Damian Dignan, died in January of leukemia.
However, the total number of charges brought against Pell are not public, although some of the charges previously brought against Pell date as far back as 1961.
According to the AP, members of the public and media have been prohibited from attending the hearing during the alleged victims’ testimonies to the Australian court, which began March 5. These testimonies and their cross-examinations could last up to two weeks.
Pell, who is being represented by four lawyers in court, is pleading not guilty to the abuse counts and has denied the charges brought against him, saying, “the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
“I am innocent of these charges, they are false,” he told media last June.
After Pell was charged with multiple instances of sexual abuse by Victoria state police in 2016, the cardinal took leave of his position as the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and a member of the Pope’s council of nine cardinal advisers. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966.
Pell, who is the most senior Catholic cleric to have been charged with sexual abuse, has been living in Sydney during the ongoing hearings.