Pope aide Pell arrives for sexual abuse decision

Cardinal George Pell will find out on Tuesday if he will stand trial over historical sex offence charges

"Not guilty", the top aide to Pope Francis said loudly and without hesitation when asked his plea, a stance he has taken since first being charged past year.

After a monthlong pre-trial hearing, an Australian magistrate ordered Cardinal Pell to stand trial on multiple charges of sexual abuse of minors, charges the cardinal consistently has denied.

Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse - the nation's highest form of inquiry - revealed previous year that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children in Australia over the past several decades.

The cardinal is widely considered the third-highest official in the Catholic Church, a man who less than a year ago, when Victoria Police charged him, oversaw the finances of the Vatican and the Holy See.

Pope Francis granted Cardinal Pell time to fight his case, but won't get his treasurer back until late this year at the earliest, as the cardinal can not leave Australia as part of his bail.

While dropping some of the charges, including what Cardinal Pell's lawyer described as the most "vile", Magistrate Belinda Wallington announced May 1 that she believed there was enough evidence presented in connection with about half the original charges to warrant a full trial.

In delivering her ruling, Wallington dismissed some of the charges levelled against Pell in the pre-trial hearing and has not specified which ones will proceed, nor has she provided detail on the date of the trial.

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George Pell has been ordered to appear at the Victoria state County Court where he will eventually stand trial on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.

"These are very hard matters for everyone involved and no one is going to be popping champagne corks over this", Louise Milligan, an investigative journalist and witness in the case whose reporting uncovered some of Pell's accusers, said in a telephone interview.

The alleged victims who testified during the four-week preliminary hearing in March did via video link from an undisclosed location so as to avoid a barrage of media attention. Pell himself has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, saying that he finds sexual abuse to be "abhorrent". Wearing a cleric's collar, white shirt and dark suit, he was silent as he entered and left the downtown courthouse with his lawyer, Robert Richter. After that the Australian police arrived in the Vatican itself.

Cardinal Pell has handed in his passport and is unable to leave Australia as a condition of his bail.

A national inquiry into the institutional responses to child sex abuse in Australia between 1950 and 2010 found that seven percent of Catholic priests were accused, but that the allegations were never investigated.

Plagued in recent years by ill health and with a potentially lengthy trial pending, there are now big question marks over whether he will ever return to a Vatican haunted by scandals from the past.

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